The quest by the National Assembly to rework the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, 2010 (otherwise referred to as Election Sequence/Reordering Bill) suffered some setback on both floors of the National Assembly. This followed an episode of high drama which saw Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, representing Delta Central, lead thugs to cart away with the mace of the Senate during plenary.
For the upper legislative chamber, lawmakers were sharply divided on the legality of the amendment.
This was even as the deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu urged caution on the part of his colleagues, in order not to kill other important aspects of the amendments.
Recall that the Amendment Bill was recently denied assent by President Muhammadu Buhari citing some inconsistencies with the constitution.
The Bill which was reintroduced by the Chairman, Senate committee on INEC and Electoral Matters, Senator Sulaiman Nazif (APC, Bauchi) was brought up on Wednesday for debate on its general principles.
But debating the general principles of the Bill, majority of Senators who spoke, called for outright rejection of the amendment.
They noted that changing the sequence of elections would not only serve as slight on the constitutional role INEC, but would place additional financial burden on the federal government in the organisation and management of elections.
Senator Kabiru Garba Marafa (APC, Zamfara Central), in his argument said: “I stand to oppose this bill, number one, I believe it’s unconstitutional, because the constitution is very clear on the role of INEC”.
He said “after all said and done in this chamber, INEC will go to court and the court will invalidate our effort”.
“If there’s anything that the Senate will do to live above board, I would suggest, is to collapse all the elections into a single day. That will save us cost”, Marafa added.
Speaking, Senator Dino Melaye (APC, Kogi West), disagreed with Marafa, saying that Marafa goofed by suggesting that sequencing elections is unconstitutional.
Melaye therefore asked: “won’t holding all elections in one day also be unconstitutional”?
He said there was a sharp difference between election date and election sequence.
According to him, while the constitution empowers INEC to determine election dates, the constitution also empowers the National Assembly to determine the sequence via the provisions of the Electoral Act.
However, the Senate Minority Leader, Godswill Akpabio (Akwa Ibom Central), opposed the idea of changing the sequence of elections, saying that “as a Senate, we cannot approbate and reprobate”.
Akpabio added that the sequence as contained in the bill being debated has taken the Senate back several steps.
He stressed that Senators should be honourable people to stand by their position whenever they take one and as such, he could not support the bill.
Akpabio’s position was informed by the realisation that the version of the Bill being presented for debate was different from the one returned by President Buhari following denial of assent.
Senate Majority Whip, Olushola Adeyeye (APC, Osun),also opposed the bill, saying that the issue of election sequence cannot be trivialised on the alter of semantics.
He said since the constitution empowers INEC to fix election dates, there can be no sequence without dates, and as such, the sequence cannot be changed without INEC deciding it.
However, DSP, Ike Ekweremadu offered an intervention, saying that “the President returned the bill with a number of observations which includes the lack of constitutional basis for us to legislate for State Electoral Commissions, which is in order”.
“Another one was the powers of INEC as contained in the Constitution, but I don’t want to go into the legality of these issues.
“On the other hand, we cannot on the basis of the observations made by the Preisdent say that the entire bill should be thrown away.
“That was the fate we suffered in previous constitution amendment exercises where many vital clauses had to die on the basis of certain unwanted provisions.
“However, the Presidents observations do not say that the bill we passed was invalid, and that is why we have to clean up the first bill and take care of the areas the President objected to, so that we can pass it quickly and send it to the president and then we make progress”, Ekweremadu said.
Further debate on the bill was therefore stood down for another legislative day.
Meanwhile, at the House of Representatives, action on the bill was suspended.
This followed a withdrawal request by the sponsor of the Bill, Edward Pwajok.
The bill, which was listed for second reading in the Order Paper of the day, included seven other lawmakers as co-sponsors.
Recall that following President Muhammadu Buhari’s refusal to assent to the bill, the House had 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 (INEC) to organise and supervise all elections.
Some lawmakers were opposed to the move to withdraw the bill.
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,’’ Mr Lasun said.
He ruled for the withdrawal of the bill as applied by its sponsor.
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