By Emmanuel Aziken
Abujaâ€” President Umaru Yarâ€˜Aduaâ€™s electoral reform proposals were at the point of derailment when his bill to strengthen the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was hurriedly withdrawn after it was unanimously condemned by Senators for its poor packaging.
The bill was lampooned by Senators who chided the Attorney General of the Federation for his failure to give sound legal advice to the President on the futility of amending the INEC law without an amendment of the constitution.
The observations of the Senators were summarized by the Deputy President of the Senate, Chief Ike Ekweremadu who presided at yesterdayâ€™s session as he expressed amazement on how the bill could have successfully passed through the office of the Attorney General of the Federation.
The bill was introduced on the floor of the Senate by the Senate Leader, Senator Teslim Folarin who said the bill aimed to strengthen INEC by providing for the appointment of a deputy chairman for the commission, for the renewal of the tenure of INEC commissioners and a provision for INEC to be stripped of its powers of registration and regulation of political parties.
Once the Senate Leader was through, Senator Thomson Sekibo (PDP, Rivers East) upon a constitutional point of order vide section 9, 14 (1)(3)sought for the bill to be thrown out on the fact that it was a violation of the constitution since INEC was established by the constitution and could only be amended by an alteration of the constitution.
His point was echoed by several Senators who expressed concern that the Attorney General could have passed the bill to the Senate in its form.
Among those who contributed to the debate yesterday were Senators Dahiru Umar (PDP, Sokoto), Kabiru Gaya (ANPP, Kano, South), Anthony Manzo (PDP, Taraba North), Kanti Bello (PDP, Katsina North), Isiaka Adeleke (PDP, Osun), Idris Umar (PDP, Gombe), Sola Akinyede (PDP, Ekiti North), Kabiru Jubril, (PDP, Kaduna Central), Omar Hambagda (ANPP, Borno South) and Anyim Ude (PDP, Ebonyi).
While several Senators with the notable exception of Senator Kanti Bello openly canvassed for the bill to be thrown out or in some cases for the bill to be sent to the Constitution review committee, Senator Kanti Bello called for caution, saying that the genuine intentions of the bill should not be thrown away.
Lamenting what he described as the incompetence of the Federal Ministry of Justice, Senator Dahiru Umar, chairman of the Senate committee on Judiciary and Legal Matters said: “What we are going to discuss is totally in conflict with the constitution yet the Ministry of Justice went ahead to draft a bill for the President to send to us.â€™â€™
Also lamenting the professional competence of the hands in the Ministry of Justice, Senator Kabiru Gaya said: “I believe the Ministry of Justice could do better than this. I believe there is little professional touch in this bill,â€™â€™ adding that there was a deliberate slight on the Senate through the resubmission of the proposal to remove INECâ€™s power to register and regulate the activities of political parties.
â€œI think we should just throw away this bill and continue with our constitution amendment process,â€™â€™ Senator Gaya submitted.
A move by Senator Kanti Bello to offer some clarification on the issue was not well received as Senators continued in lampooning the bill.
Senator Akinyede was miffed that the bill presented by the presidency was superficial as he said that it did not touch the substantial issues on electoral reform.
Senator Anyim Ude also spoke in the same vein saying â€œThe real issue of rigging which is giving Nigeria a bad image to the extent that the President of America cannot visit Nigeria have not been touched.â€™â€™