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Has the Joy of the Senate been restrained?

By Emmanuel Aziken

Why Senator Joy Emodi was dubbed the Joy of the Senate by the President of the Senate, Senator David Mark has never been revealed. But the woman who was removed from the Senate last Thursday by the Court of Appeal was an accomplished legislator who left a memorable legacy in her legislative and personal conducts that inspired joy in the gloomiest days of the Senate.

The Senate was in the last stages of passing the constitution amendment bill last Thursday when a text message on the court ruling voiding Mrs. Emodi’s election as Senator representing Anambra North Senatorial district arrived her mobile phone.

A puzzled look and thereafter, Senator Emodi climbed the dais to intimate Senator Mark who was presiding.

Senator Mark’s immediate response as seen by Senators and members of the public in the gallery was one of utter disbelief. A vigorous shaking of the head in seeming rejection of the judgment by Senator Mark was the expression of the Senate President to the loss.

Senator Emodi in an unusual display of level-headedness climbed down and calmly walked out of the chamber.

Memory of Mrs. Emodi’s time in the Senate is ingrained in her stewardship of the Senate Committee on Education. Before her advent as Chairman of the Committee on Education, that particular Committee had been reputed for vice as encapsulated in the N54 million bribe for budget scam.

To her credit mutterings of such malfeasances were suppressed in her time.

The removal of Mrs. Emodi from the Senate remarkably happened the very moment she was about to cast her vote in the final passage of the bill to alter provisions of the 1999 Constitution that would usher in the reform of the electoral system.

The landmark alterations were preceded on Wednesday by the voting on the 36 clauses of the bill as articulated by the Senator Ike Ekweremadu led Senate Committee on Constitution Review.
Under the provisions of the 1999 Constitution each alteration has to be supported by at least two-third of the Senate (that is 73 Senators) for the amendment to pass through.

Taking a head count of each of the estimated 108 Senators eligible for the vote that is excluding the Senate President was bound to have been a nightmare. It was as such a welcome surprise on Tuesday when the Senate President disclosed that the Electronic Voting Machine in the Senate would be used for the vote.

Even though the voting machine had been installed since 1999, it had never been put to use.
The presiding officers of the Senate had instead preferred the unorthodox use of the voice vote in their arbitration of the proceedings of the chamber. How the Senate President heard the shout of the yea and nay was sometimes subject to his whims.

The whole Senate could well shout yea to a vote, but he could according to his whims rule against the thunder. He is only bound by a provision in the Senate rule book which gives Senators the right to call for a division in the event a Senator is not satisfied with the ruling of the presiding officer.

In a division, the Senators are divided into two to ascertain the number of those voting yea or nay in an issue.

Calls for division are rare as it is seen as a challenge to the authority of the President of the Senate.
On the few occasions it has been used it has sometimes led to the overturning of the decisions of the Senate President, but not necessary in the advancement of the issues canvassed by the Senator.

On one occasion Senator Bassey Ewa-Henshaw (PDP, Cross River South) moved the Senate to a division after Senator Mark ruled by voice vote against the second reading of a bill entitled the Nigerian Investment Fund for Future Generations he sponsored. The bill with the objective of making savings from the country’s excess earnings for the rainy day was killed by the voice vote which Mark interpreted as having been won by the nays. Though Senator Ewa-Henshaw succeeded in reversing the nay voice vote as ruled by Senator Mark, the bill in question has remained comatose ever since!

The use of the electronic voting machines going by the trend last Wednesday is a popular one as many Senators including Senators Jibril Aminu, Olurunnimbe Mamora and Uche Chukwumerije canvassed that it should become the norm.

Senator Chukwumerije was indeed very forthright on the issue saying that it would stop the practice of rigging of voice votes by presiding officers of the Senate!

The issue of rigging was again brought to the fore earlier that Wednesday when a storm of hired hands stormed the National Assembly to denounce recent calls for the firing of Prof. Maurice Iwu as Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

The obviously paid hands easily passed through the gates of the National Assembly and crossed the barricades that only few weeks ago were used to stop Pastor Tunde Bakare and other leaders of the Save Nigeria Group (SNG) from entering the National Assembly!


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