•Say change of election timetable targeted at Buhari
•As 10 pro-Buhari senators walk out on Saraki
•Senate confirms 7 RECs for INEC
By Henry Umoru
ABUJA —THE relative peace that the 8th Senate has been enjoying in the last one year was threatened yesterday, following a rowdy session that erupted at the chamber as senators were sharply divided over a new amendment to the Electoral Act regarding election sequence in the 2019 general elections.
Indeed, 10 All Progressives Congress, APC, senators, who opposed the amendment, which they said was targeted at President Muhammadu Buhari, walked out of the chamber to address the press, while the plenary presided by Senate President, Bukola Saraki, was still on.
Led by the Chairman of Northern Senators Caucus and former governor of Nasarawa State, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, the 10 senators were peeved that their argument against the bill was truncated at the plenary by Senate President Saraki and vowed that the amendment would not stand.
The aggrieved APC senators included Binta Garba (Adamawa); Ali Wakili (Bauchi); Kurfi Umaru (Katsina); Andrew Uchendu (Rivers); Abdullahi Danbaba (Sokoto); Yahaya Abdullahi (Kebbi); Abu Ibrahim (Katsina); and Benjamin Uwajumogu (Imo).
They described the amendment and process of passage as ‘illegal’, vowing that it would not stand, with the leader of the dissenting group, Abdullahi Adamu, questioning the conduct of the Senate President in the process of passage.
This happened on a day the Senate confirmed seven people for appointment as Resident Electoral Commissioners, RECs, of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
The amended bill places the Presidential election as the last to be conducted, while that of the National Assembly will hold first, followed by governorship and state houses of assembly polls.
The bill has been passed and concurred with by the two chambers of the National Assembly and is in the process of being forwarded to President Buhari for assent.
With this arrangement, it is feared in some quarters that President Buhari and other presidential candidates in the 2019 general election may be made to sweat for their election.
How the rumpus started
At yesterday’s plenary, the division occurred soon after the adoption of the Conference Committee Report on the amendment to the Electoral Act.
This followed the consideration of the report on a Bill for an Act to amend the Electoral Act No. 6, 2010 and Electoral Act (Amendment) Act 2015 to provide for a time line for submission of list of candidates, sequence of elections and political party primaries, use of technological devices among others.
Chairman of the Joint Committee on INEC, Senator Suleiman Nazif (APC, Bauchi North), who presented the conference report on behalf of the 12 senators and House of Representatives members, said “the Conference Committee recommends that the Senate and the House of Representatives do consider and approve the conference committee report on a bill for an act to amend the electoral Act No. 6, 2010 and electoral (Amendment) Act 2015.”
Other members of Conference Committee are Senators Shehu Sani (APC, Kaduna Central); Dino Melaye (APC, Kogi West); Peter Nwaoboshi (PDP, Delta North); Biodun Olujimi (PDP, Ekiti South) and Hope Uzodinma (PDP, Imo West).
Members from the House of Representatives are Pwajok Edward Gyang as co-chairman; Onyenwife Gabriel; Bassey Eko Ewa; Mohammed Tahie Monguno; Mohammed Soba and Ajayi Adeyinka.
Speaking further, Nazif said the Electoral Act No 6, 2010 amendment bill 2017 was passed by the Senate on Thursday, March 30, 2017 and in the House of Representatives it was passed on Thursday, February 1, 2018, adding, “however, some differences were noticed in the two versions of the bill as passed by both chambers.
“Consequently, a conference committee was constituted in the Senate on Wednesday, January 4, 2018 and the House of Representatives also on Wednesday January 24, 2018 to reconcile areas of difference that appeared in the two versions.
“The committee met and deliberated on the two versions of the bill. After exhaustive deliberations, the committee noticed seven areas of differences in section 36 (3), 49(2), 53(2), 63(4), 78(4).”
The Senator explained that in considering the House version in sections 25(1) and 8 (9A, a and b) dealing with sequence of elections and political parties primaries, the committee “unanimously adopted the provisions in its entirety to ensure orderliness.”
APC senators kick
Opposing the amendment, Senator Kabiru Gaya (APC, Kano South) said: “Mr President, 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?”
Also, Senator Abdullahi Adamu (APC, Nasarawa West), said: “I am raising a Constitutional Point of Order. Section 76 of the constitution with reference to the matter in discussion which stipulates that election to each houses of the National Assembly shall be held on the date to be appointed by INEC.”
We must strengthen institutions – Saraki
In his remarks, Senate President Saraki 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 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.”
Angered by what happened during the plenary, the 10 APC senators stormed the Senate Press Corps Centre to address journalists, expressing their reservations and vehemently kicked against the bill.
According to them, the action was not only trash, but a rush, self-serving and targeted at President Buhari’s re-election bid, adding that the amendment was carried out in very bad faith which will not stand.
The protesting senators, who claimed they were 59 in number, said others could not join them because they were attending to some official matters at different locations.
However, request by journalists to have a full list of the 59 senators could not be met by the senators.
Speaking one after the other, the senators picked holes in the bill, stressing that it was clearly skewed against the President. They insisted that the amendment was hasty and uncalled for, adding that the bill seeks to usurp the constitutional role of INEC regarding the fixing of election dates.
The senators also faulted the process leading to the amendment, saying only 36 of the 360 members of the House of Representatives passed the amendment bill. The number, they said, failed to form the required quorum, just as they alleged that the report of the conference committee of the Senate and House of Representatives on the bill was not signed by some of the members, including Senator Suleiman Nazif (Bauchi North) who chaired the committee. Nazif is also the Senate committee chairman on INEC.
Describing the amendment as “hasty”, Abdullahi Adamu and his group also expressed worries over the financial implication of running three staggered elections instead of two, even as they said the present harsh economic situation in the country can hardly accommodate elections in three stages.
They insisted on the retention of election sequence in the 2015 general elections, where the presidential election was held simultaneously with that of the National Assembly as the first in sequence.
Amendment was deliberately rushed – Adamu
Senator Abdullahi said: “We are part of senators that feel very strongly that the process by which the so-called conference committee report was laid and considered was a rush, a deliberate rush.
“The reliance upon the relevant statute, some of which have actually not been signed to the best of our knowledge and we did challenge that anyone who had it signed should produce it. This is so as to check doubting Thomases with regards to the authenticity of what statute was been relied upon.
“We believe the process was rushed. Yes, we may rely on some existing statutes or laws rightly or wrongly; but the importance the strategic placing of the bill in question is such that needed no rushing whatsoever. There is no need for the rush, what is right is right.
“We believe very strongly, that we are against what happened. We stand by that. Incidentally, if you take note of the report that was laid, the report that was circulated, the chairman and the cochairman did not sign. We don’t know why they did not sign the report. Normally if we are going through due process, we need to know why they didn’t sign, or do we have different reports submitted over the same bill from the same committee.?
“The bill need better attention and we must be fairer in the passage of the bill. Why do want to do a law to address just one particular problem at a particular time. This is a very partisan report, because from the gesturing it is a pre-determined thing for a political party that is threatened by the APC government.”
Protesting senators are wrong — Nazif
In a swift reaction, however, Nazif, at a separate briefing, reminded the protesting senators that politics is dynamic and that laws are reviewed in line with prevailing circumstances, just as he dismissed claims by the Adamu group that the bill was targeted at the President or any other person, saying it’s unfair for anyone to make such insinuation.
His words: “Let me make it very clear that I have signed on the concurrence committee report. I don’t know where that came from but I signed it. This is it, signed by me (displaying the report) and if you go to the clerk, it is also signed by me.
“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.”
Also addressing Journalists, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Publicity, Senator Sabi Abudullahi said, “as it is customary, procedurally, they have done their own and they have transmitted.”
Senate confirms 7 RECS for INEC
Menawhile, the Senate yesterday confirmed seven more Resident Electoral Commissioners, REC, of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC out of the nine names sent.
The confirmation followed senators’ consideration of the report of the screening of nominees by the Senator Suleiman Nazif, APC, Bauchi North-led Senate Committee on INEC.
President Buhari last year sent nine names to the Senate for consideration and confirmation and the Senate had on Thursday, December 21, referred the president’s request to the Committee on INEC.
The names were Baba Abba Yusuf, Borno for reappointment; Segun Agbaje, Ekiti also for reappointment; Elder Monday Udoh Tom, Akwa Ibom as a new appointment; Eric Okawale, Osun, new appointment; Dr. Utamaro Abdulrahman Ajidagba, Kwara, new appointment; and Dr. Cyril Omorogbe, Edo, new appointment.
Others were Yahaya Bello, Nasarawa, new appointment; Dr. Emmanuel Alex Hart, Rivers, new appointment and Mohammed Magaji Ibrahim, Gombe, new appointment.
At the end of the day, those confirmed were Baba Abba Yusuf, Borno; Dr. Uthman Abdulrahman Ajidagba, Kwara; Mr. Segun Agbaje, Ekiti; Dr. Cyril Omorogbe, Edo; Yahaya Bello, Nasarawa; Dr. Emmanuel Alex Hart, Rivers; and Mohammed Magaji Ibrahim, Gombe.
According to the report, of the nine nominees, only eight appeared before the Committee as that of Osun did not appear for screening.
It also said that the nominee from Akwa Ibom State was dropped for further legislative consultation.
The Committee has 20 members and two of them did not sign the report.