The Senate on Wednesday adopted the conference committee report on the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, which recommended that the presidential election will be the last to be conducted in 2019.
This comes as controversy and protests trailed the consideration of the report as 10 All Progressives Congress (APC) senators staged a walk out after the adoption of the report. The lawmakers claim to have 59 senators on their side in support of their position.
Led by Abdullahi Adamu (APC, Nasarawa State), they accused the Senate President Bukola Saraki of partiality, high-handedness, describing the report as pre-determined, self-serving and targeted at President Muhammadu Buhari.
To them, the sequence of election is illegal and an attempt by lawmakers to usurp the powers of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
An attempt by three senators: Adamu, Kabiru Gaya and Ovie Omo-Agege to stop the adoption of the conference report due to what they called constitutional breaches, proved abortive, as Saraki ruled them out of order.
The APC senators faulted the refusal of Saraki to allow for clause-by-clause consideration of the bill in line with parliamentary procedure.
The 10 APC senators include: Abdullahi Adamu, Umar Kurfi, Ovie Omo-Agege, Benjamin Uwajumogu, Binta Masi Garba, Andrew Uchendu, Yahaya Abdullahi, Ali Wakil, Abdullahi Gumel and Abu Ibrahim.
In January, the electoral body had fixed the Presidential and National Assembly elections for February 16, 2019 and governorship and House of Assembly poll for March 2, 2019 respectively.
However, the House of Representatives approved the reordering of sequence of elections by inserting a controversial clause in the 2010 Electoral Act – Section 25.
In the proposal, lawmakers amended the 2010 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.
Omo-Agege disclosed that 59 senators are opposed to the inclusion of the insertion, adding that any attempt to override the president’s veto will not see the light of the day.
Adamu also displayed a copy of his conference report, which he said was not signed by Chairman of the Conference Committee, Suleiman Nazif and his Co-chairman, Pwajok Gyang.
The ranking lawmaker also listed other committee members that failed to sign the report to include Peter Nwaboashi, Biodun Olujimi, Hope Uzodinma and Ajayi Adeyinka.
He said: “We are part of a whole of senators that feel very strongly that the process by which the so-called conference committee report was laid and considered. We believe the process was rushed. Yes, we may rely on some existing statutes or laws rightly or wrongly but the importance the strategic placing of the bill in question is such that needed no rushing whatsoever, there is no need for the rush, what is right is right.
“We believe very strongly that we are against what happened. We stand by that. Incidentally if you take note of the report that was laid the report that was circulated the chairman and the cochairman did not sign. We don’t know why they did not sign the report. Normally if we are going through due process we need to know why they didn’t sign.
“The bill need better attention and must be fairer in the passage. This is a very partisan report, because from the gesturing it is a pre-determined thing for a political party that is threatened by the APC government”.
With the enactment of the bill by the House of Representatives, the next stage is the presentation of the proposal to the President for assent.
There are, however, strong indications that the President will withhold his assent when the bill is eventually forwarded to him, even as lawmakers from the two chambers 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.
But in a swift reaction, Nazif insisted that he signed the report, explaining that the sequence of election is not targeted at anyone.
“Let me make it very clear that I have signed on the concurrence committee report. I don’t know where that came from but I signed it. This is it, signed by me (displaying the report) and if you go to the Clerk, it is also signed by me.
“I am not aware if the sequence of election is being targeted at anybody. What I know is that as Chairman of the Committee on INEC in the Senate I have a responsibility and I chaired the concurrence committee of both the House and the Senate.
“But politics is dynamic. What I know is that there are reasons for elections, people have different reasons for why elections should start from the top to down and from down to top. In the past, we have had elections from the top to down. I don’t know if anybody questioned that. In the past also, we have also had elections from down to top. I don’t know if anybody questioned that,” he said.
He cited instances where the presidential elections held last to include the 1992, 1999, 2003 and 2011 general elections.