BY HENRY UMORU
WEDNESDAY this week meant different things to the Senators; one, the day was Ash Wednesday, for others, it was Valentine day, a day to show love and affection but for Catholic faithful, it was their holy day; the commencement of the Lenten Season and love day.
On the other hand, the day; to many of the Senators, it was the ides of March, the day they passed the 2019 elections Order bill and for some , it was a day of disaffection, logjam, quagmire and discord.
That day in the life of the 8th Senate was when the relative peace the lawmakers had enjoyed after the coming together of the once antagonistic groups, the Like Minds Senators LMS and the Senate Unity Forum, SUF, the two groups had emerged in the early days of the present Senate. Senator Bukola Saraki had emerged as the Senate President with its attendant disagreements and disaffections.
This week, however, the unity, brotherhood and honey moon was threatened, following a rowdy session over a new amendment to the Electoral Act, regarding election sequence in the 2019 general elections.
The amended bill places the Presidential election as the last to be conducted, while that of the National Assembly will hold first, followed by governorship and State Houses of Assembly polls.
The bill has been passed and concurred by the two chambers of the National Assembly and is in the process of being forwarded to President Buhari for his assent.
With this arrangement, it is feared in some quarters that President Buhari and other presidential candidates in the 2019 general election may be made to sweat for their elections.
The House of Representatives had passed the bill without hitch
This followed the consideration of the report on a Bill for an Act to amend the Electoral Act No. 6, 2010 and Electoral Act (Amendment) Act 2015 to provide for a time line for submission of list of candidates, sequence of elections and political party primaries, use of technological devices among others.
Chairman of the Joint Committee on INEC, Senator Suleiman Nazif (APC, Bauchi North), who presented the conference report on behalf of the 12 Senators and House of Representatives members, said “the Conference Committee recommends that the Senate and the House of Representatives do consider and approve the conference committee report on a bill for an act to amend the electoral Act No. 6, 2010 and electoral (Amendment) Act 2015.”
Other members of Conference Committee are Senators Shehu Sani (APC, Kaduna Central); Dino Melaye (APC, Kogi West); Peter Nwaoboshi (PDP, Delta North); Biodun Olujimi (PDP, Ekiti South) and Hope Uzodinma (PDP, Imo West).
Members from the House of Representatives are Pwajok Edward Gyang as Co-chairman; Onyenwife Gabriel; Bassey Eko Ewa; Mohammed Tahie Monguno; Mohammed Soba and Ajayi Adeyinka.
Nazif said the Electoral Act No 6, 2010 amendment bill 2017 was passed by the Senate on Thursday, March 30, 2017 and by the House of Representatives on Thursday, February 1, 2018, pointing out that some differences were noticed in the two versions of the bill as passed by both Chambers.
“Consequently, a Conference Committee was constituted in the Senate on Wednesday, January 4, 2018 and the House of Representatives on Wednesday January 24, 2018 to reconcile areas of differences that appeared in the two versions.
“The Committee met and deliberated on the two versions of the bill. After exhaustive deliberations, the Committee noticed seven areas of differences in section 36 (3), 49(2), 53(2), 63(4), 78(4).” He said.
The Senator explained that in considering the House version in sections 25(1) and 8 (9A, a and b), dealing with sequence of elections and political parties primaries, the Committee “unanimously adopted the provisions in its entirety to ensure orderliness.”
The bill is in the process of being sent to President Muhammadu Buhari for his assent.
In his remarks, Senate President Saraki said: “As I keep on emphasising, institutions are what is important. We as senators, we have to finish our time and go, we must continue to strengthen institutions and by so doing, we must follow the procedures that are also laid down at all times.
“For conference report, it has been the procedure and as such with all due respect, I have to rule you out of order. I know, every politics is local. As much as it is local, we also have to maintain the integrity of these institutions.” He said.
Angered by what happened during the Plenary, the 10 APC Senators stormed the Senate Press Corps Centre to address journalists, expressing their reservations and vehemently kicked against the bill.
Led by the Chairman of Northern Senators Caucus and former Governor of Nasarawa State, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, the 10 Senators were peeved that their argument against the bill was truncated at the Plenary by Senate President Saraki and vowed that the amendment would not stand.
According to them, the action was not only trash, but a rush, self-serving and targeted at President Buhari’s re-election bid, adding that the amendment was carried out in bad faith and will not stand.
The protesting Senators, who claimed they were 59 in number, said others could not join them because they were attending to some official matters at different locations. However, request by journalists to have a full list of the 59 Senators could not be met by the Senators. Each of them took his or her turn and picked holes in the bill, stressing that it was clearly skewed against the President.
They insisted that the amendment was hasty and uncalled for, adding that the bill seeks to usurp the constitutional role of INEC, regarding the fixing of election dates. The senators also faulted the process leading to the amendment, saying only 36 of the 360 members of the House of Representatives passed the amendment bill.
The number, they said, failed to form the required quorum, just as they alleged that the report of the Conference Committee of the Senate and House of Representatives on the bill was not signed by some of the members, including Senator Suleiman Nazif (Bauchi North), who Chaired the Committee. Nazif is also the Senate committee Chairman on INEC.
The aggrieved APC Senators included Binta Garba (Adamawa); Ali Wakili (Bauchi); Kurfi Umaru (Katsina); Andrew Uchendu (Rivers); Abdullahi Danbaba (Sokoto); Yahaya Abdullahi (Kebbi); Abu Ibrahim (Katsina); Ovie Omo- Agege, Delta; and Benjamin Uwajumogu (Imo).
They described the amendment and process of passage as ‘illegal’, vowing that it would not stand, with the leader of the dissenting group, Abdullahi Adamu, questioning the conduct of the Senate President in the process of passage.
The opposing group had concluded that the action will make election very expensive, skewed against the President, hasty, uncalled for; designed to usurp the powers of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC and process of passage faulty
However, those in support are of the view that it was carried out because of national interest, not personal, not whimsical but will help deepen democracy and that it went through due process, as well as, done in line with prevailing order.