As the debacle over the proposed 2018 Electoral (Amendment) Bill continues to generate reactions, senior lawyer, Dr Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), has called on the leadership of the National Assembly to override the decision of President Muhammadu Buhari to withhold assent to the bill.
Recall that President Buhari had last Friday given reasons why he could not sign the bill, saying the assent, following limited time to election, would “provide opportunity for disruption and confusion”, adding that his decision was in the best interest of the country.
In a letter addressed to Senate President Bukola Saraki and Speaker Yakubu Dogara, and made available to our correspondent, Agbakoba said Buhari’s decision to withhold assent to the bill “does not make any sense”.
While alluding to the 2015 elections, the senior lawyer explained that the poll would not have generated much controversy if card readers had been included in the 2010 Electoral Act.
He recalled that while the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, partly used smart card readers with Incident Forms for voters during the 2015 polls, the Supreme Court in its ruling on post-election cases held that the card readers were not allowed, as they were not captured in the 2010 Electoral Act.
Agbakoba recalled that the Incident Forms generated controversy, as it enabled non accredited persons to vote, a development that cast doubts on the credibility of the elections.
The senior lawyer dismissed Buhari’s claim that assent to the bill would cause confusion as there will not be adequate time for INEC to become familiar with the proposed new Electoral Act if signed.
“This is simply incorrect,” Agbakoba said.
“INEC is ready to deploy electronic technology for 2019 elections, and only requires that the Electoral Act provides a legal framework,” he stressed.
He explained that the apex court gave the nod for use of smart cards in 2019 elections in order to give INEC a legal basis for card readers and electronic technology, which would remove constraints that might inhibit credibility of future elections.
“In order to remove constraints that will impact the credibility of future elections, such as 2019, the Electoral Act 2010, was amended by the 2018 Bill, to formalize the legal basis of the Smart Cards which was already in use for elections by INEC anyway,” he said.
“It will be recalled that the Supreme Court declared use of Smart Cards as contrary to the Electoral Act 2010, so the 2018 amendment is intended to give INEC a legal basis to use Smart Cards and Electronic Technology.”
He explained that the 2018 Bill, which also introduced the important procedure of transmitting results of votes from Polling Units by electronic means, would enhance transparency of the exercise.
“Electronic transmission will remove rigging and enhance the credibility of the Vote Count.
“INEC says it is familiar with the amendments contained in the 2018 Electoral Bill, and has used smart cards at all elections from 2015.
“The commission has submitted an election budget which provides for Smart Cards and transmission equipment. All these in the 2018 Amendments will help to improve the credibility of our elections,” he said.
Agbakoba therefore urged the National Assembly to override the President’s decision and enact the 2018 Electoral Act.