By Kayode Adeoti
Legal practitioners in Kwara state and across the country have spoken on the suit filed by some political parties to stop President Muhammadu Buhari from signing into law the 2018 Electoral Bill transmitted to him by the National Assembly in October.
Three political parties on Monday approached the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court with a motion seeking to bar the President from assenting to the bill.
The Advanced Peoples Democratic Alliance (APDA), Allied Peoples Movement (APM), and the Movement for Restoration and Defence for Democracy (MRDD) asked the court to determine whether Mr Buhari’s assent to the bill, which is expected on or before December 7, will not truncate the forthcoming 2019 general elections.
The bill was sent to Buhari on November 8 after its passage by the National Assembly in October. It has attracted the attention of legal and political analysts who said the lawmakers may invoke section 58 (5) of the Constitution to veto Buhari’s position if he fails to sign the bill, 30 days after it was sent to him.
Speaking on the issue, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria based in Ilorin, Adebayo Adelodun stressed that the beauty of democracy is the fact that everyone possesses the right to approach court over his or her grievances saying what the political parties have done over the issue is constitutional.
According to him, it is good they are seeking clarifications over the issue in the law court saying the judge have to look at it critically in the best interest of justice.
“Anybody can file anything in court under the sun, it is the court that will look at the merit of their grounds. And on this issue, I don’t know what they’ve filed even their grounds so asserting my view over it might not be very appropriate. It is the constitutional duty of the president to assent to Bill passed by the National Assembly or not to…” Adelodun stressed.
In the same vein, a legal icon in Ilorin, Barr. Tunde Abdul Gegele maintained that the steps taken by the political parties to stop the President from signing the bill is good.
Gegele stressed that he is in support of the agitation that the President should not give his consent to the bill saying the development will alter the electoral process.
“I’m in support of those who say the president should not sign the bill, it is a new electoral law and it will change the electoral timetable, in my own opinion, only INEC has the right to choose date and time for election. If the president signs the bill to law, it will amount to attempt to stop power conferred on INEC by the constitution. I’m support of those that went to court, I’m of the view that they should not sign it,” Gegele added.
Also speaking on the issue is Sulyman Abaya, he stressed that it is wrong for president to withhold the bill without signing it.
According to him, if the President will not sign the bill, the people who elected him into power must be abreast with reason.
He added that not signing the bill is an abberation, illegal and unconstitutional, saying it poses danger to the Democratic system of the country.
He said, “President cannot just hold his assent without any reason, in some advanced country, this development can trigger crisis among the electorate,”
“The president is expected to give assent to the bill within 30 days of receipt. If he fails to do so, he will be deemed to have refused assent and in which case, the bill returns to the National Assembly who is empowered by section 58 (5) of the Constitution to either veto the President by confirming the bill as a law or resend the bill to the president after taking into consideration the president’s objections to the bill,” said Inebehe Effiong, a lawyer and national legal adviser of the African Action Congress.
However, in the current application, the three political parties are asking the court to examine the bill, in relation to the 2010 Electoral Act, which the group described as “the document already in use by the electoral umpire, INEC for preparation towards the 2019 general election.”
According to a lawyer representing the applicants, Adekunle Otitoju, they approached the court because they view the 2018 Electoral Act as a “chaotic development that will adversely affect the outcome of the 2019 general elections.”
”We are in court because of the 2018 amended bill that is lying before the President. What we are saying is that we have an existing 2010 Electoral Act that has begun the process of the forthcoming election,”Otitoju said.
”Notice of election has been given on the basis of the 2010 amended bill and now; in less than three months to the elections, this new bill has been sent to the President.
“There is no way that a new bill that is seeking for us to kickstart electronic voting will be good for an election that is less than three months. The bill should have been sent, maybe a year or two before now,” he added.
Also, addressing journalists at the court premises, one of the applicants, Shittu Kabir, the presidential candidate for APDA said the 2018 Electoral Bill, if passed into law, will have an adverse effect on smaller parties, aas well as on the election umpire.
“If this bill is introduced now; INEC has not trained its staff for full electronic transmission, the electorate are not conversant with the system. We have not been able to educate our voters,” Mr Kabir said.
“Proper voter education for the electronic voting system is required to be done in all states of the federation, the 774 local government and in the FCT. Proceeding with this bill will only cause chaos and confusion among the electorates,” he added.
The political parties, however, said they were not against Buhari’s assent to the bill, but would prefer that the bill is approved after the 2019 elections.
In a reaction, however, Effiong described the current application as “laughable, provocative and ridiculous.”
“If the 30 days window is still open and some people are going to court, then that is laughable. It is extremely ridiculous and provocative. Because what they are doing now is to give the president grounds to say: “No I will not sign it, the case is in court.”
“As a legal adviser of a contesting political party; I don’t know how a party that is interested in a free, fair election will advocate a suspension of assent to such a bill. I don’t mean to be speculative, but it does appear as if this applicants are playing the bidding of some people in government,” Mr Effiong said.
Also offering a similar opinion, another lawyer, Bria Okonkwo, said the bill can only result in a positive outcome for the 2019 elections.
“I am of the opinion that the new Electoral Act will not only ensure a free and fair election but will also help reduce to the minimum level of cases of electoral fraud and violence which has often characterised elections in this part of the world,” Ms Okonkwo said on Monday.
Additional information culled from: Premium Times