•59 senators reject new timetable • 10 others walkout, vow to reverse alteration
By Ikechukwu Okaforadi and Christiana Ekpa
Barely one year to the 2019 general elections, fresh hostilities have resumed in the Senate against Senate President, Bukola Saraki, following the alteration of the 2010 Electoral Act, which, against precedence, has placed Presidential election last to come, after the National Assembly polls.
Recall that the Senate Committee on INEC had last two weeks adopted the amendment to the 2010 Electoral Act which was effected by the House of Representatives in which the green chamber reordered the 2019 polls.
However, this amendment backfired in the senate when it was being considered by the lawmakers, resulting in ten senators, who are strong allies of President Mohammadu Buhari, walking out of the chamber to tell journalists that about 59 pro-Buhari senators are ready to challenge the inclusion of Section 25(1) in the Bill to any length, vowing to bring it to nullity.
Trouble started when Chairman of the Senate Committee on INEC, Suleiman Nazif, presented the report of the committee in which he intimated his colleagues that the committee adopted the amendment by the green chamber on reordering of the 2019 poll sequence, which placed the presidential election last.
This disclosure, therefore, drew up fireworks in the chambers as many of the APC senators shouted against the new amendment, calling for its rejection, as they claimed it was made in bad faith and targeted against the person of President Buhari.
Senator Abdulahi Adamu (APC, Nasarawa West), who later led ten APC senators to stage a walkout in the chamber, in his remarks, condemned the amendment, saying the alteration is not only contentious but has been taken to court; wondering why the senate will, in a rush, adopt an amendment that was controversially done even in the green chamber where it originated.
“I am raising a Constitutional Point of Order. Section 76 of the constitution with reference to the matter in discussion stipulates that election to each House of the National Assembly shall be held on the date to be appointed by INEC,” he said.
In his remarks, Senator Kabiru Gaya (APC-Kano) said: “We appreciate your concern on the opinion of both sides. I will like to raise this issue on point of order 87(c) which stipulates that the conference committee shall deliberate only between the Senate and the House of Representatives. The conference committee shall not insert in its report, any matter not committed to it by either the Senate or the House of Representatives.
“Mr President, this report on sequence of elections was never discussed in the Senate. So why are we bringing it here?” Gaya asked.
In his ruling, the Senate President, who did not allow further debate on the subject matter, but banged the gravel to signal adoption and passing of the amendment, said: “As I keep on emphasizing, institutions are what are important. We, as senators, have to finish our time and go. We must continue to strengthen institutions; and by so doing, we must follow the procedures that are also laid at all times.
“For conference report, it has been the procedure; and as such, with all due respect, I have to rule you out of order. I know every politics is local. As much as it is local, we also have to maintain the integrity of these institutions,” Saraki said.
However, briefing journalists after staging the walkout, ten senators led by senator Abdulahi Adamu (APC Nasarawa), said a lot of senators wanted to oppose the amendment, but were not allowed by the Senate President.
He said the documents circulated to them were not signed by both the chairman and co chairman of the committee, as well as many other members of the committee; yet the senate president does not want to allow the senate find out why they did not sign the report, adding that this is not in the tradition of the senate.
He asked why the senate will dwell in making a law to target a person, describing the amendment as partisan in nature, as there is nothing to rush about in passing the Bill.
Also speaking, another member of the group, Ovie Omo-Agege (APC, Delta), said there is contention in the House of Representatives that the quorum was not formed when the green chamber adopted the amendment to Section 25(1) of the 2010 Electoral Act, saying that only 36 out of the 360 persons in the House made that alteration.
He said there is no way 36 members in the House will determine the fate of 360 lawmakers; adding that section 86(c) of the Senate rules required that the senate should have dissolved into a committee of the whole to consider the proposed amendment but the Senate President did not allow that to happen.
He said if the Senate President had allowed the amendment to be put to vote, it would have failed; adding that they will continue to protest against the inclusion of Section 25(1) to ensure that it does not become law. He said the amendment is not fair, as it was targeted at the President.
Similarly, Binta Masi Garba (APC, Adamawa) said the senate president led the senate to be at variance with the constitution, which she said must not be allowed in amending the Act.
She said before adopting it, the senate should have considered the financial implication of the amendment on the country; adding that even with the economic crisis in the country, yet the senate is taking a partisan decision to stagger the election into three places which according to her, will further aggravate the economic challenges in the country.
Also, Abu Ibrahim (Katsina South) said for the senate not to have followed the due process of its standing order, by implication, the amendment to the 2010 Electoral Act is illegal.
Others who also opposed the amendments were: Ali Wakil (APC, Bauchi), Abdulahi Gumel (APC, Jigawa), Ibrahim Kurfi (APC, Katsina), Abdulahi Abubakar (APC, Kebbi), Andrew Uchendu (APC, Rivers), Ben Uwajimogu (APC Imo).
On the contrary, the Senate spokesperson, Abdulahi Sabi (APC, Niger), while briefing journalists after the ten senators had bared their anger, said if President Buhari fails to sign the amendment, the Senate will respond appropriately; saying he cannot say if it is true or false that there are 59 senators who are determined to fight Saraki to withdraw the passed 2010 Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill.
Responding to the issues of lack of quorum in the House, where the Bill originated, Sabi said it is possible that a lot of them who entered their presence in the attendance register left for their personal affairs when the decision was taken, adding that in that situation, the decision is binding on all those who had entered their presence in the attendance register for that day’s sitting.
Meanwhile, to the consternation of journalists, the chairman of the Senate Committee on INEC, Suleiman Nazif, who briefed journalists alongside Sabi, said he, with other members of the conference committee, actually signed the report contrary to what the aggrieved ten APC senators had said.
While reeling out the other amendments effected by the senate, he said the rule allows them to adopt the position of the House when the issue at stake is such that the senate has not taken a decision on.
Senator Nazif also denied the allegation that the amendment was targeted at President Buhari, adding that politics is dynamic and the senate had considered so many dynamics before deciding to reorder the sequence of 2019 elections. He said there is no hard and fast rule about election sequence as the 1979 elections witnessed senate coming first.
Nevertheless, it is being speculated that the Bill may not be singed by President Mohammadu Buhari, even as the Saraki led Senate requires two- third majority of senators, amounting to 73, to be able it veto the President.
Members of the Senate conference committee that adopted the reordering are: Chairman of the concurrence committee, Suleiman Nazif, Peter Nwoboshi, Dino Melaye, Shehu Sani, Hope Uzodimma, Gilbert Nnaji, Biodun Olujimi.
The other six from the House of Representatives are Edward Pwajok, Taye Monguno, Gabriel Onyemife, among others.