Electoral Bill
Senate

Laws alone won’t be enough, if we don’t operate them properly — Lawan lAssures INEC of Senate’s Support lBill to be retransmitted to president for assent — Reps lWhy we didn’t override Buhari — spokesman

By Henry Umoru & Levinus Nwabughiogu

Abuja—The National Assembly, NASS, yesterday re-amended the 2010 Electoral Act Amendment Bill to make provisions for direct and indirect primaries for political parties.

Recall that NASS had in the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, 2021, passed on November 18, 2021, provided only for direct primaries for political parties, a provision President Muhammadu Buhari cited for refusing to assent to the bill.

The Senate, an arm of the National Assembly, even further provided for consensus for parties.

The amendment of the bill followed a motion for its re-commital to the Committee of the Whole.

The motion was sponsored by the Senate Leader, Yahaya Abdullahi (Kebbi North) who, in his presentation, recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari had signified withholding his assent on the Electoral Act No. 6 2010 (Repeal and Re-enactment) Bill, 2021 which was passed by the National Assembly and forwarded to the President on Thursday, November 18, 2021.

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Senator Abdullahi noted that the rational for withholding assent bordered on his observation in Clause 84.

President Buhari in the letter dated December 13, 2021, and addressedi to the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, had explained that his decision to withhold assent to the electoral bill was informed by advice from relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies, MDAs, of government after a thorough review.

According to the President, signing the bill into law would have serious adverse legal, financial, economic and security consequences on the country, particularly in view of Nigeria’s peculiarities.

He added that it would also impact negatively on the rights of citizens to participate in government as constitutionally ensured.

Senator Abdullahi, however, explained that the motion for re-commital of the bill to the Committee of the Whole was against the backdrop of the “need to address the observation by Mr. President C-in-C and make necessary amendment in accordance with Order 87(c) of the Senate Standing Orders, 2022 (as amended); and relying on order 1(b) and 52(6) of the Senate Standing Orders, 2022 (as amended).”

Accordingly, the chamber rescinded its decision on the affected clause of the bill as passed and recommit same to the Committee of the Whole for consideration and passage.

Speaking after the Senate re-amended the Electoral Act, Senate president, Ahmad Lawan, assured the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, of support of the National Assembly in the discharge of its duties.

He said: “We will still be around to ensure that INEC receives every possible support from the National Assembly to conduct the 2023 elections successfully, transparently and with integrity.

“But laws alone will not be enough. We could have the best laws. If we don’t operate them properly, they may not mean much.

“I urge practitioners, politicians and INEC to ensure that we obey and operate the laws as provided in the Electoral Act.”

He also congratulated the Senate and, indeed, the National Assembly for again standing up to the occasion by passing the amendment to the Electoral Bill 2010.

“This is one of our major pillars in our legislative agenda when we started in 2019.  This is one of the bills Nigerians, particularly, are so interested in because it is one sure way of enhancing our electoral processes and producing leaders at various levels of governance.

‘’What we have done today (yesterday)  is to respond to the observation of the President and we have done that very patriotically.  Today, as the bill stands, there is provision for all possible options for selection of candidates from presidency to the councilorship.

“The available options we have are: the direct primaries, indirect primaries and consensus candidature.  What this means is that political parties are now, once this becomes law, are now challenged to ensure that they choose what is appropriate, what is suitable for them when it comes to the processes of producing their candidates.”

Reconsidering the clause in the Committee of the Whole chaired by speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, yesterday, the House unanimously passed the provision, including now, the ‘indirect’ mode in the bill.

Before putting it to voice vote, Gbajabiamila re-read the letter of the President to remind the House that the bone of contention was basically the direct primary mode.

He said: “So, it is this letter that has brought us where we are. In line with the provisions of our rules, we are in order to recommit and reconsider, based on the official information communicated to us as a House.

‘’The relevant rule here is Order 12, rule 20 which is the reconsideration of bills. It states that any bill referred to the House by the President withholding assent maybe reconsidered through a substantive motion by the House.

“Clause 84 reads:  “A political party seeking to nominate candidates for election under this Act shall hold primaries for aspirants to all elective positions. Sub 2, the procedure for the nomination of candidates by political parties for the various elective positions shall be by direct or indirect primaries.”

The motion

The passage however followed the reintroduction of the bill titled “Recommital of Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2021”, by the Chairman, House Committee on Rules and Business,  Abubarkar Fulata at yesterday’s plenary.

Moving the motion, Fulata said: “The House notes that the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill was passed by the National Assembly and transmitted to the President for assent but the assent was withheld.

“Also notes that in withholding the assent, the President particularly referred to the amendment of section 87 of the Electoral Act, 2010, dealing with the mode of nomination of candidates by political parties

“Further notes that section 87(2) of the Electoral Act 2010 provides that the procedure for the nomination of candidates by political parties’ elective positions shall be by direct and indirect primaries.

“Recalls that the National Assembly amended section 87 (2) of the Electoral Act 2010 as clause 84(2) of the Electoral Act (amendment) Bill 2021 to read thus:  The procedure for nomination of candidates by political parties for various elective positions shall be by direct primaries.

“Cognizant of the need to allow political parties to choose the procedure for nomination of candidates for elective positions.

“The House resolves to commit section 84(2) of the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, 2021 to the Committee of the Whole for reconsideration in accordance with Order 12, Rule 20 (1-3) of the Standing Order of the House”.

Closed session

Earlier at the commencement of plenary, the House went into an executive session, announced by Gbajabiamila after conferring with principal officers on the issue.

By 12:44pm when the doors opened, the chamber was rowdy, with the members meeting in clusters, bickering.

The Minority Leader, Ndudi Elumelu, and his deputy, Toby Okechukwu, were seen meeting some members, most of whom were of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.

Voices were later heard shouting “no consensus”.

Though, there was no clear answer as to why members were muttering in clusters, Vanguard gathered that “consensus” was being mooted as a third option or clause to direct and indirect clauses to which members were poised to object.

Immediately after the passage of the bill, the member representing Andoni/Opobo/Nkoro federal constituency of Rivers State, Awaji Abiante, made some observations in the bill not in tandem with the mode of primaries held in the past.

He said: “In the case of nomination of presidential candidate, a political party shall hold special convention in each of the 36 states of the federation and FCT where delegates shall vote for each of the aspirants at the designated centers on specified dates.

‘’If you go further, a national convention shall be held for the ratification. So, you don’t elect at the convention.

“The election of the presidential candidate will remain at the various state level. That is what this English states and it’s not the way the primaries have been held. This is not the detail of the Electoral Act that has been passed and was sent back to us to consider to give Nigerians the options of direct and indirect primaries.

Why Reps didn’t override Buhari

Briefing journalists after plenary, the spokesman of the House, Benjamin Kalu, said the House in the executive session held both on Tuesday and yesterday decided to put the interest of the nation above every other consideration, adding that the House chose not to heat up the polity in overriding the President.

Speaking on the option of consensus included by the Senate, Kalu said it was possible that their rules allowed the introduction of other options.

“I referred you to the wordings of the letters ofthe President, which specifically mentioned  direct and indirect primaries. The letter, which is a formal communication to us, requested the House to give option of direct and indirect primaries. And the House in the spirit of nation building, accepted that.

“If the Senate introduced anything into the referred bill, maybe Senate rules have accommodation for that. There’s no accommodation in our House rules. Our House rules made it clear that you only handle that specific clause that was referred to.

‘’Mr President knew what he wanted and he stated in his letter. Direct or indirect should be the option.  We had options allowed by the constitution. Mr President acted on subsection 4. Subsection 5 empowers us to override the President but you can only do that when you have 2/ 3rd majority.

‘’This means that the House wants to override the President but if you don’t secure that, you can’t. It’s not an ego war. Not like anybody trying to prove anything. We may not get it fully but we are heading towards advancing our democracy,” Kalu said.

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