The proposed amendment of election sequence by the National Assembly caused an uproar on the floor of the Senate yesterday. Senators loyal to President Muhammadu Buhari and President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, disagreed sharply over the issue.
The House of Representatives 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 that of the National Assembly, followed by governorship and State Assembly elections before the presidential election. This is the sequence rolled out by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), last year.
The INEC sequence put presidential and National Assembly elections first before those of governorship and State Assembly. But trouble started when the chairman of the Committee on Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Suleiman Nazif, presented the Conference Committee Report on INEC Act 2010 (Amendment) Bill, 2018.
As soon as Nafiz concluded, Ovie Omo-Agege kicked. He raised a point of order and challenged the inclusion of Section 25(1) in the Electoral Act. He quoted relevant sections of the constitution. He called for a head count of members present. He was, however, ruled out by Saraki who presided.
Kabiru Gaya from Kano State raised a similar point of order. Like Omo-Agege, Gaya was ruled out of order by Saraki. A former governor of Nasarawa State, Abdullahi Adamu, also raised his point of order. Saraki again overruled him.
Dino Melaye and other loyalists of Saraki, who were protesting and insisted on speaking, were equally overruled by Saraki. After a heated debate, Saraki ruled in favour of the adoption of the conference committee report. Saraki said while ruling on the issue:
“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 in the Order Paper.”
Five minutes after the uproar on the floor of the Senate, some members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), stormed the Press Centre, where they briefed Senate correspondents.
Chairman of Northern Senators’ Forum (NSF), Adamu, said they were unhappy with the contents of the report. He claimed that the inclusion of Section 25(1) was targeted at Buhari. He said the process was rushed. He also alleged that the copy of the report circulated did not carry the signature of the chairman and some members of the committee. He said:
“We are aggrieved with the process the so-called report was considered. It was rash. I spoke on the issue.
I relied on some of the statues. We believe that the process was rushed. Yes, we may rely on existing statues of law.
The strategic importance of the bill does not need to be rushed. The report circulated was not signed by the chairman and co-chairman of the conference committee. 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 such a law? I will not be part of it.”
Andrew Uchendu from Rivers State, who accompanied Adamu, said the amendment could not stand. He called on the leadership of the Senate to maintain status quo ante.
Omo-Agege who also briefed the press, boasted that 59, out of 109 senators were opposed to Section 25(1) of the amendment. He said due process was not followed by the leadership of the Senate before adopting the report of the conference committee. He argued:
“When this bill was passed in the House of Representatives, only 36 members were present. This cannot stand in a House of 360 members.
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.”
Nafiz who also briefed newsmen, alongside the Senate spokesman, Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, countered Adamu’s claims. He displayed a copy of the report bearing his signature. He also dismissed insinuations that the report was targeted at President Buhari. Nafiz said:
“The sequence of the election came from the House of Representatives. The Senate only adopted what was passed by the House.
I signed my signature on the report. I am not aware of the sequence of the election is targeted at somebody. I did my job as chairman of the Committee on INEC.”
“As the spokesman of the Senate, I will not say something bad about the procedure adopted by the House of Representatives.
I am not in the House of Representatives and say what I do not know. I can only speak for the Senate.
It is not in my place to talk about what the House of Representatives has done. I cannot answer the question on who and who are against the bill we passed. The senators who said that are entitled to their own opinion.”