President Muhammadu Buhari may have declined assent to the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill.
There was disquiet yesterday among members of the National Assembly, who were locked in series of meetings to articulate their response to the alleged denial of assent.
The President had 30 days to sign or decline assent to the bill, following its transmission to the National Assembly on Novembers 19, 2021.
Although, the one month window closed yesterday; lawyers argued that the President still has one day of grace to make up for yesterday, which was a work-free day.
A source said the Federal Attorney-General was said to have advised the President to decline assent, saying that the constitution is silent on the mode of primary that parties should adopt.
He was said to have also observed that it is wrong for the bill to prescribed one mode for the parties.
According to the source, the President accepted the advice .
President Buhari’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity Garba Shehu confirmed yesterday that he has communicated his intention on the bill to the National Assembly.
He, however, declined to disclose the content of the memo, saying that he was not authorised to do so.
Speaking on Channels Television’s Sunday Politics, Shehu said the National Assembly would speak to Nigerians on the President’s decision at the appropriate time.
He said: “The president has communicated his intention to the National Assembly and the National Assembly will communicate the president’s decision to Nigerians in due course.”
Asked if the President’s communication was yes or no, Shehu declined response, merely urging Nigerians to be calm and that and any decision taken by the President would be the best of the country.
The Bill became controversial, following the inclusion of the direct of primary by the federal legislators.
Senators and Representatives argued that the clause was inserted in the best interest of the country.
The governors, however, differ, saying that the parties should adopt any mode of primary suitable for them.
Besides, the governors said the logistic and financial implications of monitoring the primaries will weigh down the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
INEC Chairman Prof. Mahmood Yakubu said the agency would cope with the challenge of monitoring the party primaries.
Senators and House of Representatives members were in last minute meetings on how to marshal their response to the President’s refusal.
According to the constitution, after the expiration of 30 days that a Bill was transmitted by the National Assembly, the Bill is deemed to have been rejected, if not assented to.
Section 58 (1-5) of the Constitution reads: “(1) The power of the National Assembly to make laws shall be exercised by bills passed by both the Senate and the House of Representatives and, except as otherwise provided by subSection (5) of this section, assented to by the President.
“(5) Where the President withholds his assent and the bill is again passed by each House by two-thirds majority, the bill shall become law and the assent of the President shall not be required.”
It was learnt that some senators and House members have called for the recall of the Bill and its passage into law, should the President fail to sign it.
However, other lawmakers are weighing the implications of such a move on the image of the President, whose party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), has overwhelming majority in both chambers of the National Assembly.
Of the 109-member Senate, APC has 70, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has 38 and Young Peoples Party (YPP) has a senator. In the Green Chamber, the APC has 240 of the 360 members, PDP (113); All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) has two; African Democratic Congress (ADC) and Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) have a member each.
Many lawmakers declined to comment on the issue. But, a source confided that the lawmakers are in a fix on what to do.
The source said while majority favours recall and passage of the Bill by both chambers, others are sitting on the fence.
According to him, the challenge confronting the lawmakers was how to introduce the recall process and those to champion the move.
The House did not adjourn for Christmas break on Thursday, adjourning plenary to tomorrow when it is expected to pass the 2022 budget and receive the President’s explanation on the bill.
The Nation learnt at the weekend that the Senate deliberately delayed the passage of the 2022 Budget in a bid to convey the legislators’ displeasure about the President’s stand on the direct primary clause.
A senator, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said senators and representatives were unhappy that the President has dilly dallied in signing the bill.
“The President motivated the bill, particularly the retention of direct primary in the proposed act. It is therefore, surprising that he has contributed to the anxiety and confusion by not signing it up till now,” the senator said.
According to the legislator, it was the consensus of opinion in the Upper Chamber that the passage of next year’s budget should be postponed to this week, adding that it underscored the protest against the delayed assent.
However, the senator ruled out the possibility of invoking the power of veto.
Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike had earlier yesterday restated that he would not be surprised if the President withheld assent to the bill.
The governor said he knew ab initio that President Buhari would not sign the bill because his party was not sincere about delivering a free and fair electoral process.
He disagreed with those who said the President withheld his assent because of the controversy around direct primary mode.
To him, the main reason the President was withholding his assent was because of fear of electronic transmission of election results.
He said: “It was very clear that the President was not going to sign. Direct or not direct primary was not the problem, but the major issue is electronic transmission of results.
“The issue here is not about direct or indirect primary. They only used that as a reason Mr. President declined his assent. I can tell you that the President is not signing because of the electronic transmission provision in the bill.”
Publicity Secretary of the PDP Debo Ologunagba said the President could not have signed the bill that specifies only one mode of primary for political parties.
He said: “The PDP is not in support of one mode of primary. This is a battle within the APC alone. That inclusion in the Act is offensive and should be removed. The PDP believes it is the right of party to determine how to produce candidates for any election.”