By Jide Ajani
As preparations by the leadership and some members of the National Assembly to override President Muhammadu Buhari’s veto of the amendments to the Electoral Act engage another gear, Sunday Vanguard can exclusively report that plans are at advanced stages to perfect the override action using the strict interpretations of some provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended.
Whereas the 1999 Constitution stipulates some areas of amendment that strictly make provision for the participation of the entire membership of each chamber, there are other provisions that merely refer to majority without the added priviso of “total num of legislators”.
The bone of contention had been the perceived near-impossibility of the National Assembly mustering the required two-thirds majority to override the presidential veto.
In fact, presidency sources who have been working hard at breaking the ranks of the legislators – some times allegedly offering carrots and, in some more vicious instances, threatening with the stick – informed Sunday Vanguard that the legislators cannot muster the needed two-thirds majority.
In the Senate, 73 votes of all members constitute two-thirds, while in the House, 240 of all members is it.
Information made available during the weekend suggest that what the NASS is interpreting as two-thirds, is not of the total number of legislators, but those who would be in attendance in so far as the quorum is formed.
This is being hinged on the express provisions of the 1999 Constitution which does not specify the need for and participation of total number of legislators who carry out voting in all instances.
For instance, in Sections 8 (1) (a) (c), (d) on States and LGA creation, 8 (2) (i) Boundary Adjustment, Sec. 9 (1) and (3), (4) and Sec. 48 and 49, S. 50 (c), Sec. 54 (1), 56 (1), and 58 (5), the constitution usually states, specifically, the type of majority and the meaning of majority that is required.
Sec 8 (1) (a) (c) and (d) while 8 (3) (i), on boundary adjustments, the constitution requires “two-thirds majority of members of each House of the National Assembly.
Sec. 9 says “ Sec. 8 or Chapter IV shall not be passed by either House of the National Assembly unless the proposal is approved by votes of not less than four-fifth majority of ALL the members of each House and also approved by a resolution of the Houses of Assembly of not less than two-thirds of all states.
The above is how to amend Sec. 8 or Chapter 4 of the Constitution.
Sec. 9 (1) also states that other parts of the constitution can only be amended by “the votes of not less than two-thirds majority of ALL the members of that House and approved by resolution of the Houses of Assembly of not less than two-thirds of all states.
Sec 9 (4) states that “For the purpose of states and LGAs creation, the numbers of members of each house of the NASS shall, notwithstanding any vacancy, be deemed to be the no of members specified in Sec 48 (109 Senators) and Sec 49 (360 House members). This means that even in the cases of vacancies occasioned by death or recall or ill-health, the majority required shall be based on 109 senators and 360 House members.
Sec. 50 (c) states that Senate President or Speaker can be removed by the “Votes of not less than two-thirds of that House”.
Meanwhile, Sec. 54 stipulates that the Senate or House shall be one-third of all the members. This is in respect of the constitutionally recognised quorum for the sitting of either the Senate or the House.
Sec. 56 (1) states that “Except as otherwise provided by this constitution, any question proposed for decision in the Senate or House shall be determined by the required majority of the members present and voting; and the persons presiding shall cast a vote whenever necessary to avoid an equality of votes but shall not vote in any other case.
The contention and position being pushed in the National Assembly now – at least by the leadership and some members – is that, it is, therefore, where the constitution only mentioned two-thirds of members, it is deemed to be two-thirds of members present provided the quorum has been formed.
This is the interpretation that is likely to guide the National Assembly in dealing with Sec. 58 (5) which states that “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.
Already, the leadership of NASS is confident that it can muster the required number.
The amendment to the Electoral Act became the subject of contention largely because of the re-ordering of elections. The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, had fixed the presidential election to kick start the polling season for February next year, but the NASS voted for an amendment to the Electoral Act where it re-ordered the sequence, pitching the federal legislative elections for and the presidential election last.
It is this new order, inserted in the Electoral Act, that has become so controversial because it is viewed, in some quarters, as being targeted at President Muhammadu Buhari.
However, a preponderant body of views is insisting that putting the legislative elections first, comes with the possibility of creating a rainbow legislative body, as against a national assembly that would derive membership from a bandwagon effect of the already emerged President whose election would have been concluded and, therefore, sway interests in favour of the President-elect’s party.