By Musa Adamu, Ikechukwu Okaforadi and Christiana Ekpa
Faced with eminent defeat, the Senate yesterday voted to isolate clause 25 of the electoral bill dealing with election sequence from other items in the proposed bill.
The Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the plenary saved the day when he intervened; and citing historical antecedents, proposed that since the clause had become controversial it should be isolated so that other items can pass seamlessly.
Ekweremadu had recalled events leading to the death of constitution amendment of 2006 as a result “third term clause” and that of 2014 due to the disagreement with the office of the Attorney General of the Federation.
Senator Mao Ohabunwa, in his contribution had proposed that since the election sequence Clause was becoming controversial, the Senate should take away the sequence so that others could go seamlessly.
Equally, the House of Representatives, yesterday step-down the Bill that seeks to amend the provisions of the Electoral Act 2010 to make provision for sequence of election.
This followed a request by the sponsor of the Bill, Rep. Edward Pwajok, that the bill be withdrawn.
The bill, which was listed as item four in the order paper for second reading, included seven other lawmakers as co-sponsors.
It would be recalled that following President Muhammadu Buhari, withdrawal of assent to the controversial bill seeking to re-order the election sequence, the House vowed to reintroduce it.
The President had said that the amendment to the sequence of the elections in section 25 of the Principal Act may infringe on the constitutionally guaranteed discretion of the Independent National Electoral Commission to organize, undertake and supervise all elections.
The Senate, before proceeding on Easter break reintroduced the bill with minor amendment making the governorship and the state houses of assembly election comes first, followed by that of the National Assembly and that of the President coming last.
The bill faced rejection when most of the senators who contributed to the debate after Sen. Nazif Suleiman, (Bauchi, APC) led the debate in favour of the bill, spoke against it.
Senator Nazif averred that the Constitution did not provide for sequence of election and that the proposed sequence was unconstitutional.
But in his contribution, the Senate leader, Ahmed Lawan, restated his opposition to the reordering of the election.
He said: “let me state it clearly that I am totally against this exercise. I voted against it before/ and I am also voting against it now. I believe that the right to for us is not to legislate on the sequence but support INEC to conduct free and fair election and, as legislature, do things that will bring down the costs and not add to the highest costs of election conduct in the country.”
On his part, Sen. Kabir Marafa, also restated his opposition to the bill, saying: “and my reasons are that I believe it’s unconstitutional and therefore, a fruitless exercise because it would take someone going to Court to bring it down.
“We should be talking of collapsing the elections and not to further stagger them. You must note that those who are supporting it today will back out when the chips are down. We have seen what happened today (referring to the carting away of the Maze). This is the time for this Senate to come together and not end the way we started. They way we started was unnecessary.”
Also contributing, Senate Minority leader, Godswill Akpabio, while saying the Senate had power to alter the election sequence, said there was no need for the exercise.
He said: “I believe we have the power to do what we are doing. You may have noticed that in all the Court’s pronouncements it has always been about the date and not the election sequence. Having said that, we cannot appropriate and then reapprobaite. Therefore, I opposed the bill.”
Sola Adeyeye, in opposing the bill, warned that the Senate must desist from legislative rascality.
He said: “Let me state clearly, unambiguously and without any iota doubt, that I am opposed to the bill. There cannot be sequence of dates without the dates. Anything else, in my opinion, is legislative rascality.”
Taye Olasudare said it was clear that the Senate did not have the constitutional backing of what they were doing.
He said: “It’s very clear that we don’t have the constitutional right to do what we are doing. We are dissipating unnecessary energy in doing what will benefit the ordinary man. All over the world there are deliberate attempts to reduce the cost of governance. Why should ours be different?”
Among a few Senators who spoke in favour of the bill was Sen. Dino Melaye, who insisted that there was nothing unconstitutional about reordering of the election.
“I disagree with my colleagues who are of the opinion that the exercise was unconstitutional. There is a difference between election date and its sequence. While the Constitution empowers the INEC to fix the dates of election, we are empowered to determine its sequence. If we have the powers to create INEC, we also have the powers to legislate on how it should carry out its duty.”
At the floor of the House of Representatives, Rep. Edward Pwajok moved for the withdrawal of the bill, but many lawmakers vehemently opposed it by chanting `No’ to express their position.
However, the presiding officer, Deputy Speaker of the House, Yussuf Lasun, intervened and said that the sponsor of the bill had the right to withdraw it.
“Let us remind ourselves that the mover of the motion has the right to ask the Presiding officer to step down his bill; and this is what Pwajok has exercised,’’ Lasun said.