The National Assembly stirred the hornets’ nest when it kickstarted the process of reordering the sequence of the 2019 general elections from what has been in existence in the last 15 years. MUYIWA OYINLOLA and OLAJIDE OMOJOLOMOJU look at the issues involved and the likely consequences of the move on the polity.
Like a bolt out of the blues and as if premeditated, the House of Representatives set in motion the plan to alter the order of general elections, which has been in existence since 2003, to wit: shifting the presidential election, which had been the first in order of election to the last in 2019. What then started like a joke has now become an act of parliament awaiting presidential assent. Before the reversal in 2003, the order of election was the National Assembly election first, followed by the state governors and state Assemblies and lastly the presidential election. But former President Olusegun Obasanjo changed the order in 2003 and the new order, where the presidential and National Assembly elections hold first and then followed by the state governorship and state Assemblies elections has been used to conduct four major elections in Nigeria. With the new sequence as proposed and passed by the National Assembly, the National Assembly elections holds first, to be followed by the state governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections and finally the presidential election.
Perhaps, one major flaw in the order of election since 2003 was the bandwagon effect, whereby the party that wins the presidential election gets to win the majority in governorship and Assemblies elections. It has also provided a covering for legislators , who ordinarily would not have won elections on their own, as electorate simply vote for the same party in both the presidential and National Assembly elections as well as state governorship and Assemblies elections. The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, had on Tuesday, January 9, released a timetable on the schedule of activities for the 2019 general elections where the presidential and National Assembly elections will hold on February 16, 2019 while governorship and state Assembly elections will be conducted on Saturday, March 2, 2019. But the National Assembly decided to re-order the polls, at least, going by its Conference Committee on Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, which on Tuesday, February 6, adopted new sequence of the 2019 general elections,bringing the presidential election last, with the inclusion of Section 25(i) in the new Bill. The just amended Electoral Act was introduced by the House of Representatives and by the provision of Section 87 (c) of the Senate Rule, during conference committee meeting of both Chambers any “matter which has already been agreed to by the Senate or House of Reps”, it shall not be in order for the Senate to strike it out from the bill.
What this means is that since the order of election is a matter introduced by the House and the Senate has no counter provision, then it becomes compelling for the Senate to adopt that provision Also, the provision of Section 76 (1) of the 1999 constitution as amended in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (First Alteration) Act, 2010 empowers the National Assembly to state the order of election. While the original provision states that “ Elections shall be held on a date to be appointed by the Independent National Electoral Commission”, the 2010 amendment in Section 5 states that “ Section 76 of the Principal Act is altered – (a) in subsection (1), line 2, by inserting immediately after the word “commission” the words in “in accordance with the Electoral Act”. What this means is that INEC can only fix dates of elections “in accordance with the Electoral Act” enacted by the National Assembly. Apart from this amendment being supported by law, it is also supported by history or precedent. For example, since 1979, the only two times when the Presidential Election was conducted first in the order of elections was when an incumbent President was desperately seeking re-election and was not sure he would win.
That was what happened in 1983 when Alhaji Shehu Shagari was seeking re-election and 2015 when former President Goodluck Jonathan was also seeking re-election. In fact, in Jonathan’s case, he was forced to agree that the Presidential and National Assembly elections should hold simultaneously. In the 1979 elections, the Senatorial elections came first on July 7, 1979, followed by the House of Reps on July 14, Governorship, July 21, House of Assembly, July 28 and Presidential August 11, 1979. In 1983, Presidential election came first on August 6 while Governorship followed on August 13, Senate on August 20, and House of Representatives on August 27. In 1992, Senate and House of Repsentatives elections took place on July 4. While Presidential election took place on June 12, 1993. The House of Assemblies and Governors have been inaugurated a year earlier. In 1999, the election of Senators, Reps members and state legislators were the first to hold together on Feb 20.
That of Governors and President held on February 27. Also, in 2003, State and National Legislative elections took place together on April 12 while Presidential and Governorship held same day on April 19. In 2007, Governorship and House of Assembly elections held on April 14 first before the Presidential and National Assembly polls a week later. In 2011, Governorship, State and National Assembly polls held first on April 9 while Governorship and Presidential election took place on April 16. Recall also that in 2015, when former President Jonathan out of insecurity insisted on having the Presidential election first, he had to agree with the National Assembly for the Federal legislative polls too to hold on the same day, March 28 while Governorship and State Assembly polls held two weeks later on April 11. A more significant implication of the easy passage of the Electoral law amendment is that it shows the Ntional Assembly remains the biggest assembly of elected politicians as it has 469 elected representatives. It should be remembered that the Bill scaled through from the House without any protest. In fact, Wednesday adoption of the conference report in the House scaled through without any single opposition. Defending the lawmakers’ action, the Chairman, Senate Committee on INEC, Suleiman Nazif, disclosed that the amendment has not in any way violated any extant law and the provisions of the 1999 Constitution which empowered INEC to fix dates for and conduct elections. Nazif’s counterpart in the lower chamber, Hon. Edward Pwajok, could not agree less, adding that the lawmakers’ action was meant to give credibility to the electoral process and not targeted at anyone in particular as insinuated in certain quarters.
Pwajok added, “The sequence of election provision in the bill is not targeted at anybody but aimed at giving credibility to the electoral process”. The joint committee of the National Assembly may have harmonised and completed their job on the new amendment, but remained to be seen how the Bill will scale the hurdle of legislators who are not in tandem with the Bill, especially against the backdrop of the rowdy session which attended the debate on the Bill in the Senate last Wednesday. Perhaps, towing the path of the ruling All Progressives Congress, almost all its senators in the upper chamber disagreed with the new Bill, with 10 of them, headed by former governor of Nasarawa State, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, chairman of Northern Senators’ Forum, staging a walk out The aggrieved senators who staged a walk out on Wednesday declared that 59 of them are strongly opposed to section 25 (1) of the Act which reordered the sequence of elections by fixing National Assembly poll first, followed by governorship and State Houses of Assembly Election before the presidential election. At plenary on Wednesday, as soon as Nafiz presented his report,
Senate President Bukola Saraki put to motion the adoption of the report by way of voice vote, this development generated high tension when when Saraki, in his ruling, said the ‘ayes’ have it. This action angered Senator Ovie Omo-Agege (APC Delta Central), who kicked against the motion by a point of order challenging the inclusion of section 25 (1) of the Electoral Act. Omo-Agege quoted relevant sections of the constitution, and called for a head count of members present, but he was ruled out of order by Saraki, even while he was still making his presentation. Senator Kabiru Gaya, from Kano State, who also raised a point of order and argued that it was against the Senate rules for a conference committee report to be adopted without being debated at the committee of the whole, was also ruled out of order by Saraki, who referred Gaya to rule 53 (6) of the Senate standing order, which prevents the upper legislative chamber from revisiting any matter that had been ruled upon. Saraki told his colleagues,
“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.” Not satisfied with Saraki’s explanation, Senator Adamu disrupted the proceedings further with another point of order, arguing that the sequence of election included in the act was illegal. He added that section 76 of the 1999 constitution vests the power to organise, conduct and INEC, NASS And Reversal Of Election Timetable Oyegun fix dates for elections on INEC, which in spirit, also include order of elections as earlier announced by the electoral body, but Adamu’s argument however infuriated Saraki, 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 election. The senators who staged the walkout alongside Adamu included: 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). The aggrieved senators separately argued that the passed Electoral Act will not see the light of the day, because it is targeted at President Buhari.
Senator Adamu was specific when he said his group already has 59 signatures of senators who are against the Act, which has section 25 (1) inserted in it. Adamu said, “Though we are 10 here now, we can assure you that as at this morning (Wednesday), not less than 59 senators have expressed their opposition to the illegal sequence of elections included in the Act.” According to Omo-Agege, “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”. Senator Omo Agege added that he won his election in 2015 on the platform of Labour Party, LP, 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. However, the Senate spokesman, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi and chairman of Senate Committee on INEC, Nazif, said the action is not targeted at anybody. They said that apart from 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. Reacting to the new order as enacted by the National Assembly, pan-Yoruba socio-cultural and political organisation Afenifere, speaking through its spokesperson, Yinka Odumakin, during a Channels’ Television programme, “Politics Today,” said the new time table is a “rare good news” from the National Assembly. Afenifere said that it was a positive development which will give room for participatory democracy and deepen Nigerian’s democracy further. It added that the sequence of election used in 1979 and 1999 revealed the strength of each political party that participated in those elections, adding that the new sequence will allow each party express its strength and prevent bandwagon effect. Odumakin said, “This is one of the very rare good news that has come out of the National. Assembly. It is a good development that will allow participatory democracy in our country. “If we go back into history, in 1979, the order of elections was the one that we started with National Assembly Elections and ended with the Presidential election. “In that election, the defunct National Party of Nigeria, NPN, that formed government at the national level then won only seven out of 19 states. The defunct Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, won five states, and the other parties, the Great Nigeria Peoples Party, GNPP, the Peoples Redemption Party, PRP, and Nigeria Peoples Party, NPP, won the other states. Afenifere explained that the bandwagon effect, which is the reason why the political party in the position of the presidency has a landslide victory in the senatorial districts, would no longer come to play, electorates assume that once the President is from a political party, other vacant positions must be from the same political party with the presidency. He added, “In 1983, the order of election was changed and once we had that, that is when we started having landslide (victory). That was when NPN started taking everywhere. “Elections stopped reflecting the wish of the people. This is because the Presidency is the most powerful office in the land, therefore, once a party takes it, the rest is a bandwagon.” He opined that the new sequence is beneficial as it will allow each election stand on it own and won’t allow electorates vote for the party in presidency only. A principal officer of the ruling APC in Lagos State, who pleaded anonymity, described the reordering of the election sequence as an ambush against the President by the lawmakers, adding, “It is increasingly becoming clearer to the bench warmers in NASS that even with support from unprincipled forces, they cannot stop President Buhari from being re-elected if he desires to go for a second term. “That is why they are laying this booby trap so that they may work in connivance with some governors to frustrate him. But that is mere juvenile ambush. I can assure you that the re-ordered sequence of election is already dead on arrival.” The Country Director, Centre for Convention on Democratic Integrity, CCDI, Mr. Olufemi Aduwo, support the National Assembly on the reordering. He opined that the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria empowers the National Assembly to make laws that will ensure societal order, peaceful coexistence of Nigerian people; and good governance of the federation. He said, “The National Assembly is not restricted by any law and constitutional provision as to when any law could be made. It is against this background that l felt uncomfortable by the jaundiced criticism and remarks made against the effort of National Assembly to streamline the electoral process in some quarters for unknown motives. “Therefore, the National Assembly is absolutely right to amend the electoral law and possibly the constitution.
There is no law restricting the National Assembly on when and how to perform its duties.” He added that there some other things included in the new amendment, including the issue of a candidate’s death before the final election results are announced, as was the case in Kogi State governorship election, as well as the spending limit of candidates for election. “Those who said it was selfserving should then say the INEC who also set up the timetable was on self-serving to help the President as well.” Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Second Vice President, Monday Ubani, backed the lawmakers, saying, “Are they not the lawmakers? They are the ones that enact laws. You have elected them to make laws for the good of the country. So if you feel that any law they have made is not okay, you go to court.” He however said, “The only thing is that in making such a law, they should have asked for stakeholders meeting.
People should have come forward to contribute. They shouldn’t have done it without having input from members of the public, because it is a law that would affect all of us. The input of members of the public should have been sought.” But constitutional lawyer and President of Voters Awareness Initiative, VAI, Wale Ogunade, disagreed with his learned Second Vice President. He said the National Assembly does not have the to reorder the election sequence. he said that section 153 vested the power to organise, moderate, conduct elections on INEC, arguing that the lawmakers have right to interfere with INEC’s duties. Condemning the lawmakers’ action and describing it as not healthy for the polity, Ogunade said, “By virtue of section 4 of the constitution, they have the powers to make laws for the good governance of the country. But this reordering of the elections is for their selfish interest”. For the Kogi State governor, Yahaya Bello, it does not matter in which order the elections are held, the president will still win by a landslide. Speaking to State House correspondents penultimate Friday after observing Jumat prayers at the Presidential Villa, Bello said only lawmakers who rode on the back of the President will be afraid of losing their seats. His words,
“I so much appreciate this. I think if you observe critically what happened in the last election where Mr. President was elected along with other members of National Assembly. “Then we called it Buhari Tsunami, where the good, the bad and the ugly were all put together and elected. Is either going to be in their interest that the Buhari Tsunami will return them or everybody will be on his or her own. Let Buhari return and let Nigerians select the good ones out of the bad ones to return to the National Assembly. “Which ever order it comes this upcoming general elections I can assure you that Mr. President will win landslide and the good ones will return to the National Assembly.” When asked if lawmakers will be the losers of this proposed timetable, he replied, “They have the choice to make and they have made their choice that the good will of Mr. President should not rob on the bad ones. Surely, the good ones on their own account will return to the National Assembly at the appropriate time.
A lecturer in the University of Port Harcourt, Professor Stephen Okodudu, believes that the lawmakers’ decision in meant to give them an advantage. He argued that may be they were only trying to prevent the bandwagon effect that always come with the presidential election holding first. He added that there was nothing wrong with the reordering of the elction sequence, adding that politicians are only trying to be mischievous by crying wolf where there is none. A former Deputy Speaker of Kwara State House of Assembly, Mr. Ayodele Shittu, opined that reordering or rescheduling of elections is no panacea to credible polls. To him, it is the political will on the part of the government of the day that leads to credible polls. National Chairman of the National Conscience Party, NCP, Dr. Yunusa Tanko, however joined many Nigerians to lend support to the action of the National Assembly. He said, “We are of the view that the Independent National Electoral Commission should provide a level playing field for all political parties to fully participate in the electoral process. “The order of elections is critical to the success or failure of most political parties because of the kind of politics we play in this part of the world. It is in this light that we will agree with the position of the National Assembly that the Presidential Election should come last.
“Having the Presidential Election first will give an undue advantage to the ruling party because the issue of band wagon effect will come to play. With the Presidential Election coming last, all parties will enjoy a level playing field to truly test their popularity. “We will prefer the Presidential election to come last because that will give room for all. It will be fair to us all for the Presidential election to come last, you don’t build a house from the roof; you build it from ground up. So, why should our electoral system be different?” When viewed against the backdrop of the frosty relationship between the legislature and the executive, especially since the inauguration of the ongoing dispensation, it is the expectation of many that the President may withhold his assent to the Bill when presented to him. Recall that since the emergence of Saraki and Yakubu Dogara as Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives respectively, the two arms of government have been at daggers drawn with the executive and this new development is expected to lead to a return to the trenches by the two arms of government. The National Assembly seems set to present a clean copy of the bill will to the Presidency this week after which the 30 days within which the president must give assent or veto the bill will start counting. According to the Nigerian Constitution, 1999, the President must communicate his assent or veto of a bill to the legislature within 30 days of the receipt of such a bill. Fallouts of this may however, further worsen the relationship between the Presidency and the National Assembly as the lawmakers may seek to then overturn the veto. While no one knows for sure how the National Assembly will react to a possible veto of the bill, it is already widespread knowledge that the President may not assent to the Bill whenever it comes to his table for assent. If that happens, it could trigger the plan by the National Assembly to explore the legal path to pass the Bill without presidential assent, override the veto.
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