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2019: Senate In Rowdy Session

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Bukola Saraki

Barely one year to the 2019 general election in the country, the peace and stability in the Senate was put on edge yesterday 10 Senators staged a walkout to protest the reschedule of the election timetable. The lawmakers told journalists after walking out of the Red Chamber that 59 of them are opposed to the change of sequence in the conduct of the presidential, National Assembly and gubernatorial elections earlier released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and are set to move against it.

The two chambers of the National Assembly had on Tuesday perfected the change of sequence in the conduct of the general election INEC from what INEC had scheduled it to be.This followed the adoption of a rescheduled serial arrangement as reordered by the National Assembly conference committee on the Electoral Act (amendment) Bill. But plenary at the upper chamber turned into a rowdy session yesterday when the chairman of Senate committee on INEC, Senator Suleiman Nazif, presented the conference committee report on Electoral Act 2010 (Amendment) Bill, 2018.

The aggrieved Senators led by chairman of the Northern Senators’ Forum, Senator Abdullahi Adamu (APC Nasarawa West) walked out of Senate plenary declaring that 59 of them are strongly opposed to section 25 (1) of the Act which reordered the sequence of elections earlier announced by INEC last year by fixing National Assembly poll first, followed by governorship and State Houses of Assembly Election before the presidential election.

As soon as Nafiz presented his report, Senate President Bukola Saraki put to motion the adoption of the report by way of voice vote without subjecting it to any debate.Tension further heightened when Saraki in his ruling said the ayes have it, even when it was clear that the voice vote went in favour of the naysayers who shouted louder than those who said aye. Angered by the development, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege (APC Delta Central) kicked against the motion by point of order challenging the inclusion of section 25 (1) of the Electoral Act.

Quoting relevant sections of the constitution, he called for a head count of members present, but as Omo-Agege was still speaking, Saraki who presided over the day’s legislative business ruled him out of order. In another spirited effort to nullify the passage of the Act, Senator Kabiru Gaya from Kano State raised a similar point of order, arguing that it was against the Senate rules for a conference committee report to be adopted without being debated at the committee of the whole.

But just like Omo-Agege, Gaya too was ruled out of order by Saraki who referred him to rule 53(6) of the Senate standing order which prevents the upper legislative chamber from revisiting any matter that had been ruled upon. “Distinguished colleagues, I’m just entertaining all these points of order being raised over the just passed 2010 Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill for the sake of understanding ourselves better on an issue which is of national and not selfish interest“, the Senate president said.

Not satisfied with the explanation, Senator Abdullahi Adamu disrupted the proceedings further with another point of order, arguing that the sequence of election included in the act was illegal. According to him, section 76 of the 1999 constitution vests the power to organise, conduct and fix dates for elections on INEC which in spirit, also include order of elections as earlier announced by the electoral body. His argument however infuriated the Senate President who declared that section 25 (1) of the electoral act, which deals with sequence of elections, has nothing to do with organising, conducting and fixing dates for elections.

Again, Saraki ruled Adamu out of order and called on the Senate Leader, Ahmad Lawan (APC Yobe North), to proceed with the next item on the order paper. Apparently feeling slighted and humiliated by Saraki’s ruling, Senator Adamu and nine other Senators immediately stormed out of the chamber to the Senate’s press centre where they expressed their displeasure over the issue.

The Senators who staged the walkout alongside Adamu are Abdullahi Yahaya (APC Kebbi North), Ibrahim Kurfi (APC Katsina Central), Abu Ibrahim (APC Katsina South), Abdullahi Gumel (APC Jigawa North), Binta Marshi Garba (APC Adamawa North), Ali Wakil ( APC Bauchi South),  Andrew Uchendu (APC River East) and Benjamin Uwajumogu (APC IMO North).

In their separate submissions, they argued that the passed Electoral Act will not see the light of the day because it is targeted at President Muhammadu Buhari. Specifically, Senator Adamu who led the group said they already have 59 signatures of Senators against the Act, which has section 25 (1) inserted in it.The former Nasarawa State governor said, “Though we are 10 here now, but we can assure you that as at this morning (yesterday), not less than 59 Senators have expressed their opposition to the illegal sequence of elections included in the Act.

“Perhaps that was the reason why the Senate president refused to follow due process when report on the Act was to be adopted in the Senate. “Section 25 (1) of the Act reordering the sequence of elections from the one earlier released by INEC last year is a law targeted at an individual which to us is totally in bad faith and will not be allowed to stand”. Another member of the group, Senator Ovie Omo Agege said he won his election in 2015 on the platform of Labour Party and not APC but as a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, it would be wrong for him to keep quiet when wrong things are being done.

Senator Binta Marshi Garba, in her own submission, said the hurriedly passed Electoral Act was nothing but the handiwork of an individual who may be thinking that he is holier or greater than the state. “An individual cannot be holier than the state and besides, power is transient and is given by God”, she said. She added that those behind the new sequence of elections are more or less enemies of the country by not considering the economic implications it entails. “If INEC, based on economic problems at hand, mapped out two layers of elections, why coming up with three segmented sequence of elections?” She queried.

But in a counter press briefing, Senate spokesman, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi and chairman of Senate committee on  INEC, Suleiman Nazif, said the action is not targeted at anybody. According to them, aside the contentious section 25(1) of the amended Act, six other core areas of electoral processes were worked upon with the aim of deepening democratic process in the country. “We did it in the best interest of Nigerians and not for any selfish agenda”, Sabi said. Asked about Senate’s next line of action in the event where the president refuses to assent to the Act, he said, “When we get to the bridge, we shall determine how to cross it “.

Senate Gives Mdas 1 Week To Submit Budget Proposals

Meanwhile, the Senate yesterday gave Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) a one-week ultimatum to submit details of their 2018 budget proposals for consideration. The Red Chamber said it will direct the Ministry of Finance not to make releases to those breaking the law. Senate’s directive followed a point of order raised by Senate Leader, Senator Ahmed Lawan, who disclosed that out of 64 government agencies, only the National Communications Commission (NCC) submitted details of its 2018 budget proposal.

Consequently, Senator Lawan insisted that the MDAs be given an ultimatum to submit their budget proposals so that they could be considered alongside the national budget presented by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2017. He said, “Mr President submitted the national budget as well as the summary of the budgets of the agencies and by so doing, he has completed his work. What is required of the agencies is for them to present the details of their budgets.

“My office has been working closely with the office of the Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on National Assembly Matters, Ita Enang and we have insisted that the details of the budget must be presented to the Senate.“This is necessary so that it would be considered alongside the 2018 budget and be passed as quickly as it can and together. I want this Senate to recognise that the Nigeria Communications Commission presented and submitted what is required.

“I want this Senate to give an ultimatum of one week to all the agencies to submit the details of their budget to our committees to consider for appropriation”. In his remarks, Senate President Bukola Saraki regretted that irrespective of efforts by the senior special assistant on National Assembly Matters (Senate) to President Buhari, Senator Ita Enang, agencies have failed to submit their 2018 budget details to the legislature.

Saraki lamented over the manner in which the MDAs disregard due process by failing to submit details of their budget proposals, saying, “This has been a matter we have been talking about for a very long time and these agencies continue to have total disregard for due process.“I think it is very clear that the mandate we give to them is one week. Our cooperation should not be misread as weakness or not knowing what to do. “Definitely, we can mandate the Ministry of Finance to ensure that they do not further order releases because they are breaking the law. If after one week they don’t comply then we will take necessary actions to show that they need to comply with the law’’.



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