Lagos, Lokoja, Abuja — President Muhammadu Buhari's refusal to sign the Electoral Law Amendment Bill has elicited strong reactions from more eminent citizens and groups who insisted that national interest should take precedence over any personal gain.
Among those who urged Buhari to assent to the bill in the interest of peace and success of the 2019 elections are presidential candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Olisa Agbakoba (SAN) and the Christians Association of Nigeria (CAN).
An Atiku support group, Fully and Truly Atikulated Nationwide, yesterday challenged President Buhari to be honourable enough to sign the bill without fear of losing out in the election.
The chairman of the group in Kogi State, Abubakar Kadiri, said the bill, if signed into law, would strengthen the electoral system for the good of all.
At the inauguration of the state coordinator of the group and other officers, Kadiri said President Buhari and his wind of change came with the promise to provide employment for the youths, boost the economy, crash the pump price of petrol and reduce corruption to the minimum.
"But the story is different today as the level of corruption has risen under Buhari and the price of petrol went up to N145 as against the N91per liter he met.
"Most of the PDP leaders who created problems for the then President Goodluck Jonathan moved to his camp in the All Progressives Congress (APC) and yet they have continued to blame the woes of Nigeria on PDP, while taking corruption to the next level.
"His fight against corruption is only on the pages of newspaper. Look at the gains we made in the electoral system with the new electoral bill that would have perfected the process to reduce avenue for malpractice, but he has refused to sign it into law because they know if that bill is signed, it will make the 2019 better and nobody would be able to rig it."
According to Kadiri, the APC should know that corruption is not only the mismanagement of money, when they mismanage the electoral process, it is the worse form of corruption.
"When you are aiding and abetting corruption as Buhari is doing, you are also corrupt. We voted against President Jonathan even when we were PDP members because of corruption in our party. They are now saying next level. We are scared of that slogan 'Next Level' because it is nothing but next level of corruption worse than what made us to work against PDP in 2015."
Ezekwesili advised Buhari to immediately rescind his decision by signing the bill into law, describing the refusal as "an assault on the country's democracy and an attempt to subvert the will of the people."
The former education minister, who spoke yesterday at the party's secretariat in Abuja, also said the president's refusal to sign the bill was an attempt to set the country up for political instability in 2019.
According to her, the reasons given by the president for withholding assent have no iota of credibility, do not stand the test of scrutiny and, therefore, should be rejected by Nigerians.
"The 2019 elections are looked upon as the moment Nigeria must entrench electoral integrity and level playing field for all contestants. Regrettably, President Buhari, by his self-serving opposition to the electoral amendment bill 2018, has shown that he wishes to subvert the will of the Nigerian people for the conduct of a credible election in 2019.
"Simply put, Buhari has decided single-handedly to imperil 2019 elections by choosing to regress all the progress that has so far been made in Nigeria democratic journey since 1999," she said.
She urged the National Assembly to override the president decision, saying "if all efforts to get the bill signed fail, Nigerians would be mobilised against the 'unpopular' stance of the administration."
Also, Agbakoba urged the National Assembly to override President Buhari and enact the 2018 Electoral Bill into law.
He said the amendments would help to improve the credibility of the elections and give legal basis for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to deploy electronic technology for the exercise.
This, he noted, followed doubts by the Supreme Court about the legality of the use of card readers in 2015, because it was not provided for in the old Electoral Act of 2010.
President Buhari had stated that part of the reasons he withheld assent was to avoid confusion as to the applicable legal framework for 2019 elections and the administrative capacity of INEC to cope with the new Electoral Act, as it is all too close to the planned elections.
But Agbakoba, in a letter addressed to the leadership of the National Assembly yesterday, said the decision of the president made no sense.
The CAN yesterday met with the presidential candidates of the 12 political parties over the coming elections where it advised Buhari to sign the bill into law.
While the Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi and the spokesman of the Buhari Campaign Organisation, Festus Keyamo represented Buhari of the APC, former governor of Anambra State and vice presidential candidate of the PDP, Peter Obi, stood in for Atiku.
CAN urged the executive and the National Assembly to resolve the issues around the amended electoral Act
The association warned the executive and the legislature not to play with the future of the country through the planned elections, saying that everything must be done to ensure free and fair poll.
Speaking with newsmen after the meeting, CAN president, Dr. Samson Ayokunle, explained that the motive behind the interface with the presidential candidates was to find out their credentials, get their commitments and speak to their consciences so that they don't set the nation on fire.