President Muhammadu Buhari’s refusal to assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2018 is generating controversy in the National Assembly. While the Senate prepare to override the President’s veto, the House of Representatives wants to handle it differently, writes ADEBIYI ADEDAPO
Although, Senate President, Abubakar Bukola Saraki and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara have denied any disagreement over President Muhammadu Buhari’s refusal endorse the Electoral Act Amendment Bill as passed by the National Assembly, indication has emerged the two legislative chambers may not vote in the same direction.
While the majority of the senators are likely to easily vote overwhelmingly in support of the override, the situation may be different in the House of Representatives.
President Muhammadu Buhari recently vetoed the Electoral Amendment Bill on the grounds that the section that is proposing to alter the election sequence for the presidential elections to hold last would infringe on the powers of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to organise and supervise elections in the country.
The President in a letter dated March 8, 2018, stated that the amendments made by the lawmakers were in conflict with the existing laws.
But the National Assembly has vowed to override the President’s veto.
It is however unclear, whether the reconciliatory meeting by the leadership of the APC with its Senate Caucus to avert the planned override vote of the president’s veto has will achieve a positive result, as senators have started to append their signatures in register to vote in favour of the passage of the bill.
While the tempo to override the President’s veto gathers in the Senate, there are concerns that the House of Representatives would handle he matter differently.
One of the Senators champion the override recently claimed that at least 67 of his colleagues had already signed the register to override the veto, saying at least 15 are from the South-south geo-political zone, 13 from the South-east, 10 from the South-west, 10 from the North-east, and seven from the North-west.
He disclosed that the register is in the custody of a senator from the North-east, and about 20 senators were still undecided on whether to override the veto or support pro-Buhari senators who are said to be just 15 in number.
At least, 72 senators and 240 members of the House of Representatives must vote to override the President.
The procedure for overriding the President’s veto on a bill is spelt out in Section 58 of the constitution, particularly 58 (5).
Section 58 (5) reads, “Where a bill is presented to the President for assent, he shall within thirty days thereof signify that he assents or that he withholds assent.
“(5) Where the President withholds his assent and the bill is again passed by each House by two-thirds majority, the bill shall become law and the assent of the President shall not be required.”
Position of the the House of Representatives is somewhat similar, but the House agreed with the second and third reasons given by the President.
However, the Green Chamber believe that the override should come after two of the three reasons Buhari gave for withholding his assent would have been deleted from the bill and passed afresh.
Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon Abdulrazak Namdas, who spoke on the latest decision of the legislature, explained that the lawmakers had accepted two of the reasons advanced by Buhari for rejecting the bill.
“We agreed with the first one that the amendment of Section 138 of the Principal Act (Electoral Act) to delay crucial grounds upon which an election may be challenged by a candidate, unduly limits the right of candidates in election to a free and fair electoral review process. This, we have agreed with the President.
“We have also agreed with the reason advanced that the amendment of Section 152 of the Principal Act raises constitutional issues over the competence of the National Assembly to legislate over local government elections.
“This too, we have agreed with the President. So, it is true that we don’t have powers on the two.”
But, on the first reason, which was on the reordering of the elections, Namdas said the legislature insisted that it retained the power under the 1999 Constitution to decide the order of elections and not INEC.
He noted that Section 4 of the constitution empowered the National Assembly to legislate over elections, particularly item 22 of the provision.
“It means that we have the power to work on the order of elections as it is stated. INEC has the power to fix electoral dates in accordance with the Electoral Act. The entire Electoral Act talks about organising elections. If we do not have powers on how to organise elections, that means we do not even have the power to even pass the Electoral Act itself. That means it’s an illegal thing (Act) because it was passed by the National Assembly.”
He insisted that the National Assembly stood by the new bill that the presidential poll would be held last, but excluding the two reasons it was in agreement with Buhari.
According to him, the National Assembly would expunge the two portions from the bill, pass it again and send it to Buhari for his assent on the reordered elections sequence.
“In view of this, we will re-gazette the Electoral Act (amendment bill) and expunge the areas that we are in agreement with the President. In line with the constitution, we will bring it back for debate and follow the procedure of first and second reading, pass it and re-transmit it to the President for his assent.”
The implication is that the bill will begin a fresh journey of first, second and third reading before it is sent to Buhari again for his assent, which is clearly different from what the Senate plans to do.
In view of this, the ‘pro override’ senators expresses the concern that the House of Representatives is likely to be the stumbling block.
One of the Senators reportedly infer that; “if many of them realise that their return to the House may depend on the bill, they would not hesitate to override the president’s veto.”
Meanwhile, the Special Advisers to the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, and Speaker Yakubu Dogara, Yussuf Olaniyonu and Turaki Hassan in a joint statement denied that there was disagreement between the principals over the matter.
The duo explained that those peddling the rumour are agents of distraction, who are committed to creating division in the federal legislature.
“Our attention has been drawn to reports in a national daily insinuating that there was a disagreement between Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki and Speaker, Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara over how both chambers of the National Assembly will react to the withholding of assent by President Muhammadu Buhari on the Electoral Act Amendment Bill.
“We wish to inform the public that there is no such disagreement between the two leaders, and indeed the two chambers of the National Assembly,” the statement reads.
It reads further: “The Senate President and the Speaker, as heads of the two chambers of the National Assembly and representing the views of their colleagues, will want everybody to know that they are on the same page on what is the appropriate reaction to the President’s withholding of assent on the Electoral Act amendment bill.
“There is no disagreement between the two chambers as well as their presiding officers. The leadership of the two chambers constantly hold discussions and are in agreement on what to do, how to do it, when to do it and why it must be done.
“The issue at stake is not personal. It is about deepening democracy. It is about improving our democracy and the National Assembly is on firm constitutional and legal grounds to amend the law as well as take decisions in the manner they have been responding.
“ We see that story and the insinuations contained in it as mere distraction and unnecessary misrepresentation aimed at creating division in the Federal Legislature. The Senate President, Speaker and their colleagues urge members of the public to discountenance the report.”
Consequent upon the speculation, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has reportedly ordered its members in the National Assembly to give a bloc vote in support of the override.
Leadership of the PDP in the National Assembly are expected to coordinate their colleagues from the same party, and ensure that this directive is obeyed.
Though at the moment, the PDP has 44 senators and about 121 members in the House.
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