President Muhammadu Buhari has again vetoed the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2018, citing drafting issues, which he said might affect the interpretation and application of the principal act.According to the president in separate communications to the President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, and the Speaker of House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, cited by THISDAY, some of the provisions of the bill would adversely affect the operations of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The president was, however, vague about the offensive provisions even as the veto meant a rejection of the use of electronic card readers for the conduct of the 2019 general election, which many political analysts said would make the nation’s electoral process cleaner.
This is the second time the president would be vetoing alterations to the electoral law.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Ita Enang, however, confirmed to THISDAY on phone last night that his boss declined assent to the second amendment bill for stated reasons, adding, however, that a third bill on the same subject that was passed on July 24, 2018, was pending before the president.
“I will make a clear statement on it tomorrow,” he said.
Buhari had in March this year rejected the amendment to the electoral law, which altered the sequence of elections placing the National Assembly election first, followed by presidential election while governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections would hold last.
“Section 25 of the principal act, may infringe upon the constitutionally guaranteed discretion of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to organise, undertake and supervise elections provided in Section 15(A) of the third statue to the Constitution;” he had said.
The Court of Appeal, however, ruled earlier in the month that the National Assembly has constitutional powers to order the sequence of election.
Ironically, the rejection of the bill would now render useless and inapplicable, the president’s provisioning for purchase and upgrading of new electronic card readers for the INEC as part of the N242 billion 2019 election budget.
The Supreme Court had ruled that while the card reader and other electronic devise would enhance the transparency of the electoral system, it was, however, not part of the electoral law.
It was in an attempt to legalise the devise that the federal legislature decided to codify and include it in the electoral law.
“We see this as not only disingenuous but hypocritical for a president who won election following introduction of card readers but has now turned around to reject it. What is he (Buhari) afraid of,” a ranking lawmaker said out of frustration Monday.
“Remember, he rejected the first bill because of sequence of election. We then decided to remove it from the bill and all other concerns the president raised, and we sent the bill with the hope that he will sign it since these concerns have been addressed,” he said.
Appeal Court Halts Arrest of INEC Chairman
In a related development, the Court of Appeal, Abuja Division has ordered a stay of execution of the warrant of arrest on Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, pending the determination of his appeal.
Justice Stephen Pam of the Federal High Court in Abuja, had on August 1, 2018, ordered for the arrest of Yakubu, following his absence in court on three different occasions, to show cause why he should not be committed to prison over his alleged disobedience to the order of the court.
Justice Pam, also in a short ruling on August 8, reaffirmed the order, when Yakubu on the last adjourned date failed to show up.
His counsel, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), had informed the court that Yakubu was not in court as a result of the appeals he filed at the appellate court challenging the court’s jurisdiction to entertain the contempt charge, the legality of the charge as well as the arrest order.
The INEC chief in the notice of appeal claimed that Justice Pam acted in bad faith in the issuance of the arrest order because he had already filed a pending appeal against the order and the attention of the judge drawn to the appeal.
When the matter came up yesterday, counsel to the INEC chief, told the court that he had filed an application challenging the judgment of the lower court as well as its jurisdiction to hear the matter, adding that the application was supported by a further affidavit dated August 10, praying for the appellate court to make five orders in favour of his client.
Awomolo said if the appeal was not heard by the time the court would be sitting in September, his client would have been sent to prison, adding that the lower court was bent on sending Yakubu to jail.
However, counsel to the respondents, Mr. Goddy Uche (SAN), insisted that the trial was yet to reach the stage where Yakubu could be jailed, adding that what the trial court was asking for was for the INEC chief to appear in court to show cause why he should not be committed to prison.
He said the trial judge had been unable to deliver his ruling on the contempt charge because of Yakubu’s continued absence in court.
However, the trial could not proceed further, following the court’s decision to avoid going into the substantive matter.
The three-man panel of the court of appeal, presided over by Justice Abdu Aboki, held that it would be better for the court to take the appeal and the substantive suit together.
The court in the meantime then ordered for a stay of execution of the warrant of arrest on Yakubu as well as a stay of proceedings of the matter at the trial court.
The court in a short ruling held that hearing of the appeal could not go on without delving into the main suit, adding that parties were yet to file their brief of argument.
The matter was, therefore, adjourned till September 17, 2018 for the hearing of the appeal and the substantive suit.
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