Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu has backed the reordering of schedule of elections approved by the House of Representatives.
This comes as the lawmaker has assured that legislative work on the Electoral Act and the Constitution amendment would be concluded in a matter of weeks.
He spoke on Monday when he received a delegation of the British High Commission in Nigeria led by the High Commissioner, Paul Arkwright.
Ekweremadu was also of the view that the rearrangement of the order of election as passed by the House of Representatives, if adopted by the Conference Committee of both Houses, would help the electorate to judge each candidate on his or her own merit at each level of election.
“The bottom line is that the Conference Committees on both the Electoral Act and Constitution Amendment are meeting separately this week to conclude work on the entire amendments to ensure a smoother and more credible electoral processes as well as promote good governance of the country”, he said.
BusinessDay had earlier reported that senators would adopt the reordering of schedule of elections approved by the House of Representatives.
Recall that the House of Representatives had voted to change the order of elections in the country, a move that will alter the dates and timetable recently released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the conduct of the 2019 general elections, if the bill is enacted and signed into law.
In the proposal, lawmakers amended the Electoral Act by approving that the conduct of National Assembly election will hold first, followed by Governorship and House of Assembly, while the presidential election will be conducted last.
In INEC’s timetable, however, presidential and National Assembly elections were billed for February 16, 2019 and governorship and house of assembly poll fixed for March 2, 2019.
“We are no longer comfortable with the bandwagon effects and winner-takes-all approach whenever the presidential election holds first.
“We want a level playing field for all political parties irrespective of being a governing party or in opposition. As it stands, the party with the majority in the Presidential election is likely to win majority of governorship and state assembly elections and this does not augur well for our polity. Let the presidential election hold last and let the people decide,” a member of the conference committee who pleaded anonymity told BusinessDay.
Citing the enactment of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) by the National Assembly, in the early days of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, another lawmaker reiterated that if President Muhammadu Buhari declines assent, the National Assembly will replicate what it did with the NDDC bill, by vetoing the president.
According to him, lawmakers are set to activate Section 58 (5) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), should the President withhold his assent on the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill.
The section provides that: “Where the President withholds his assent and the bill is again passed by each House by two-thirds majority, the bill shall become law and the assent of the President shall not be required”.
The implication is that 73 senators and 240 members of the House of Representatives would be needed to actualise this.
Ekweremadu, who expressed gratitude to the British government for always showing interest in state of the Nigerian union and her democracy, said that concluding the amendments to the Electoral Act and Constitution amendment was top on the priority list of the 8th National Assembly to ensure better governance and smooth elections in 2019.
He said: “The 2019 election is very important to Nigeria. The amendments to the Electoral Act and the Constitution all form part of the ongoing electoral reform to continue to improve on the quality of our elections.
“In the previous amendment, a timeframe was set for the determination of election petitions. Now we are working on setting a timeframe for pre-election matters. In the previous amendments, we also created a window for direct and indirect primary by political parties. In the current amendment, we want to make more elaborate provisions regarding direct party primaries for political parties that may wish to adopt it to ensure greater fairness, transparency, and internal democracy in choosing their flag bearers.
“We are also working to lift the restrictions on the use of electronic voting by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. That way, it will be up to the election management body to determine if it is sufficiently prepared to deploy electronic voting or when to adopt electronic voting”.
Earlier, the British High Commissioner, Arkwright, said they had come to see the Deputy President of the Senate on political developments, especially as it concerned legislative activities of the National Assembly.
“The legislative programme, which you have in the Senate and the National Assembly, the changes to the electoral laws are also important to us”, Arkwright concluded.
OWEDE AGBAJILEKE, Abuja