BY writing to both chambers of the National Assembly to express his reservations about the Electoral Act 2010 Amendment Bill, President Muhammadu Buhari has withheld his assent and cast doubt on the rationality of the lawmakers to review or amend the contentious provisions of the Act. What this means, in legislative parlance, is that the president has vetoed the bill. Consequently, the National Assembly is now in a position to override the veto by two-thirds of its members at separate sittings.
There is no doubt that the nation is about to witness another executive-legislature face-off in constitution reviews, amendments of Acts of Parliament and lawmaking process where the executive arm of government feels its interest is threatened by the spirit and the letter of the proposed laws or amendments. To be sure, the National Assembly has performed its constitutional function in the circumstance to the dissatisfaction of the incumbent head of the executive arm.
Historically, if the National Assembly, under Bukola Saraki’s chairmanship, pursues the override option and goes ahead to successfully override Buhari’s veto, it would be the second time that the National Assembly would override presidential veto in the nation’s Fourth Republic. The first was on June 7, 2000 when the National Assembly, under the chair of Anyim Pius Anyim, overrode President Olusegun Obasanjo’s veto of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Establishment Bill.
In terms of aggregative national interest, the reservations expressed by Obasanjo were in apple-pie order. It was difficult to understand how the objections he raised could have been in furtherance of his personal or pecuniary interest, although his objections were mainly on the proposed funding components of the NDDC.
While the National Assembly proposed that 15 percent of Federal Government’s monthly statutory allocations be contributed to the funding of the Commission, Obasanjo wanted it reduced to 10 percent. He also wanted the 3 percent annual budget of all oil and gas companies operating in the Niger Delta region proposed by the National Assembly as the companies’ funding contribution to the Commission be reduced to 1.5 percent.
Whereas, Obasanjo wanted member states of the NDDC to contribute 10 percent of their derivation funds to funding the Commission, the National Assembly dropped that proposal. When the totality of these proposals was subjected to critical scrutiny for underlying interests, neither Obasanjo nor the National Assembly could be essentially indicted.
But, this cannot be said of the current face-off, which centres significantly on the reordering of the sequence of elections as reflected in section 25 of the Electoral Act as amended. This is because this provision affects, whether positively or negatively, the political interests of the president and the federal legislators. Understandably, the INEC, being an agency of the executive arm, even though it is claiming to be independent, has acted in cahoots with the Presidency to decide the sequence of elections in 2019.
The Commission, in a bid to foist a fait accompli on the nation and perhaps to blackmail the National Assembly, decided to hurriedly fix and release the dates and sequence of elections for the next 35 years or thereabouts, specifically from 2019 to 2055. This is sui generis and curious administrative projection in the annals of public administration in Nigeria. The electoral body choreographed that gambit amid moves by the National Assembly to whittle down its administrative and discretionary powers which it had used to functionally deal with ordering the poll sequence in the purest form of exercise of delegated powers.
With my little knowledge of elementary government and administrative law, there are limitations to the exercise of delegated powers which are the kinds that the INEC, as a so-called independent agency of the executive arm of government, exercises in conduct of elections within the strictest construction and understanding of the provisions of the extant Electoral Act passed by the National Assembly.
No one is in doubt as to the fact that there is power separation among the three arms of government. And, in order to curtail the excesses of one arm in the discharge of its function, there is in-built principle of checks and balances. What the National Assembly has done with respect to the amendment of the Electoral Act is to check the excesses and near monstrosity of the INEC in the discharge of its delegated administrative power with respect to conduct of elections.