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Again, Buhari declines assent to Electoral Act

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Few months to next year’s general elections and, for the fourth time, President Muhammadu Buhari has declined assent to the Electoral Act 2018 Amendment Bill.

The President has consequently communicated his reason for rejecting assent to the Bill to the National Assembly.

Before the latest version was submitted, he had withheld assent to the document about three times, attributing the decision to “errors” in the amended Bill.

This is just as the President is set to present an approved version of next year’s Appropriation Bill to the National Assembly.

The Federal Executive Council (FEC), yesterday, approved the fiscal document at a special session in the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

Though the proposed fiscal document is expected to be forwarded to the National Assembly on a yet-to-be announced date, the Presidency kept sealed lips on the figures therein.

The meeting, which started at about 10:30am, lasted till around 1.30pm, with most members of the council in attendance.

Speaking to State House Correspondents on the President’s withholding of assent to the Electoral Act, his Senior Special Assistant on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang, was not forthcoming of the figures, saying only that details on the reason for the President’s return of the Bill is contained in the communication to the National Assembly.

He said: “President Muhammadu Buhari has taken decision on Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2018. In accordance with his power under the 1999 Constitution, he has communicated that decision to the Senate and House of Representatives, in accordance with the law.”

When asked whether the Bill was assented to or rejected, Enang simply said: “The President has taken a decision in accordance with the powers vested in him according to the constitution. And by convention, that decision contained in the communication can only be revealed by the person to whom that decision is addressed.

“But the Electoral Bill has left Mr. President, because he has taken a decision and has remitted it back.”

Pushed further for reasons behind the President’s decision, the former lawmaker insisted that Buhari had already communicated his decision on the matter to the National Assembly, insisting: “That is what it is now. This is all the law allows me to say by convention. Mr. President has sent that to the National Assembly.”

Asked if it was safe to say that the President rejected the Bill, Enang replied: “It is safe to say that the President has taken decision, as allowed by law, and has communicated that decision to the Senate and the House of Representatives.”

On the implication of the decision on the next year’s elections, the president’s aide insisted: “The implication of the decision is that the President has taken action on the Bill within the time allowed by law.’

Senate Majority Leader, Ahmed Lawan, had penultimate Friday warned against the danger in stampeding Buhari into signing the 2018 Electoral Act Amendment Bill into law.

Fielding questions at the Presidential Villa, Lawan advised that Buhari should be allowed to take his time to study the document to avoid what he described as errors, adding: “I will advise, even though I am not one of his advisers, that he goes through what has been sent to him line by line, understand whatever his advisers will tell him and of what we have sent will make the elections in 2019 better, then he signs.

“But if he discovers some provisions that will bring contradictions and controversies, he can withhold assent.

‘I’m not advocating that he withholds assent, but if he does, that is his right. I want to tell you that the APC caucus in the National Assembly stands with Mr. President on this.”

Lawan stated that should Buhari withhold assent, the amended 2006 Electoral Act could still be used for the coming elections, saying if properly implemented, the 2006 Electoral Act could deliver a much more transparent, free and fair elections next year than what was experienced in 2015.

Meanwhile, the President has assented to National Open University Amendment Act, which allows the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) to operate as all other universities, having the same power and functions and the same administrative structures, thereby eliminating possible discrimination against its products and programmes.

It also allows and gives conditions for the establishment of some centres, to be called study centres.

Briefing State House Correspondents after the closed-door FEC meeting, Minister of Budget and National Planning, Udoma Udo-Udoma, said the Council would liaise with the leadership of the National Assembly to determine when it would be appropriate for the President to submit the draft estimates for the consideration of the two chambers of the parliament at a joint session.

The minister, however, declined to give further details on the proposal, noting that the Nigerian constitution only allows the President to give out the details and that Buhari would do so when the National Assembly is ready to receive the draft.

FEC had on October 24, this year, approved the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP) for 2019 to 2021, which provides the template for next year’s budget.

The session, which was presided over by the President, approved a budget estimate of N8.73trillion for next year’s budget, N400billion lower than that of this year.

The price of crude oil per barrel was pegged at $60, exchange rate at $305 and daily crude oil production was put at 2.3m by the FEC.

The MTEF/ FSP was designed to translate strategic development objective of the economic recovery and growth plan into a realistic and implementable budget framework.

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