Barring any last minute changes, President Muhammadu Buhari may assent to the reworked Electoral Act Amendment Bill transmitted to him last month by the National Assembly, on Friday.
Presidential spokesman, Mallam Garba Shehu, on Wednesday, confirmed to THISDAY that the signing of the bill was on Buhari’s schedule for Friday.
Shehu said, “Yes, the president will sign on Friday, God willing. It’s on his programme.”
Another reliable presidency source had earlier confirmed that the president was scheduled to assent to the bill at the State House, Abuja, about noon on Friday.
THISDAY had exclusively reported on Monday that the President was seeking assurances from the National Assembly leadership to amend clause 84 which barred political appointees from voting or being voted for in their party convention or congresses without first resigning from office. This was interpreted as an infringement of their constitutional right. The President was seeking assurances that the lawmakers would amend this clause to bring it in conformity with the constitution after he may have signed the bill. THISDAY checks indicate, those assurances may have been given.
Top government officials, including the leadership of the legislative arm, namely President of the Senate, Dr Ahmad Lawan, and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, would witness the signing ceremony for the electoral bill.
The top presidency source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, stated that arrangements had been finalised for the president to sign the amendment bill into law Friday.
According to the source, “All these anxieties will disappear by Friday afternoon. He will be signing the bill around noon of that day. I believe he has taken his time so that the Electoral Act can be as unassailable as much as possible.”
Public anxiety had mounted in the last few weeks over Buhari’s delay in assenting to the re-amended bill, as some members of the public as well as critical stakeholders had concluded that he was deliberately withholding assent again.
The National Assembly transmitted the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021 to Buhari on January 31, a second time, having reportedly revised the bill, which he had withheld his assent to for some noted reasons.
The president was yet to assent to the bill, more than 20 days after it was transmitted to him, though he constitutionally has a 30-day window till March 1, within which he is mandated to either assent or state reasons for not doing so.
Buhari had first withheld his assent to the bill in November 2021, citing the cost of conducting direct primary elections, security challenges, and possible manipulation of the electoral process by political players as part of the reasons for his decision. He, however, gave some conditions for his assent, prompting the federal lawmakers to re-work the bill, which initially led to the emergence of two versions from the green and red chambers of the assembly.
Thereafter, the two chambers, in a conference committee, harmonised their position before transmitting the reworked bill to the president last month.
Meanwhile, Benson, in a chat with journalists in Abuja, argued that the clause, which sought to act as a leveller, did not in any way undermine the rights of political appointees to hold office or participate in primaries or main elections. He said the timeframe given by the clause (three months) for appointees to resign from their positions before conventions or congresses was only meant to place every aspirant on the same pedestal, and not to stop them from contesting, as being alleged in some sections of the public.
Benson stated, “Assuming without conceding that, that’s what it says in section 84(10) that appointees must resign three months before primaries or convention, let’s say it’s geared towards stopping political office holders from contesting, there’s a section of the constitution, which says that you shall resign 30 days before the general elections. If that constitutional provision clashes with the Electoral Act, which supersedes?
“So there’s no need to even worry about that clause if that’s the way they perceive it. But what we are trying to do is that for a convention or a congress, you have statutory delegates. But a governor will go and appoint 1,000 political appointees to participate in the congress, whom do you think will win? The governor will.
“So, we are saying no, you can’t do that. Let’s have a fixed number, manageable number. Let’s give a fair chance to you, you and you, and not to the stooge or the preferred candidate of the governor. So, that’s what that clause is trying to prevent. It is not trying to prevent political office holders from running. And I said even if does prevent political office holders from running, there’s a provision in the constitution that protects them.”
Deji Elumoye and Udora Orizu in Abuja