With an eye on the 2019 elections, President Muhammadu Buhari has communicated his decision to the National Assembly to withhold his assent to the Electoral Amendment Bill, 2018, which is proposing a change to the sequencing of elections in the country.
Buhari conveyed his decision to veto the bill in separate letters addressed to Senate President Bukola Saraki and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, following which both leaders of the National Assembly read the letter at their respective plenaries Tuesday.
But as the news made the rounds of the president’s veto, lawmakers in both chambers immediately set in motion plans to override the veto.
A two-third vote of the National Assembly will be required to override the president’s veto.
Should two-thirds of the legislature vote in favour of the amendment bill, it will become law and binding on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) which has the responsibility of determining timetables for elections in the country.
However, it was not all bad news for the executive arm of government, as the Senate Tuesday made a concession to suspend the consideration of nominees of the president, as it resolved to screen the deputy governors-designate and members of the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
The Senate said it decided to make the concession in order to ensure that the MPC forms the required quorum at its next meeting scheduled for March 19 and 20, having considered the importance of the body to the national economy.
In his letter to withhold his assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, Buhari informed the legislature that the amendment to Section 25 of the Principal Act, which changes the order of general elections, might infringe on the discretion of INEC to organise and supervise elections.
Section 25 of the Principal Act was amended and substituted with a new Section 25(1) which provides that the elections shall be held in the following order: (a) National Assembly elections (b) State Houses of Assembly and Governorship elections (c) Presidential election.
The amendment is expected to whittle down the bandwagon effect of the presidential election on other elections.
THISAY had exclusively reported that the amendment did not go down well with the presidency, as there were concerns that the amendment was targeted at weakening Buhari at the 2019 polls.
The amendment has also caused discomfort at INEC, as the electoral body had already scheduled the presidential and National Assembly elections for February 16, 2019 while the state assemblies and governorship elections had been slated for March 2, 2019.
Accordingly, Buhari, in his letter dated March 8, 2018, said: “Pursuant to Section 58(4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), I hereby convey to the Senate, my decision, on 3rd March 2018, to decline Presidential Assent to the Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2018 recently passed by the National Assembly.
“Some of my reasons include the following: the amendment to the sequence of elections in Section 25 of the Principal Act, may infringe upon the constitutionally guaranteed discretion of the Independent National Electoral Commission to organise, undertake and supervise elections provided in Section 15(A) of the third statue to the Constitution;
“The amendment to Section 138 of the Principal Act to delete two crucial grounds upon which an election may be challenged by candidates, unduly limits the rights of candidates in elections to a free and fair electoral review process; and
“The amendment to Section 152(3)-(5) of the Principal Act may raise constitutional issues over the competence of the National Assembly to legislate over local government elections.”
But THISDAY gathered that several lawmakers were already aware of the presidential veto by the early hours of Tuesday, and commenced in earnest to ensure that they get the necessary votes to override the veto.
At a 30-minute closed-door session of the Senate before plenary, it was learnt that the senators discussed their next line of action, after Saraki informed them of the letter notifying the Senate of the veto.
The senators resolved at the meeting to get further legal advice on the bill, while also individually perusing the amendments with more thoroughness.
The arrowheads of the push to override the bill are believed to be loyal to Saraki and are working along party lines to garner more support.
A source disclosed that there are at least 65 senators comprising 43 from the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and 22 from the ruling All Progressives Congresss (APC) who are ready to vote to override Buhari’s veto.
The arrowheads, the source explained, are, however not leaving anything to chance and are lobbying to get more support from among the president’s loyalists in the Senate, as 73 senators will be needed in the upper legislative chamber to override the veto.
“In line with Section 58(5) of the 1999 Constitution, we need 73 votes of our 109 seats here. We are assured with PDP members, but you know we have many in our party (APC) that are yet to make up their minds.
“So we are trying to appeal to those we know are sympathetic to this issue from within the APC also. We need to work to get more than 73, because of those who could change their minds at the last minute,” the source said.
Section 58(5) of the Constitution states: “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.”
Also in the House, said the source, lawmakers in the lower chamber are eager at a chance to get back at Buhari over his attitude towards the National Assembly.
The House lawmakers, particularly the first timers, are miffed at the attempts by the executive to paint the legislature in a bad light and present them to the public as corrupt.
They are also angry that since the inception of the Buhari administration, the release of their constituency project funds has always been an afterthought, or used as a bargaining tool between both arms of government.
The development has jeopardised their electoral fortunes in their constituencies, with most expressing fears that they might not be able to return to the legislature in 2019 owing to their inability to deliver on any of the promises they made to their people.
A House member, who also spoke with THISDAY, but preferred to remain unnamed, said that overriding the veto would scale through easily in the lower chamber.
“Remember that the amendment, which the president does not like, emanated from here. So we would use this vote to show him our true position.
“It would also be a vote against his poor governance which is setting Nigeria back,” the lawmaker said.