Aidoghie Paulinus and Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja, Ben Dunno, Warri
The presidential candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN ), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, have told President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the 2018 Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill without delay.
They made the demand separately when they signed the elections peace accord in Abuja, yesterday.
Atiku, Ezekwesili and Donald Duke, presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) were absent when Buhari and presidential candidates of other parties signed the peace pact on Tuesday.
Under the terms of the agreement, contestants are expected to run issue-based campaigns at national, state and local government levels and to refrain from campaigns that will involve religious incitement, ethnic or tribal profiling both by the candidates and all agents acting in their name.
Atiku who was accompanied by his running mate, Mr. Peter Obi, the National Chairman of the PDP, Prince Uche Secondus and other party chieftains, dismissed reports that his absence on Tuesday was to avoid President Buhari.
He declared the commitment of the PDP to a free, peaceful, fair and credible elections.
“We have always said that, and we believe in that. I am a democrat ab initio. I was never converted. I have always been a democrat and I fought the military to return this country to democracy.
“However, the best way to guarantee peace in any election or any human interaction is to ensure manifest justice to all concern.
“I am delighted that Mr. President has agreed to sign this peace accord. But we want to appeal to him to also sign the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill. Mr. President needs to understand that as long as he refuses to sign this bill, we will have doubts that this government is truly committed to a free, fair and credible elections,” he said.
Similarly, Ezekwesili faulted the president for rushing to sign the peace accord, but declining to sign the Electoral Amendment Bill 2018.
“The first thing that the president needs to do in order to build trust amongst all candidates is to sign the Electoral Amendment Bill 2018 into an Act.
“Because he has not done that, I find it very strange that he quickly was at the event yesterday (Tuesday) to sign the peace accord.
“It is contradictory. He needs to be exemplary in all the things that he does. He cannot confuse the system by taking one measure that mills out another measure. That is not the way to go,” Ezekwesili said.
However, amid the growing controversies, President Buhari has allayed fears of manipulation, insisting that he is not in any way desperate to remain in power against the wish of the people.
Making this clarification in a goodwill message delivered on his behalf by the Minister of State, Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, at the third coronation anniversary of the Olu of Warri, Ogiamme Ikenwoli, in Warri, Delta State, Buhari reaffirmed commitment to a peaceful and transparent process where every Nigerian would be free to exercise their voting rights.
Dr. Kachikwu noted that the president never saw next year’s elections as a ‘do or die’ affair, describing him as a man who is more than ever committed to good governance and peaceful coexistence of the nation.
According to him, “the president as a peace loving man who strongly believes in the corporate existence of the nation as one indivisible entity has assured severally to accept the outcome of the 2019 general election based on his conviction that leadership position is a call to serve the people in whatever capacity one is being elected.”
Meanwhile, APC caucus in the House of Representatives has backed President Buhari for withholding assent.
Leader of the caucus, Femi Gbajabiamila, told journalists in Abuja, after an emergency meeting that the legislation was imperfect.
He noted that if President Buhari had signed the bill, it would have led to the disenfranchisement of a lot of voters, as it did not make provision for manual accreditation in the event of failure of card readers.
“What is on the front and centre right now in our discourse is the Electoral (Amendment) bill which the president has not signed and there are calls for us to veto it. Perhaps, a lot of people don’t understand the import and the implications of signing an imperfect document.
“The document is imperfect and you can read it or interpret it anyhow and if count was removed when it should’ve been there, then you can’t even override that imperfect document. You have to first of all amend that document and start the process all over again and then send it back to Mr. President.
“On this particular one, I believe that the thrust and spirit and why the president has refused to sign, which we identify with, is that every vote must count in Nigeria.
“This bill that was sent to the president says that you can only accredit voters through electronic system, it forecloses manual accreditation.
“We are all witnesses to what happened in the last election, where even the sitting president couldn’t be accredited.”