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Senate votes on electoral reforms, gov’s tenure today

By Emmanuel Aziken & Inlagewu Shaibu

ABUJA — THE Senate will, today, vote on amendments to the constitution which will, among others, stop the elongation of terms of serving governors and provide for the acquisition of tertiary education as requirement for elective political office seekers.

The electoral reform proposals, including time frame for elections to hold between December and March, also stipulates a six-month deadline for the disposal of election petitions after the conclusion.

Today’s vote, to be conducted by electronic voting, would also be historic, being the first time since the inauguration of the National Assembly in 1999 that the electronic voting machine will be used.

The vote follows the consideration and consensus reached by senators on the amendments as presented by the Senate Committee on Review of the Constitution.

A mock demonstration of the electronic voting machine, however, ended in failure, yesterday, as the votes recorded was less than the number of senators present at the commencement of the sitting..

Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu and Senate spokesman, Senator Ayogu Eze, at different press briefings, expressed confidence in the work of the Senate’s Constitution Review Committee which also made provision for independent candidacy, first line charge for the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and the Judiciary.

Senate President, David Mark being heralded into the Chambers

Provisions of the report of the Senator Ekweremadu-led committee which were considered by the Senate also made stricter provisions for the recall of legislators and deleted the constitutional provision that barred those indicted by administrative panels of inquiry from political offices.

Briefing newsmen at the end of the Senate session, Senator Ekweremadu said the presentation of the committee’s report was in fulfillment of his earlier promise that the Senate report would be tabled and passed in March 2010.

He said: “Today we have fulfilled that promise, so I will like to use this opportunity to thank my colleagues in the Senate especially those in the Committee for making it possible for us to achieve that. Having said this, we believe that our colleagues in the House of Representatives and the various Houses of Assembly will help in ensuring that they will expeditiously carry out action on this exercise so that the 2011 elections will benefit from this enterprise.”

However, when asked about the readiness of the House of Representatives to give priority to the electoral reform proposals, Ekweremadu said: “When we made our promise, we made our promise regarding the one we have control which is the Senate. I do not have any problem regarding what the House will deliver, it is up to them. So I do not have control over what they will do. It is up to them and we hope and pray that they will follow suit.”

Elongation of  governors’ terms

He said that the amendment to the constitution stopping serving Governors from enjoying an elongated tenure when their tenures are abridged by electoral tribunals would not affect serving Governors now enjoying them.

Among the serving governors enjoying the privilege are Governors Timipre Sylva of Bayelsa, Lyel Imoke of Cross River, Ibrahim Idris of Kogi, Sullivan Chime of Enugu State, Segun Oni of Ekiti State, among others.

Senator Ekweremadu said: “It will take effect as soon as it is passed. I can tell you that it will not affect those whose rights have already accrued under the election that took place.”

Section 135 (c) of the constitution to stop serving governors from enjoying an elongated tenure where they win fresh elections following the abridgement of their tenures by the courts reads thus: “In the calculation of the four-year term, where a re-election has taken place and the person earlier sworn-in wins the re-election, the time spent in the office before the date the election was annulled, shall be taken into account.”

Also speaking in the same vein in appreciation of the Senate’s efforts, Senator Eze said:

“Severally we spoke to you and I told you about our determination to ensure that we deepen this democracy. You can see that we have, in this amendment, ensured financial autonomy for very crucial arms of this democratic process: the legislature, the judiciary and the Independent National Electoral Commission.

“We have also gone ahead to put in the Constitution a section that will make sure that the President or anybody in Nigeria cannot dictate to the chairman of the electoral body once he is appointed.

“You can see our argument is not about who is appointed because we have drawn a parallel from Ghana where the chairman is appointed by the President of that country, but because of the laws of the land nobody can dictate to the person and we have now made sure that our democracy has some safeguards.”

The financial autonomy of INEC was underlined by the amendment Section 81(3) of the Constitution which now reads:

“The amount standing to the credit of the

(a)   Independent National Electoral Commission,

(b)   National Assembly,

(c)   Judiciary;  in the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation shall be paid directly to the said bodies respectively; in the case of the Judiciary, such amount shall be paid to the National Judicial Council for disbursement to the heads of the courts established for the federation and the States under section 6 of this Constitution.”


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