The Independent National Electoral Commission has broken its silence on a letter written to it by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), over the contentious Electoral Act Amendment Bill.
Buhari, who received the bill on November 19, has until December 19 to sign it or withhold his assent and communicate to the National Assembly his views and comments about it.
And if after 30 days he refuses to sign the bill, and with the National Assembly not in support of the President’s amendments or reservation, the Senate and the House of Representatives can recall the bill and pass it into law.
Should the bill be passed in the form it was sent to the President by two-thirds majority votes in both chambers, the bill automatically becomes a law even without the signature of the President.
But reacting to the President’s letter on Wednesday, INEC National Commissioner and chairman of its Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, said its position constitutionally, legally and administratively was that the electoral management body is the end user of the electoral legal framework.
He said that it was conventionally rational, strategic and fundamental to seek the opinion of the commission and other critical agencies in the electoral matrix before a new legal framework becomes law.
Okoye said, “Pursuant to Section 58(4) of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), the President has 30 days to assent to a bill presented to him by the National Assembly.
“The President has requested the commission and other critical national institutions to revert with detailed and considered views indicating whether or not the President should assent to the bill.
“This is the democratic way to go and the commission will make its views known to the President bearing in mind the overriding national interest and interest of our democracy.
“The commission will go through the bill and revert to the President within the time frame given to it.”
He said INEC was aware that Nigerians were waiting for this bill and also conscious of the fact that a comprehensive, clear, unambiguous and forward-looking electoral legal framework was germane to early preparations for elections.
He said the regulations and guidelines of the commission are drawn from the Electoral Act and without a new electoral legal framework, the work of the commission will be tentative and that will not be good for the electoral process.
Speaking on the cost implications, Okoye said that it was rather unfortunate that the issue of direct or indirect primary had overshadowed other fundamental issues in the bill.
He said, “However, it is difficult at this stage to speculate on the cost implications of direct primaries. As of today, the bill is inchoate until the President assents to it.
“It is the constitutional and legal responsibility of the commission to give effect to laws passed by the National Assembly.
“Moreover, direct primaries have been a feature of our electoral legal framework. The commission has monitored direct and indirect primaries organised by the different political parties. The commission does not dictate to political parties on the mode of primaries to adopt.
“The new system of direct primary election proposed in the bill domiciles the conditions for the conduct of the primaries with the political parties. In other words, the procedure adopted for the direct primaries shall be spelt out in a guidelines to be issued by the political party and filed with the commission at least 14 days before the primary election.”