By Ikechukwu Okaforadi
8th Senate will certainly not go down the history lane without calling to mind Election Sequence. It is reckoned as one of most controversial campaigns which almost ravaged fragile peace of red chamber in the reign of Bukola Saraki, as Senate President.
Yes! The tenure of Saraki no doubt is fraught with controversies and political mischiefs, however, none of these is most pronounced than the political stalemate created by aborted reordering of 2019 Election Sequence by federal lawmakers.
It is most remarkable because it ushered into Nigeria’s political history book, an era of a successful carting away of the symbol of authority for the senate; ‘Mace’ by some alleged hoodlums, who reportedly later abandoned it at Abuja City Gate.
It was first time historically this kind of invasion would be experienced in the hallowed chamber of the apex law making arm of federal government. Also, dexterity with which this evil plot was hatched and executed by the hoodlums, who broke all security cordons to the precinct of National Assembly, left much to be desired.
How House of Representatives stoked the controversy:
The green chamber had organized a public hearing on the proposed amendment to 2010 Electoral Act. During the public hearing, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was invited by the House of Representative Committee, to make input on the proposed reordering of election sequence.
House had proposed that as a departure from 2015 elections order, National Assembly polls will hold first, follow by State Houses of Assembly, governorship and then Presidential elections to come last in the new sequence.
However, during the hearing, INEC had insisted that determining sequence of elections has been left to prerogative of Election Management Body (EMB) by the Constitution of Nigeria. The commission posited that National Assembly should steer clear of legislating on matters that are constitutionally exclusive to EMB as that will amount to illegality.
Recall that INEC had announced its own sequence earlier in which the commission fixed February 16th 2019 for Presidential and National Assembly election and March 2nd 2019 for governorship and State Houses of Assembly elections.
However, Reps jettisoned the above arrangement, insisted and went ahead with its proposed amendments to the election sequence for 2019. Though INEC at that level threatened to challenge this in court, the threat was merely a mirror of what political controversy that was to follow the proposal.
This happened just about the time the senate was also reviewing the 2010 Electoral Act. Some amendments were already effected on the Electoral Act (2010) in the senate, but nothing yet on the elections sequence.
However, with what transpired in the lower chamber, the senate was still undecided in adopting or rejecting the resolution of the House of Representatives regarding the new sequence.
But Tuesday, the 6th of February was a decisive day, the senate succumbed as the joint conference committee of both chambers unanimously reordered the sequence by adopting the green chamber’s version of amendments to the 2010 Electoral Act, by which it placed the presidential poll last in sequence.
Given that the new amendment was contrary to the sequence already released by INEC for the 2019 general elections, the new Bill, if signed by the President, would have tremendously cut down the powers of the electoral commission in determining which order elections should follow.
In the new sequence which was adopted by the conference committee of both chambers to harmonize, mostly the recommendations of the Reps were adopted.
At that time, rumours were rife that the lawmakers’ insistence in reordering the sequence was for plans by some of them to work against the President if they fail to secure return ticket to the National Assembly.
In the heart of the controversy was that the lawmakers amended Section 25 of the 2010 Electoral Act, in which it added subsection (1), by which it reordered the sequence of the 2019 elections.
In amending Section 25 of the 2010 Electoral Act, the National Assembly approved that the date for the Area Council Elections for chairmen and members should be at a date to be determined by INEC. It reasoned that 1999 Constitution only empowered the electoral commission to determine date for elections and not sequence.
In his opening remarks during the concurrence meeting, chairman of the Joint Conference Committee, Suleiman Nazif, who is also the chairman of the Senate committee on INEC, said the Senate and the House of Representatives will not relent to serve as a buffer to good governance and deepening of democracy at all level.
He assured the National Assembly will continue to provide formidable legislative framework and instrument required for entrenching of democracy in the country. Adding that the conference committee was set up by both chambers to harmonize the areas of differences, of which he vowed the committee will be thorough and will effect the amendments without fear or favour.
He also said the lawmakers will not waiver to provide an electoral instrument that is devoid of controversies to make it stand the test of time, noting that the committee will continue to consult with stakeholders both within and outside the country to add value to both the electoral system and the INEC.
While reading out the new sequence in the amendment, Nazif said “A: National Assembly election, B: State Assembly and Governorship, C: Presidential election. The date for these elections shall be as appointed by the INEC. The date for the election of chairman and members of the Area Councils shall be appointed by INEC”.
In his remarks, Dino Melaye said 1999 Constitution only empowers INEC to appoint the date for the election, but the schedule of elections is the sole responsibility of National Assembly.
Also, Shehu Sani explained that the new sequence will give equal opportunity to all political parties, adding that it was not targeted at anybody as being speculated in the media.
He said that it will also allow the voters to vote for the candidates based on their personal qualities and accomplishment rather than on bandwagon effects.
Sani expressed hope it will contain the anomalous bandwagon effect as witnessed in the past, adding that for both chambers and all the members of the conference committee to concur with the decision, makes it a whole parliamentary arrangement and decision.
Ten senators staged walkout on Saraki
On the 14th of February, the trouble started when Chairman of Senate Committee on INEC, Suleiman Nazif, presented report of the committee in which he intimated his colleagues that his committee adopted the amendment by the House of Representatives in reordering the 2019 poll sequence which placed the presidential election last.
This disclosure therefore threw up fireworks in the red chambers, as some APC senators shouted against the new amendment, calling for its rejection. They claimed it was made in bad fate 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 ruling, the Senate President, who did not allow further debate on the subject matter, but banged the gavel to signal adoption and passing of the amendment, said “As I keep on emphasising, institutions are what is important. We as senators, we 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 not to debate it 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.
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), Abu Ibrahim, Ovie Omo-Agege, Binta Marsi, Kabiru Gaya.
The 2010 Electoral Act (Amendment) was later sent by the National Assembly to President Muhammadu Buhari for presidential assent to activate it into a law to guide the 2019 general elections.
How Buhari rejected new elections sequence
With prejudice to popular expectations, President Muhammadu Buhari, on March 3rd, wrote to National Assembly to declare his decision to withhold presidential assent to the Bill. This triggered fresh rounds of political impasse between the two most antagonistic arms of government.
The President, in a letter forwarded to the two chambers, which was read in the Senate and House of Representatives by presiding officers, predicated his veto on what he described as infractions on constitutional provisions particularly with regards to the new sequence of elections.
The letter titled: “Presidential Decision to withhold Assent to the ELECTORAL AMENDMENT BILL 2018” reads in part : ‘Pursuant to Section 58(4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), I hereby convey to the Senate, my decision, on 3rd March 2018, to decline Presidential Assent to the Electoral Amendment Bill 2018 recently passed by the National Assembly.
“Some of my reasons include the following: (a) The amendment to the sequence of elections in Section 25 of the principal Act, may infringe upon the constitutionally guaranteed discretion of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to organize, undertake and supervise elections provided in Section 15(A) of the third statue to the Constitution;
“(b) The amend to Section 138 of the principal Act to delete two crucial grounds upon which an election may be challenged by candidates, unduly limits the rights of candidates in elections to a free and fair electoral review process;
“(C) The amendment to Section 152 Subsection 325 of the Principal Act may raise Constitutional issues over the competence of the National Assembly to legislate over local government elections”.
However, the letter was not subjected to debate in the senate plenary that day, though there was an emergency executive session before the plenary commenced, but Peoples Daily confirmed from insiders that the closed door was to enable the senators decide on the next line of action.
Briefing journalists after the senate plenary, the Senate Spokesman, Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi (APC Niger North), said any action that would be taken by the senate on the letter would come after the adoption of the letter into its votes and proceedings the following day.
“Senate has not taken any action on the letter vetoing the 2010 Electoral (Amendment) bill 2018 for now because there are processes and procedures of taking such actions.
“First, having received the letter yesterday as read on the floor by the Senate President, the next line of action would be to approve it in our votes and proceedings tomorrow, after which it will be properly studied for any possible line of actions”, he said.
Pundits weigh possibility of overriding President’s veto
It was not so clear what the federal lawmakers planned as their next line of action, but political pundits started analyzing the expense at which National Assembly can override the President’s veto. Politically this is about the only option before the senators and Reps members, but how feasible it were remained uncertain.
Meanwhile, if the lawmakers toe the line of overriding the President’s veto, they would require 73 senators and 240 House of Representatives members to counter the President; being the constitutional 2/3 majority stipulated by the Constitution for that purpose.
Workability of overriding the veto of the President remained doubtful in the parliament especially recalling that on the 14th of February when the Senate passed the amendment bill, ten senators led by Senator Abdullahi Adamu (APC Nasarawa West), protested against the new sequence and vowed that it would not see the light of the day.
Veto proceedings begin in NASS against Buhari
However, after about two weeks interlude of peace and political respite in the parliament, hostility resumed; this time, the lawmakers of both chambers commenced proceedings towards a counter veto against the President.
The both chambers, apparently having spent enough time to study veto letter and grounds of veto by the President, resolved to reintroduce the Electoral Act 2010 (Amendment) Bill, 2018, senate followed suit just few weeks after the House of Representatives did same.
The bill, represented by Senator Suleiman Nazif (APC Bauchi North), passed first reading quickly during senate plenary.
House of Representatives had the previous week re-introduced its version of the controversial bill after President Buhari refused to assent it into law.
Senate probes $50,000 bribe against senators
As the drama unfolded, there was an allegation that associates of President Buhari were brining senators and Reps with $50,000 and $30,000 respectively to frustrate the move to override the President’s veto against the new elections sequence passed by both chambers.
In the senate specifically, the Senate President directed the committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petition to probe the allegation. Specifically, the senate asked the committee to find out if senators were indeed involved in a $50,000 bribery scandal.
This was sequel to a point of order raised by Peter Nwaboshi (PDP, Delta) in reaction to reports that members of the Senate, as well as House of Representatives are collecting $50,000 and $30,000 respectively to sway their support in the moves to amend the Electoral Act of 2010.
Daredevil thugs break security cordons, invade Senate, snatch mace
Recall that on the 14th of February when senate passed the new sequence in the 2010 Electoral Act (Amendment), ten senators staged a walkout in the senate chambers. One of them was Ovie Omo Agege, who represents Delta Central on APC platform, having defected from Labour Party to APC.
Briefing journalists alongside nine other senators among his camp, Omo-Agege has confirmed the speculations that the reordering of elections sequence by the National Assembly was being targeted at President Muhammadu Buhari.
To this end, the senate, after considering a Point of Order raised by Senator Samuel Anyanwu (PDP, Imo East), subjected the Delta Central senator to its Committee on Ethics and Privileges for probe.
Subsequently, Omo-Agege was suspended from Senate, but he went to court to challenge his suspension where he got an order stopping the senate from suspending him.
However, following the ambiguity in the court order, on the 18th of April, the senator allegedly hired thugs who overran the National Assembly at about 11:30am, overpowered all the security operatives in the parliament and disappeared with the senate mace, and entered into a waiting black Range Rover Jeep and drove out through one of the National Assembly gates.
The trouble started at the Senate wing barely 15 minutes in the commencement of plenary presided over by the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, when thugs forced their way into the chamber and snatched the mace.
Omo-Agege, despite being on suspension according to the senate records, forced his way into the Senate chamber where he sat and observed the plenary for that day of crisis.
Attempts made by Police and Sergeant at arms to stop the thugs from running away with the mace proved abortive as they injured some sergeant at arms who attempted to stop them.
Apparently in confusion over the development, the senators hurriedly went into closed door session for about 50 minutes of which the suspended Omo-Agege was in attendance.
However, addressing a joint session of both chambers after the closed door session, the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, said “We will stand by our democracy, we will defend our democracy.
“It is an affront on the senate, it is an affront on democracy, it is an affront on the National Assembly, it is an affront on the parliament but we are going to stand together to ensure that we continue with the assignment Nigerians gave us to represent them.
“We are going to get to the root of this matter…We are giving the Inspector General of Police and the Department of State Security(DSS) 24 hours to recover our mace”.
In the wake of the invasion, when plenary eventually resumed, majority of the senator across party line, were unanimous that the parliament should suspend further deliberation on the new Sequence of election, given the crisis it has created.
Some PDP senators demanded that it should come on a later date as a separate Bill and not as part of the 2010 Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill.
How Election Sequence Controversy fizzled out
The senate on passed for third reading the 2010 Electoral Act amendment, after consideration and adoption of the report of its standing committee on Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Presenting the report yesterday, the chairman of the committee on INEC, Suleiman Nazif, said all the clauses which the committee presented to the senate for passage have been adopted and passed by the House of Representatives, urging the senate to concur.
Part of the clauses adopted by the senate was that INEC is forbidden to use manual voters register for accreditation where the card readers fail, rather the commission should suspend the election until the faulty card readers are replaced.
Sequel to this, the sentry adopted the report and passed the amendment for third reading without any controversy.
Meanwhile, the issue of election sequence which had pitched the parliament against the executive, was not mentioned in the clauses adopted, as the lawmakers chose to suspend further amendments on the sequence of elections due to the controversy it generated.
Recall that the lawmakers had reordered the sequence of the election in which it placed the presidential polls for the 2019 general elections first, which was rejected by the executive on the grounds that only INEC is empowered by the 1999 Constitution to determine election sequence.