Abuja, Nigeria | AFP | Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday refused to sign off on plans to overhaul the country’s electoral laws, judging that new rules would cause “disruption and confusion” so close to an election.
Africa’s most populous nation goes to the polls to elect a new president and parliament on February 16. Governorship and state house of assembly elections will be held two weeks later.
Buhari, who is seeking re-election, said he was “concerned that passing a new electoral bill this far into the electoral process… could create some uncertainty about the applicable legislation”.
Parliament has passed the Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2018 and has been awaiting presidential assent in the hope it would be introduced before polling day.
But Buhari said: “Any real or apparent change to the rules this close to the election may provide an opportunity for disruption and confusion in respect of which law governs the electoral process.”
Amendments should come into effect after the 2019 general elections, he told the speaker of the lower House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, in a letter.
Domestic and international observers have expressed concern about electoral fraud, after allegations of vote-buying at recent gubernatorial elections.
One of the main amendments in the bill was the compulsory use of electronic voter card readers, which are designed to make it harder to rig the result.
Failure of the technology would see a substitute machine brought in to the affected polling station and voting postponed up to 24 hours, the bill proposed.
Under the current legislation, card readers that scan fingerprints and other personal data are optional.
Election officials can revert to traditional paper ballots and electoral lists should the technology fail.
That happened in 2015 when then-president Goodluck Jonathan voted in his hometown, forcing him to register by hand. Buhari had no such problems when he voted.
Technical glitches with the handheld readers at 300 of the country’s 150,000 polling stations forced the election to run over into a second day.
Other proposed amendments in the bill included limits on election campaign funding and the cost of nomination forms for political candidates.
The head of the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre and civil society election monitor Situation Room, Clement Nwankwo, said it was a “sad day for Nigeria’s electoral progress”.
Buhari had refused three earlier versions and failed to present his own version, he wrote on Twitter.
© Agence France-Presse