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Spirited efforts made by senators loyal to President Muhammadu Buhari to block the adoption of the Conference Report of Senate on the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2015 were yesterday resisted by Senate President Bukola Saraki who ruled them out of order.
In protest, the pro-Buhari senators, who felt that the reordering of the sequence of 2019 elections was targeted at the President, walked out of the Red Chamber.
The Senate was thrown into turmoil over the consideration and controversial adoption of the Conference Report of its Committee on Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2015.
The crisis erupted between those considered to be pro-Buhari senators and others who are supposedly not supporting his re-election bid in 2019.
The Conference Committee of the Senate and the House of Representatives had adopted the report last week, approving the reordering of the sequence of the 2019 general elections, contrary to what INEC had arranged.
The House of Representatives’ Committee on Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill had, in its amendments to the 2010 Electoral Act, included Section 25(1) into the Act by reordering the sequence of the elections to start from the National Assembly, followed by governorship and state assembly elections before the presidential election, which is now to come last.
Presenting the report for Senate consideration, the Chairman of the Joint Committee of the Senate and the House on INEC, Suleiman Nazif, explained that the Conference Committee harmonised some differences in the two versions of the bill as passed by both chambers as well as adopted the new agreed positions.
“The committee met and deliberated on the two versions of the bill. After exhaustive deliberations, the committee noticed seven areas of differences in sections 36 (3), 49(2), 53(2), 63(4), 78(4),” he said.
The lawmaker further explained that, the committee, in considering the House version in sections 25(1) and 8 (9A, a and b) dealing with sequence of elections and political parties primaries, unanimously adopted the provisions in its entirety to ensure orderliness.
Being a confluence committee report, Saraki put motion for adoption of the report straight for voice votes by the senators without subjecting it to any debate.
Tension further heightened when at the voice votes, those who shouted nay did it louder than those who shouted ayes, and yet Saraki in his ruling said the ayes have it.
Angered by the development, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege (APC Delta Central) raised a point of order to call for division, but was overruled by Saraki.
Omo-Agege, in his point of order, argued that the committee had no power to reorder the sequence of elections, saying that the action was unconstitutional and should be revered by the National Assembly.
He alleged that it was only 36 Reps out of the 360 members of the House of Representatives were present in the Chamber the day the amendment of the Electoral Act was carried out there while the Senate did not form quorum on the day it was passed in the Red Chamber.
He said: “The Electoral Act that is being amended today is a product of well-considered research by the INEC committee in the Senate; it went through full deliberation on the floor, and it was passed.
“Thirty-six people in the House of Reps cannot determine the fate and the destiny of 360 people in the House, which is now carried over in the Senate of 109. Yes, if a conference committee is set up to reconcile the differences, the least we are owed is for this amendment to section 25 to be deliberated.”
His efforts, however, ended in futility as Saraki could not reverse his position.
In another spirited effort to nullify the passage of the report, Senator Kabiru Gaya (APC, Kano South) rose through another point of order to argue that it was against the Senate rules for a conference committee report to be adopted without being debated at the committee of the whole.
Gaya’s argument was, however, knocked off by Saraki, who referred him to rule 53(6) of the Senate standing orders, which prevents the apex legislative chamber from revisiting any matter that had been ruled upon.
“Distinguished colleagues, I’m just entertaining all these points of order being raised over the just passed 2010 Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill for the sake of understanding ourselves better on an issue which is of national and not selfish interest,” Saraki said.
Obviously not satisfied with the explanation, another senator, Abdullahi Adamu (APC, Nasarawa), disrupted the proceedings further with another point of order, with which he argued that the sequence of elections included in the Act was illegal.
According to him, section 76 of the 1999 Constitution vests the power to organise, conduct and fix dates for elections in INEC, which in spirit, also includes order of elections as earlier announced by the electoral body.
But rather than providing solution to the disagreement, the argument offended Saraki, who declared that section 25(1) of the Electoral Act which deals with sequence of elections, has nothing to do with organising, conducting and fixing dates for elections.
Just as he did to other speakers who were antagonistic to the adoption of the report, the President of the Senate ruled him out of order and called on the Senate Leader, Ahmad Lawan (APC, Yobe North), to proceed with next item on the order paper.
The pro-Buhari senators felt humiliated by Saraki’s ruling, provoking Adamu and nine other senators to immediately storm out of the chamber to the Senate Press Centre where they expressed their grievances and total opposition to the action of the President of the Senate in midwifing the adoption of the report in a manner they said lacked due process.
The senators who walked out of the chamber and went to brief journalists included: Abdullahi Yahaya (APC, Kebbi North), Ibrahim Kurfi (APC, Katsina Central), Abu Ibrahim (APC, Katsina South), Abdullahi Gumel (APC, Jigawa North), Binta Masi Garba (APC, Adamawa North), Ali Wakili (APC, Bauchi South), Andrew Uchendu (APC, River East) and Benjamin Uwajumogu (APC, Imo North).
They all took turns to speak against the adoption of the controversial report, declaring it as a constitutional breach which would not see the light of the day since according to them, it was targeted against President Muhammadu Buhari.
Adamu, who led the group, said that they already had 59 signatures of senators against the act based on section 25(1) inserted into it.
He, however, did not provide proof that the group actually secured 59 senators on its side.
“Though we are 10 here now, but we can assure you that as at this morning (yesterday), not less than 59 senators have expressed their opposition to the illegal sequence of elections included in the Act. Perhaps that was the reason why the Senate President refused to follow the due process when report on the Act was to be adopted in the Senate.
“Section 25(1) of the Act reordering the sequence of elections from the one earlier released by INEC last year is a law targeted at an individual which to us is totally in bad faith and will not be allowed to stand,” he said.
At this point, Omo-Agege said that he won his election in 2015 on the platform of Labour Party and not APC, but that as a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, it would be wrong for him to keep quiet when wrong things were being done.
The senators claimed that many members of the Conference Committee did not sign the document, including the chairmen from the Senate and the House, brandishing the signature page.
Also, contributing at the briefing, Senator Binta Garba said that the hurriedly passed Electoral Bill was nothing but handiwork of an individual who might be thinking that he was holier or greater than the state.
“An individual cannot be holier than the state and besides, power is transient and is given by God,” she said.
Meanwhile, in a swift reaction to the briefing of the aggrieved senators, Senate’s spokesman, Aliyu Sabi, and Chairman, Senate Committee on INEC, Suleiman Nazif, said the amendment was not targeted at anybody but carried out in national interest.
According to them, aside the contentious section 25(1) of the amended Act, six other core areas of electoral processes were worked upon with the aim of deepening democratic process in the country.
“We did it in the best interest of Nigerians and not for any selfish agenda,” Sabi said.
Asked what the Senate would do if the president refused assent to the Bill, he said: “when we get to the bridge, we shall determine how to cross it.”
Nazif denied the allegation that he did not sign the report, showing the document’s signature page to prove that he endorsed the report.
He said: “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 on 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.”
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