One smart boy from Utughugwu village, decided to demystify a sage from Atani village, all in Arochukwu. This sage was famous as a seer. He was a very wise man and was highly regarded in the community. People took difficult problems to him and he often gave wise counsel that resolved many of the problems presented to him. This smart boy decided that the time had come to demystify this old man. He devised a strategy which he was sure would embarrass the old man. He came to the man with his band of friends to put him to test which he was certain the man would fail. He came wearing a big ‘jumpa’ with one of the pockets bulging. He told the old man that he had a small bird in his pocket and wanted the old man to determine if the bird was dead or alive. His game plan, was that if the man said that the chick was dead, he would bring it out alive but if the man said it was alive, he would gently squeeze the bird to death and present it dead. So he was sure there was no way he would not destroy the man’s reputation. The old man looked at the young man and his band and smiled. He then blurted: “whether the chick is dead or alive, it is in your hands.”
This parable came to my memory, as I heard the news that the president had declined assent to the 2018 Electoral Bill, for the 4th and perhaps the last time. That is to say that this bill has finally come to a dead end. Can the National Assembly override this veto? A million dollar question. It is like the question of the smart dud to the old man. Right from the first time the bill was sent to Mr President, unto the third time, he seemed to raise genuine objections and the National Assembly responded with unusual calmness and aplomb and quickly amended the bill, often deleting or changing sections that the President did not like. One major one was the re-ordering of the sequence of elections. The legislature wanted their own elections to be held before that of the president, unlike what the executive as represented by INEC had always done. Did this amendment have any merits? Me, I thought so. For most of the democratic elections since the exit of the military, the presidential elections had always come first, often with that of the National Assembly. I personally like change and I thought it was okay to change the order. Secondly, we have noticed that the Presidential election result seemed to influence or affect the subsequent elections, leading to some bandwagon effect. Many people not wanting to be in opposition would tend to vote the party that won the presidential election in the subsequent elections. True or false, changing the sequence will help debunk such tendencies and perhaps will allow people truly vote their consciences. If our nation was seeking how to improve our electoral processes and procedures to make them freer and fairer, I would see no reason not to accept this change.
But those who understand the way of the Nigerian politics or have the wisdom of the Atani-Arochukwu sage tell me that things are never as they seem and the way we ‘civilians’ think is not the way Nigerian politicians think or see. Politicians know themselves and know many things that ordinary folks like us do not know. Which is why we often get disappointed with them. We often make the mistake of taking them at face value or believing everything they say or promise, as articles of faith. So the President refused to think like us or see the merit of removing or minimizing the bandwagon effect, and so withheld assent. People predicted that the National Assembly would stick to their gun but for reasons not very clear to me, they buckled. Indeed I can never understand why the National Assembly had been so compliant, doing all that the president wanted. In the history of legislation in our country, this is the first time I have seen the legislature show such patience, amending a bill three times to suit the dictates of the executive. And such patience and forbearance coming from the 8th Assembly led by Dr. Bukola Saraki and supported by Yakubu Dogara (both formerly of APC, but now of PDP, with all documents bearing either affiliation remaining valid!)
There must be something very important which the NASS wants to accomplish with this electoral law amendment. And again on the face value, I can see the merits. Would it not be nice to have legal backing for the card reader technology which was said to have improved the integrity our elections? Would it not be nice to adopt a system that allows electronic transmission of results from polling booths direct to collating centers or to INEC computer servers? Will this not reduce the tampering of results that go on now between voting points and collating centers? Will it not reduce if not totally eliminate the troubling political culture of writing results? And so on and so forth. Why will the president not support these changes, giving his reputation as a man of integrity? Perhaps there are things he knows or sees that we ordinary citizens do not know or see.
It seems that the 4th and last amended bill is generally satisfactory to Mr President. But a new twist has arisen. Possibility of confusion between the old law and the new. Having gone this far on the road to 2019, will there not be confusion as to which law is governing the electoral process? This to me is a valid question and concern. But the answer will depend on two factors. First is, how fundamentally different is the new law from the old? Given the three amendments at the instance of the president, it would seem that the differences have been severely narrowed down, except for a few critical innovations, some of which I had made reference to earlier on. Second is, how does the president feel about the current law? Does he see it as important? Does he see any urgency in blocking the holes which the new law portends to block? We must remember that this new law was initiated by the National Assembly and it seems the president does not fully share their views and perhaps their worries. Well, since the president is the man who largely owes Nigerians, the duty of conducting a free and fair election, it may be wise to conclude as the wise sage from my village: “Whether the elections are free and fair or they are corrupted and rigged, all is the hand of President Muhammadu Buhari”.
Mazi Sam. Ohuabunwa OFR, FPSN