2023: INEC Says Polls May Be Postponed, If Buhari Fails To Assent Bill

Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, says it may be forced to postpone the 2023 elections if President Muhammadu Buhari fails to assent to the reworked Electoral Act Amendment Bill by Tuesday.

INEC National Commissioner and Chairman of Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, said this in an interview with  our correspondent.

According to him, there are some fundamental timelines in the new electoral bill that will fundamentally affect the electoral legal framework.

It would be recalled that on November 23, 2021, Buhari declined assent to the bill, citing insecurity, cost of conducting direct primaries and infringement on the rights of Nigerians as his reasons.

The rejection was conveyed in letters written to the National Assembly.

He also said the decision was based on informed advice by relevant ministries, departments and agencies of government, and a careful review of the bill in light of the current realities in Nigeria.

The bill was thereafter reworked by the National Assembly and passed on January 25, 2022, for presidential assent.

Specifically, the lawmakers amended controversial Clause 84 of the bill, which deals with the mode of primary election to be used by political parties.

In the previous version, lawmakers had prescribed that political parties use only the direct mode of primary. But it was made optional in the reworked bill sent to the President for assent.

However, the bill, which was forwarded on January 31, 2022, is yet to receive presidential assent, raising concerns over the likely consequences should Buharireject it again.

Speaking on the matter, Okoye said: “We understand that on January 31, 2022, the reworked Electoral Act Amendment Bill was forwarded to the President. Under Section 58 of the Constitution, the President has been given the right to assent to bills within 30 days. The 30 days have not elapsed.

“As an electoral management body, we have done our part and it is now left for the National Assembly and the executive to do their part so that the country can have a new legal regime to operate on.

“The tenure of the President and that of the Governors (except Anambra, Bayelsa, Imo, Kogi, Edo, Ondo, Ekiti and Osun states) will expire on the 28th day of May 2023 while members of the national and state assemblies will stand dissolved on the 8th day of June 2023.

“By Sections 132(1) and 178(1) of the Constitution, the Commission is empowered to appoint a date for the holding of presidential, governorship, national and state assembly elections.

“INEC had already fixed February 18, 2023, as the date for the presidential election in Nigeria. Now, if you calculate that particular date from today ( last Thursday), it gives you 365 days to that particular election.

“The worrying aspect in this whole impasse is the fact that the new bill  before the President contains very far-reaching timelines that will fundamentally affect the date for the election.

“Under Section 28 of the new bill, the Commission is mandated and under a constitutional and legal obligation to issue the notice for the election within 360 days and that is remaining just five days from today.

“The implication is that if the bill is not signed into law thereafter, the Commission has to shift the date for the presidential election to accommodate the 360 days given on the new bill for issuing the notice of the election.”

The INEC Chief, however, assured that the Commission is permitted by law to orbit around Sections 132(2) and 178(2) of the Constitution in fixing the date for elections so long as the dates remain within the 150 days and 30 days provided in the Constitution.

Okoye said: “In other words, the earliest date for the holding of election into executive positions is 30th of December 2022 while the last date is 29th of April 2023.

“For legislative elections, the earliest date is January 10, 2023, and the last date is 10th of May 2023.

“The Commission takes into consideration the possibility of a second election or runoff election in fixing dates for the conduct of elections. Section 58(4) of the Constitution gives the President 30 days to signify that he assents to or that he withholds his assent to a bill.

“The Commission is in good standing in relation to the dates for the holding of the 2023 general elections but is in support of expeditious resolution of the issues surrounding the Bill.”

Meanwhile, outrage trailed the development as eminent Nigerians and groups urged Buhari to sign the amended electoral bill to avoid a political crisis.

A former Second Vice President, Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Mr. Monday Ubani, described the 2010 Electoral Act as outdated but cautioned against postponing the 2023 elections.

His words:”It will be very disastrous if the elections are postponed because our Constitution has a tenure of four years for every elective office. So, it will be improper to elongate the tenure of any officer.

Therefore, the President must not create a crisis for the country unless he has an agenda he is pursuing. I agree with INEC on the non-workability of the 2010 Electoral Act, which is outdated.

“The President should sign the bill into law so that the country can utilize the new provisions added in the bill. I think the right thing to do is for the President to sign that bill into law.”

On his part, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, described the possibility of postponing the polls as “dangerous, foreboding and constitutional conundrum.”

Also reacting, Secretary-General, Yoruba Council of Elders, YCE, Dr. Kunle Olajide, said: “Whatever INEC does has to align with the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution and I am sure there are specific dates and period  the elections have to be held, nobody or institution has the right to extend the life of any administration.

“So, the postponement will still be within the period allowed by the Constitution. INEC does not have the power to extend the tenure of the present administration or any administration for that matter.

“Nigerians want Mr. President to sign the Electoral Act Amendment Bill for obvious reasons.’’

Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, warned that the time-table for the next elections should not be altered.

Its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Jare Ajayi, said: “The Electoral Act Amendment Bill being delayed by the executive is indicative of the slow pace with which government treats issues that have to do with Nigerians.

“The Electoral Act Bill has been on the table for a long time. Why is the President delaying it?

Under no circumstances should the election time-table be altered.

“We call on President Muhammadu Buhari to assent to the bill and ensure that INEC has the necessary support to ensure that we have – free, fair and credible elections”

President of  the African Bar Association, AfBA, Hannibal Uwaifo, said: “If the President fails to sign the Electoral Amendment Bill, he has no excuse for doing so. Whether the President signs it or not, whether INEC postpones the election or not, the President has until May 29 to vacate office.

“I believe the President has the responsibility to sign the Electoral Act Amdendment Bill. If he fails, the National Assembly has the prerogative and constitutional right to override him.’’

President of Association of South East Town Unions, ASETU, Emeka Diwe, on his part, said:”It is a dubious, deliberate and dangerous step to scuttle Nigeria’s democracy. That is the summary.”

Meanwhile, 26 Civil Society Organisations, CSOs, yesterday, declared February 22, 2022, a national day of protest following the delay in granting assent to the bill.

The CSOs include Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, Yiaga Africa, Partners for Electoral Reform, PER, International Press Centre, Institute for Media and Society, Nigerian Women Trust Fund, The Albino Foundation, Centre for Citizens with Disability, Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism, PTCIJ, Labour Civil Society Coalition, LASCO, Transition Monitoring Group and CLEEN Foundation.

Others are Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre ,CISLAC, Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre, WARDC, Nigeria Network of Non-Governmental Organizations ,NNNGO, Inclusive Friends Association , IFA, Enough is Enough, The Electoral Hub, Centre for Liberty, Take Back Nigeria Movement, International Peace and Civic Responsibility Centre, IPCRC, 100 Women Lobby Group, Women in Politics Forum, Raising New Voices, Millennials Active Citizenship Advocacy Africa and Ready To Lead Africa.

This was disclosed in a statement they jointly signed.

Edited by Felix Ajide