President Buhari withheld assent to the amended 2018 electoral bill from the national assembly. He just played his political cards well.
In withholding his assent, Buhari said the amended sequence of elections by the legislature will infringe on the constitutional role of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to organize, undertake and supervise elections as enshrined in Section 15(A) of the third statue to the Constitution.
The president also cited grounds upon which an election can be challenged by candidates and the national assembly’s possible interference in local government elections as other reasons why he prefers to keep his ink dry.
However, to really understand why the president withheld his assent, look no further than the sequence of elections.
On Wednesday, February 14, 2018, the red chamber of the national assembly dissolved into a rowdy session as senators adopted the amended electoral act.
Senator Suleiman Nazif who is Chairman of the senate committee on INEC, presented his report before Senate President Bukola Saraki.
In that report were amendments to the order of the 2019 elections as unveiled by INEC in January.
Saraki thereafter subjected the recommendations to a voice vote after a war of words with Senator Kabiru Gaya; as the atmosphere grew even more tense.
Of course the ‘ayes’ had it and the sequence of the 2019 elections was altered by the Senate after the House had passed a similar recommendation.
The Senate session became rowdy and a few lawmakers engaged in shouting matches with their colleagues across the aisle. This essentially became a battle between Buhari's loyalists in the Senate and lawmakers who loathe the president.
More than a dozen furious lawmakers staged a walkout from the chamber on the day.
In INEC’s election timetable unveiled on January 9, 2018, the sequence of elections are as follows:
a) Presidential and National Assembly elections (February 16, 2019)
b) Governorship and State House of Assembly elections (March 2, 2019)
INEC’s sequence has the election to choose a new president coming before all other elections
However, in the amended version of the election timetable, the presidential election comes last.
a) National Assembly elections.
(b) State Houses of Assembly and Governorship elections.
(c) Presidential election.
Because there’s something called the ‘bandwagon effect’ during election season in Nigeria.
When a president from a particular political party wins the popular vote, that party then goes on to sweep parliamentary and State elections.
It’s almost a given in these parts. Ask the PDP.
Once Buhari won the 2015 election, the APC went on to win most governorship and parliamentary seats across the country.
In the north of Nigeria, it was called “APC SAK”; which roughly translates to “vote for APC everywhere, no matter which candidate is on the ballot”.
Many candidates became governors and senators off Buhari’s popularity, goodwill and instant name recognition.
Besides, when a president is elected from a particular party, it is rule of thumb that parliamentary elections are skewed in favour of that party just to align with Aso Rock for pecuniary reasons.
Votes are also rigged in favour of the party that has just produced the president.
The reason why the executive is not liking the national assembly’s election sequence is because if other elections hold first and the president’s party is already losing seats in States and parliaments, it would be as good as Buhari’s fate being sealed before his own election.
The presidency saw the national assembly’s decision to alter the sequence of elections as another subterranean move to unseat Buhari in 2019.
Senators would prefer their own election to come first because a lot of them didn’t quite like the insinuation that they became lawmakers off Buhari’s 2015 popularity. They would have preferred to contest the 2019 election on their own merit so they can beat their chests and say 'we didn't win because of Buhari'. They very much wanted the bragging rights from this whole thing.
If Buhari had assented to the bill, it would have meant using his own hand to kill himself, as they say in pidgin. It is called hara-kiri in Japanese folklore.
The national assembly can still override the president’s veto, remember. This is in no way the end of the battle between the executive and the legislature on this subject.
Expect lawmakers to also continue to play hardball with the executive on confirmation of nominees for presidential appointments and when it comes to consideration of other bills from the executive.
Lawmakers would see Buhari’s refusal to assent to the election amendment bill as a bruising of their ego and an attempt to make them look bad before the people by the president.
This is all politics, really. Good ol’ politics. More like a game of chess. Who blinks first? We can only wish both parties good luck and nothing more.