STRONG indications emerged yesterday that another crisis may be looming between the Presidency and the legislative arm of government, as President Muhammadu Buhari has written the Senate, declining assent to the new amendment to the Electoral Act, which seeks to re-order the sequence of polls during 2019 general elections.
President Buhari in a letter to the Senate, read by Senate President, Bukola Saraki, at plenary yesterday, said it became imperative for him to withhold assent to the bill because it will 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 statute to the Constitution.
He wrote a similar letter to the House of Representatives, stating the same reasons for refusing to assent to the bill.
According to the President in the letter dated March 8, 2018, the Senate and the National Assembly in general, got it wrong in the amendment to Section 138 of the principal act to delete two crucial grounds upon which an election might be challenged by candidates, and that it has limited the rights of candidates in elections to a free and fair electoral review process.
Buhari told the Senate that he vetoed the amendment, especially that of Section 152 Sub-section ( 3)-(5) of the Principal Act because it raises constitutional issues over the competence of the National Assembly to legislate over local government elections.
Buhari’s letter to NASS
The two-page letter, entitled “Presidential Decision to decline Assent to the Electoral ( Amendment) Bill, 2018, read: “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: 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 statute to the constitution;
“The amendment 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;
“The amendment to Section 152 Sub-section ( 3)-(5) of the Principal Act may raise Constitutional issues over the competence of the National Assembly to legislate over local government elections. Please accept, Distinguished Senators, the assurances of my highest consideration.”
The NASS bill
Recall that the Senate had on Wednesday, February 14, approved an amendment to the electoral process which places the Presidential election as the last of the polls to be conducted in the country, while that of the National Assembly will hold first, followed by gubernatorial and state houses of assembly polls.
The bill had been passed and concurred with by the two chambers of the National Assembly.
Asked to speak on the letter, Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Sabi Aliyu Abdullahi, said it was not different from other rejected bills, but was quick to add that the Senate will look at and adopt it.
Also speaking with journalists on the development, Chairman, South-East Senate Caucus and spokesperson of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP Senate caucus, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, PDP, Abia South, said: “Senate and the House of Representatives will do the needful because we believe that what we have done is in the best interest of Nigeria.”
With the crisis looming, the upper chamber of the National Assembly may be poised to exercise its veto powers now that President Buhari has withdrawn assent to the bill.
A senator, who spoke with Vanguard on grounds of anonymity, said: “We are serious about this issue and we are not ready to reverse it. Now that Mr. President has rejected the bill, we are ready to override his veto. I can assure you that in both chambers of the National Assembly, we will get the required two-thirds majority to override the veto.”
Recall that the amendment provides that Section 25 of the Electoral Act be substituted with a new Section 25 as thus: “25 (1) Elections into the offices of the president and vice president, the governor and deputy governor of a state, and to the membership of the Senate, the House of Representatives and Houses of Assembly of each state of the Federation shall be held in the following order: (a) National Assembly election, (b) State Houses of Assembly and governorship elections (c) presidential election.
“The dates for the above stated primaries shall not be held earlier than 120 days and not later than 90 days before the date of elections to the offices.”
Similarly, an amendment to Section 92 (2) provides that the N1billion limit of expenses to be incurred by a presidential candidate be raised to N5bn, while Section 92 (3) is amended to substitute the figure N200m with N1bn as expenses for a governorship candidate.
Another amendment to Section 36 will allow a running mate to a candidate that dies before the conclusion of an election to inherit the votes of a dead candidate.
A new Section 36 (3) states that: “If during the commencement of the poll but before the conclusion of the elections for the office of the president or governor of a state, one of the nominated candidates of a political party dies, the commission shall allow the running mate, that is the party’s vice presidential candidate or deputy gubernatorial candidate to continue and conclude the poll, and should he score the majority of the votes cast in accordance with the constitution, be declared the winner of the said election.”
Also section 138. -(1) reads that “An election may be questioned on any of the following grounds, that is to say: a) that a person whose election is questioned was, at the time of the election, not qualified to contest the election; b) that the election was invalid by reason of corrupt practices or noncompliance with the provisions of this Act; c) that the respondent was not duly elected by majority of lawful votes cast at the election; or d) that the petitioner or its candidate was validly nominated but was unlawfully excluded from the election.
“ 2) An act or omission which may be contrary to an instruction or directive of the Commission or of an officer appointed for the purpose of the election but which is not contrary to the provisions of this Act shall not of itself be a ground for questioning the election.”
But during the amendment at plenary last month, the relative peace that the 8th Senate had been enjoying in the last one year, was threatened, following disagreements over new amendment to the Electoral Act regarding election sequence in the 2019 general elections as some senators kicked against the process.
The protest over the bill
The protest was a follow up to 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 Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Senator Suleiman Nazif, APC, Bauchi North, who presented the conference report on behalf of the 12 senators and House of Representatives, had 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 include Pwajok Edward Gyang as Co- Chairman; Onyenwife Gabriel; Bassey Eko Ewa; Mohammed Tahie Monguno; Mohammed Soba and Ajayi Adeyinka.
Senators commence moves to override Buhari’s veto
But Vanguard gathered that at the closed session of the senators, the matter of the vetoed bill came up, but was not discussed exhaustively.
A source at the executive session disclosed that Senate President, Bukola Saraki, alerted his colleagues that the bill had been rejected by the President and that the senate would need to take another look at the bill.
The senators were said to have resolved to get further clarifications from the Legal Department of the National Assembly before going ahead with the planned override of the veto.
Meanwhile, it was also gathered that no fewer than 65 senators have signed up to join in the battle to override the president’s veto, just as 43 senators of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, are said to be solidly backing the decision to override the veto, while so far 22 senators of the All Progressives Congress, APC, are said to be supporting the idea.
The source said: “We are seeking like nine members to join the race so that we can get the required 73 senators needed to override the veto.”
It was also gathered that senators, who are loyal to the Senate President, have decided to bring back the rested Senators of Like Minds, which projected the Senate President for the position in 2015.
A source said that originally, members of the Like Minds are in excess of 35 senators, but that a number of lawmakers were sitting on the fence, even as it was also gathered that of the 24 senators who constituted the Senate Unity Forum (SUF), some were also sitting on the fence, thus making the task difficult at the moment for the APC.
According to the 1999 Constitution, the National Assembly requires two- third before it can override the presidential veto.
PDP slams Presidency
Meanwhile, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in its reaction yesterday, took a swipe at President Muhammadu Buhari for failing to sign the sequence of election bill into law.
The party said the refusal of the President to append his signature to the bill was a pointer to his fears on the fate that awaited him in the 2019 Presidential election.
In a statement signed by the National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, the party tasked the federal parliamentarians to take their “final decision” on the matter, saying it was not afraid of its chances in the general elections.
“The PDP believes in democracy and subscribes to all its tenets, including respect for the powers of the National Assembly to make laws and to amend such laws as occasion demands.
“In the light of this development, the PDP, and, indeed, all well-meaning Nigerians, now eagerly await the final decision of the National Assembly on this amendment.
“As a party, we are not afraid of the 2019 general elections because we know that Nigerians have already rejected President Buhari and his dysfunctional All Progressives Congress, APC.
“Against this backdrop, the PDP will provide all the members of our great party a level playing ground to choose a Presidential candidate in a National Convention that promises to be open, free, fair, credible and transparent.
“We know that with the support of Nigerians, any candidate that emerges on our platform ahead of 2019 will clinically defeat President Buhari at the polls and lead our nation back to the path of progress, national cohesion and a vibrant economy,” the statement read.
He ought to sign
Reacting to the President’s refusal to sign the amended 2018 Electoral Act, National Chairman of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, Chief Olu Falae, said the President ought to have signed the bill to deepen the nation’s democracy.
Falae said: “Well, he (Buhari) has a right but in my view, the sequence presented by the National Assembly is correct sequence. We should all do our best to nurture democracy. If you start the elections with the Presidential election, once the result is declared, the band wagon effect will follow; most of the smaller parties will not win anything.
“Every Nigerian wants to be on the winning side but if we are sincere and want democracy to be our culture, we should start with the House of Assembly, where there will be chances for the smaller parties to win something in their respective areas. That will help democracy to grow. That is my reason for saying that the President ought to have signed the law and encourage democracy to grow.”