The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Yakubu Dogara, has criticised President Muhammadu Buhari for declining assent to the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill by the National Assembly.
The President had four consecutive times declined assent to versions of the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill for various reasons.
The National Assembly had suspended action on the rejected bill, as the 2019 general elections to which it was planned to be applied had come close.
At the plenary on Thursday, Dogara in his opening address, following the Wednesday resumption of the National Assembly from Christmas and New Year break, warned that the non-application of the proposed law to the elections might affect the credibility of the polls.
The Speaker said, “It should remain a thing of pride for us that the National Assembly has done its best by taking steps to guarantee the successful and rancor-free conduct of the 2019 general elections by passing the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill for the third time after Mr. President had declined assent to it twice.
“Lack of passage into law of the amendment bill means that the impending general elections will not benefit from the innovative mechanisms crafted in its collaboration with international and development partners.
“Consequently, the palpable fears of well-meaning Nigerians and the international community of the possibility of some forces working to manipulate the coming elections by exploiting the identified loopholes in the current Electoral Act may become a reality if proactive steps are not taken by critical stakeholders.”
Dogara stated that the intention of the lawmakers was to improve on the successes of the 2015 elections through the amendment bill, which, he said, “is very clear to all fair-minded Nigerians.”
He added, “The spate of serious allegations by stakeholders, corroborated by some press reports against INEC and the Nigeria Police in the recent elections, which are already subject of litigations, are some of the factors that gave rise to public apprehension on the success of the coming general elections.
“We had intended, through this bill, to minimise the risk to the survival of our hard-won democracy through responsive and timely legislation aimed at ensuring free, fair and transparent elections. Nonetheless, as parliament, we have done our best to guarantee the stability and growth of our fragile democracy, and I have no doubt that history will be very kind to us.”
The Speaker said with the present circumstance, “we have no choice but to take INEC and the police by their words and give them the benefit of the doubt in their recent assurances to be impartial, efficient and truthful in the conduct of the coming elections.
“This is the minimum that the country deserves from them at this auspicious time. Nothing short of complete openness, a level playing field and strict adherence to extant laws will be acceptable to Nigerians.
“It remains for me perhaps to caution earnestly that neither contest for elective office nor elections are ends in themselves, they are merely the means by which we seek to serve the people and indeed humanity. Where our intentions are genuine and honorable, we shall never seek power at the expense of the lives and properties of those we seek to serve. This should be our resolve across the board.”
The Speaker also said the lawmakers were all witnesses to “the continuous deteriorating security situation in our country” most especially in the North-East, North-West and some parts of the North-Central, noting that, “Only three days ago, scores of people were killed in Sokoto State and elsewhere.”
Dogara lamented that “hardly will any week pass without reports of mass killings and bloodletting either by terrorists or bandits.”
He said, “This calls for drastic, urgent and concerted action and efforts to bring it to a quick end. Our citizens are looking up to us and we can’t afford to fail them because security of lives and property is the primary purpose of government. The fight against unbridled violence is one we cannot afford to lose as we can’t do so and still keep our civilization.”