Fearing the amendment to Electoral Act, 2010 and Electoral (Amendment) Act 2015, reordering the sequence of 2019 general election would adversely affect the chances of President Muhammadu Buhari, nine All Progressives Congress (APC) senators, on Wednesday, walked out on the Senate, vowing never to allow the alteration to stand.
The aggrieved senators stormed out of the upper chambers shortly after the adoption of the report of the Conference Committee of the Senate and the House of Representatives that harmonised the two versions of the amendment bill.
They complained about what they called the irregular procedure applied by Senate President Bukola Saraki during the passage of the report, claiming that the amendment was targeted at the president.
But moments after the show by the aggrieved senators, the report also got a smooth sail in the House of Representatives, from where the offensive clause originated.
The House in the Committee of the Whole, presided over by Speaker Yakubu Dogara, in the absence of Deputy Speaker Lasun Yusuf, passed the conference report without much ado.
Entitled: “A bill for an Act to amend the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2010 and Electoral (Amendment) Act 2015,” it seeks to, among others, provide a time-line for the transmission of a list of candidates, limit of campaign expenses and address the omission of names of candidates or logo of political parties and for other related matters.
An amendment to S25 of the principal act, which seeks to reorder the sequence of election, however, became controversial, with reports filtering out of the Presidential Villa in Abuja indicating that the presidency is uncomfortable with the proposal.
With the amendment, the National Assembly election holds first, followed by the state Houses of Assembly and governorship election, while the presidential election comes last.
But proceedings at the Senate became dramatic after the report of the harmonisation committee was adopted, with some senators, alleging that one of the amendments targeted President Muhammadu Buhari, and staging a protest.
The nine senators from the APC, led by Senator Adamu Abdullahi (Nasarawa APC); Ovie Omo-Agege, Delta-APC; Binta Garba, Adamawa-APC; Ali Wakili, Bauchi-APC; Kurfi Umaru, Katsina-APC; Andrew Uchendu,
Rivers-APC; Abdullahi Danbaba, Sokoto-APC; Yahaya Abdullahi, Kebbi-APC; and Abu Ibrahim, Katsina-APC walked out of plenary proceedings in protest against the adoption of Section 25 of the amendment bill, which provides that elections shall be held in the following order: (a) National Assembly elections (b) State Houses of Assembly and Governorship elections (c) Presidential election, on separate days.
The drama started as soon as the report was presented for consideration with some senators complaining that they had not received copies, therefore, would not be able to follow the deliberations.
Senate President Saraki directed the Chairman of the Senate Committee on INEC, Senator Sulaiman Nazif, to distribute copies.
Following the presentation by Nazif, Saraki put the question to vote on whether the recommendation, which would change the election order, should be adopted.
As he ruled in favour of the adoption, some senators could be heard protesting in disagreement with his ruling.
Senator Omo-Agege led the pack of protesters by calling for physical votes, to ensure clarity in the number of ‘ayes’ and ‘nays’.
His position was backed by Senator Kabiru Gaya (Kano APC).
Saraki, however, ruled both of them out of order and admonished them not to be personal on the issue, as several bills had been passed in the chamber by voice vote.
He said: “We will come and go, but the institution will stay. We need to come up with laws that will build strong institutions. Let us not be personal about this. Let us behave like statesmen. We have procedures on some of these things.
“There are many bills we have passed. If there are issues, there are mechanisms we can use to resolve them. I have allowed everybody to contribute. But I think we need to move to the next item on the Order Paper.”
This, however, did not stop the protest as some senators walked out of the plenary into the media centre to address journalists.
Senator Abdullahi, who spoke for the dissenting voices, said the amendment was targeted at weakening Buhari in the 2019 polls, adding that only INEC, as the electoral body, is constitutionally empowered to fix election schedules.
He queried the haste in passing the amendment, if it was without ulterior motive.
“Considering the strategic importance of the bill, it does not need to be rushed. So many members of the committee did not sign. We need to know why they did not sign. I believe that the content of the bill is not fair. We need to be fair. Why the rush? We will all pass out one day. Why do we want to pass a law? I will not be part of it,” he said.
Senator Andrew Uchendu (Rivers APC) supported Abdullah’s position and maintained that the amendment would not stand.
Omo-Agege claimed that there were at least 59 senators who were opposed to the amendment.
He claimed further: “When this bill was passed in the House of Representatives, only 36 members were present. This cannot stand in a House of 360 members.”
According to him, “This amendment needs to be debated before it is passed. There is a section in our standing rules that if a bill is sent to the House of Representatives and it makes any inputs, the Senate shall dissolve into a committee of the whole.
“We are supposed to determine if the decision of the House is in tandem with what the Senate passed. That was not done. We are 59 senators who are opposed to Section 25 of the Electoral Act. We cannot stand and allow a law passed against Mr. President to stand.”
However, defending the passage of the amendment, Senate spokesman, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, at a separate press briefing, said there is nothing unusual about the election order in Nigeria’s history.
He said: “This sequence of election in which the Presidential election was held last had been adopted in past elections particularly in 1979 when election to the Senate was conducted on the 7th of July followed by House of Representatives election on 14th of August.
“Also, in 1992, the Senate and House of Representatives elections were held on the 4th of July, while the presidential election was held later on 12th of June, 1993.
“In 1999, elections to the Senate and House of Representatives were held on the 20th of February, while the Presidential election was held on the 27th of February.
“In 2003, the National Assembly election was held on the 12th of April while the Presidential election held on 19th of April. Similarly, in 2011, National Assembly elections held on the 9th of April while the Presidential election held on the 16th of April.”
Nazif also dismissed allegations that there were predetermined motives for the adoption of the earlier amendment by the House.
“For the avoidance of doubt , this bill with the inclusion of section 25(1), which makes provision for the sequence of election different from the one earlier rolled out by INEC has not in any way violated any provisions of the laws governing the operations of the electoral body,” he clarified.
Also contributing at the conference, the House Chairman of the Conference Committee, Hon. Edward Pwajok, explained that the amendment would enhance the credibility of elections in Nigeria.
He said: “The sequence of election provision in the bill is not targeted at anybody but aimed at further giving credibility to the electoral process by way of giving the electorate the opportunity to vote based on individual qualities of candidates vying for National Assembly seat.”
While he was evasive on whether the National Assembly would override the president if he vetoes the bill, Pwajok said they would cross the bridge when they get there.
“On whether it would be assented to or not by the President as far as we are concerned remains in the realm of conjecture for now but if such eventually happens, we’ll know how to cross the bridge,” he said.
There are, however, allegations that the lawmakers who protested against the amendment, may have been influenced by some members of the executive arm of government to oppose it.
THISDAY gathered that while the dissenting voices do not have 59 senators as claimed by Omo-Agege, the group is working hard to woo more lawmakers to their side.
House Pass Bill without Much Ado
In the House of Representatives, the consideration of the conference committee report was undertaken at the Committee of the Whole which was chaired by Speaker Dogara in the absence of the deputy speaker.
But unlike the scenario in the Senate, the amendment scaled through smoothly without any dissenting member.
According to Hon. Edward Pwajok (APC, Plateau) who presented the harmonised version, in the event of the death of a candidate during an election, it was agreed that INEC should suspend election for 21 days to enable the party affected conduct primaries within seven days to replace the dead candidate.
The amendments also mandate INEC to declare an election null and void if votes exceeded accredited voters.
THISDAY had reported exclusively the discomfort of the presidency with the reordering of the sequence of elections and its moves to frustrate it.
It reported that the presidency intended to veto the amendment bill, and in the event of a veto override by the National Assembly, it would work on INEC to challenge it in court on the ground that the bill conflicts with the electoral umpire’s constitutional power to choose dates of elections.
Senate Confirms 7 RECs
In another development, the Senate on Wednesday confirmed the nominations of seven Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) of INEC, and withheld confirmation on two nominees.
Those confirmed are Baba Abba Yusuf (Borno – reappointment), Mr. Segun Agbaje (Ekiti – reappointment), Dr. Uthman Abdulrahman Ajidagba (Kwara- New appointment), Dr. Cyril Omorogbe (Edo – New appointment), Dr. Emmanuel Alex Hart (Rivers – New appointment), Alhaji Mohammed Ibrahim (Gombe – New appointment) and Mr. Yahaya Bello (Nasarawa – New appointment).
Mr. Monday Udoh Tom (Akwa Ibom) was not confirmed because there was a petition against him, while Mr. Eric Olawale (Osun) was not confirmed because he did not show up for the screening by the Senate Committee on INEC.
Women Development Centre DG Asks Women to Register
Meanwhile, the Director-General, National Centre for Women Development, Mrs. Mary Ekpere-Eta, Wednesday called on women to take full advantage of the ongoing continuous voter registration being conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to get their permanent voter card (PVC) ahead of the 2019 general election.
In a statement, the DG reiterated the recent declaration of women backing the restructuring of the country, stressing that obtaining the PVC was the first step for women who hoped to return politicians that support restructuring.
She stressed the need for girls who turn 18 this year and other women qualified to vote to make out time to register at INEC designated centres.
Ekpere-Eta said women could only speak on developmental challenges that affect their communities, such as corruption, unemployment and poverty, by getting PVCs to vote for those who can address these issues.
She said: “From data obtained by NCWD, there has been a large turnout of women at registration centres. Nevertheless, there is still room for improvement in terms of the number of those who complete the process and obtain their PVCs.
“This appeal that women should go out to get their names into the voters register is very important, judging by the fact that we women constitute about 50 percent of the country’s population and we have to invest in the future of our children by voting for our preferred candidates for different positions at all levels of government.”