President Muhammadu Buhari has written to both chambers of the National Assembly informing them of his decision to withhold his assent to the controversial Electoral Act 2010 Amendment Bill.
Specifically, the president premised his refusal to assent to the bill on certain sections of Electoral Act that were tinkered with by the lawmakers, including section 25, which seeks to re-order the sequence of polls during general elections.
President Buhari, in his letter read by the Senate president, Bukola Saraki, at the plenary yesterday, told the lawmakers that the amendments to the Electoral Act 2010 as amended would be in conflict with the 1999 Constitution as amended and laws establishing the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), among others.
In the letter which was also read by Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, on the floor of the House yesterday, Buhari said he declined assent on the bill because the proposed amendments is an exclusive preserve of INEC.
The House of Representatives had on January 24, 2018 amended Sections 25 and 87 of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) by substituting them with new Sections 25 (1) and 87 (11) respectively.
The amendments that were also adopted by the Senate on February 14, 2018 was set to change the sequence of election earlier indicated in the timetable released by INEC for the 2019 election election.
According to INEC’s timetable, the presidential and National Assembly elections are billed for February 16, while the governorship, State House of Assembly and local government elections will hold on March 2, 2019.
But the amendment by the legislature wants the National Assembly election to hold first, followed by gubernatorial and State Assembly, with the presidential election billed to be conducted last.
But in a letter dated March 8, 2018 titled, ‘Presidential Decision to Decline Assent to the Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2018’, signed by Buhari himself, the president insisted that the National Assembly strayed out of its core-mandate by attempting to reorder the sequence of the 2019 election scheduled by the INEC.
President Buhari also stated that the amendment to the Electoral Act 2010 is defective because the legislature tampered with the grounds upon which candidates may challenge an election.
According to him, the legislative actions will unduly limit the rights of candidates in elections to a free and fair electoral review process.
The president further faulted the National Assembly, saying it crossed the 1999 Constitution red line when the federal legislature added items in the amendments which if sustained will amount to usurping State Assemblies’ mandate for making laws to govern the conduct of the local government elections.
Consequently, President Buhari said that by virtue of the power conferred on him to either give assent within 30 days or withhold same when a bill is presented to him, he was conveying to the Senate his decision on March 3, 2018, to decline presidential assent to the Electoral Amendment Bill 2018 recently passed by the National Assembly.
President Buhari wrote in the letter he addressed personally to the Senate President: “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: 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 statue to the Constitution.
“The amend 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(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”.
Responding, the Senate said the letter from President Buhari withholding his assent to the passed Electoral Act 2010 amendment bill will be kept in view just the way the Peace Corps Bill is kept on legislative pending file.
According to Senate spokesman, Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi who briefed journalists after plenary yesterday, the president’s letter will be reflected in the vote of proceeding of Wednesday for consideration some other day like the Peace Corps Bill the president withheld his assent.
He said, “I can’t tell what the Senate will decide, whether it will override his veto or not. I can’t pass information to you on what the Senate has not decided. I can’t make any comment on the matter’’, Senator Abdullahi said.
On February 14, 2018, some Senators told Senate correspondents that 59 of them were set to move against the change of sequence in the conduct of the presidential, National Assembly and gubernatorial elections earlier released by the INEC.
Crisis set in the upper chamber when the chairman of the committee on INEC, Senator Suleiman Nazif, presented the Conference Committee Report on INEC Act 2010 (Amendment) Bill 2018.
The 10 of the aggrieved Senators led by the then chairman of the Northern Senators’ caucus, Senator Abdullahi Adamu (APC Nasarawa West) walked out of the Senate plenary in protest of the new sequence of 2019 elections.
They declared that a total of 59 of them were against section 25 (1) of the Act, which reordered the sequence of elections earlier announced by INEC last year.
As soon as Nazif presented his report, being a conference committee report, Senate President Saraki put the motion for adoption of the report straight for voice votes without subjecting it to any debate.
Tension further heightened when at the voice votes, those who shouted nay sounded louder than those who shouted aye! But Saraki in his ruling said, “The ayes have it”.
Angered by the development, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege (APC Delta Central) raised a point of order and challenged the inclusion of Section 25 (1) in the Electoral Act
Quoting relevant sections of the constitution, he called for a head count of members present, but while he was still speaking, Saraki who presided over the day’s legislative business ruled Omo-Agege out of order.
But 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 house.
Like Omo-Agege, Gaya was also ruled out of order by Saraki who punctured his argument and referred him to rule 53(6) of the Senate’s standing order, which prevents the upper legislative chamber from revisiting any matter that had been ruled upon.
Apparently 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 includes 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.
Accordingly, Saraki ruled him out of order and called on the Senate Leader, Ahmad Lawan (APC Yobe North), to proceed with the next item on the order paper.
Feeling humiliated by Saraki’s ruling, Senator Adamu and Nine other Senators immediately stormed out of the Red Chamber.
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