Senators huff, puff, fail to override Buhari’s veto

News

…Say they’ll act on Buhari’s letter in January, to consult Reps, constituents on next line of action …PDP Reps caucus asks Buhari to resign, says Nigeria seized by hostage takers, bandits, terrorists …APC scuttled electoral act amendment for fear of 2023 –PDP …We can have a new bill in one month — Saraki …CSOs accuse Gbajabiamila of betraying Nigerians …Rework, resend amendment bill to Buhari, PGF D-G tells NASS …NANS asks NASS to override Buhari’s veto …Yiaga Africa, others urge NASS to transmit bill back to Buhari within 30 days

ABUJA — Despite some tough talk from the Senate, which threathened to override President Muhammadu Buhari’s veto of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021, Senators yesterday backed down claiming that they need to consult their constituents among other reasons.

They also anchored their backdown on the recess embarked upon by the House of Representatives, which they said they will consult on the way forward.

Angry senators talked tough on Tuesday when Senate President, Ahmad Lawan read President Buhari’s letter declining assent to the controversial bill.

In a jiffy, three ranking senators from the South-South, North-Central and North-East went round the chambers with lists to collect names of senators who were ready to override the president’s veto. Within a short while, no fewer than 76 names across party lines were compiled. The Senate needs at least 73 signatures, which is two-thirds of the 109-member legislature.

The senators, who were to begin their Yuletide vacation on Tuesday, refused to pass the 2022 budget. They insisted that the Electoral Bill issue must be trashed out, yesterday, before they would pass the budget.

Although, the polity was divided over President Buhari’s letter, not a few Nigerians expected the Senate to override Buhari, yesterday.

However, that was not to be, despite earlier indications that the Senators would override President Buhari. The machines at the hallowed Chamber were tested to ascertain whether or not they were working and the board showed clearly that the machines were in good shape.

Soon after the Senate resumed plenary, yesterday, the President of the Senate, Senator Lawan at 10.36a.m., called for an executive session.

Senators dissolved into a closed door session to deliberate on President Buhari’s letter withholding assent to the 2021 Electoral Act Amendment bill.

Rising from a closed-door session, yesterday, Senate President Lawan disclosed that at the meeting, the Senators agreed to consult with members of the House of Representatives when they resume in January because the lawmakers in the lower chamber have already gone on break.

The closed-door session, which started at 10.36a.m., ended at 11: 14 a.m.

Lawan said that the Senate will consult with the House of Representatives on how to respond to President Buhari’s letter.  Lawan also said as part of ways to respond to the letter of the President, senators would consult with their constituents who are major stakeholders in the decisions taken at the National Assembly.

According to the President of the Senate, the provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) does not permit the upper chamber to exclusively take any action on such matters in the absence of the House of Representatives, since the latter has embarked on recess.

He, however, assured that a joint position would be reached with the House after due consultation with Nigerians to determine the appropriate line of action when both chambers reconvene from the Christmas break in January.

Speaking on what transpired in the closed session, Lawan said: “The Senate in a closed session deliberated on matters relevant to the workings of the Senate in particular and, the National Assembly in general.

“The Senate also in the closed session discussed how to respond to the letter from Mr. President on the electoral bill amendment.

“The Senate consequently resolved to consult with the House of Representatives in January when both the Senate and House will be in session.

“Presently, the House of Reps has gone or recess and like we all know, the constitutional provision is for the Senate and House of Representatives to jointly take the appropriate action.

“The Senate also resolved to consult with our constituents during our recess in January.

“The Senate believes that our constituents have a role to play as the major stakeholders in the laws that we make in the National Assembly.”

 After passing the 2022 budget most of the lawmakers avoided the press and went away through the inner room.

Why senators soft-pedaled

A source told Vanguard that the Senate President pleaded with his colleagues to exercise caution on the Electoral Bill matter so as not to further heat up the polity.

‘’Most of us were ready to carry out our resolution of overriding President Buhari but the Senate President does not want anything that will embarrass the President. He begged us to exercise caution, especially as the House of Representatives had gone on recess after deferring the issue to next year. The matter is not over. We will restrategise and come back next year. We can’t afford to throw the baby away with the bath water. The Electoral Act Amendment Bill has many provisions that will deepen our democracy,” the source said.

Save Nigeria from Buhari now, PDP Reps’ caucus cries

Meanwhile, the president’s non-assent to Electoral Bill has continued to raise dust in the polity. Members of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Caucus in the House of Representatives, have said that the real reason President Buhari withheld his assent to the amended electoral bill was to avoid electronic transmission of election results.

The caucus also decried insecurity in the country, saying that Nigeria under President Buhari has been seized by hostage-takers, bandits and terrorists, who now feed fat on the poor and impoverished citizens from the ransom they demand and get.

In a statement by leader of the Caucus, Mr. Kingsley Chinda (PDP, Rivers ), the main opposition lawmakers asked the President to resign his office.

Chinda said: “In the past one month, Nigerians have waited on the President to give assent to the Electoral Reform Bill passed to him by the National Assembly.

“As was postulated in several quarters, he has declined assent to the same, using the cost of direct primaries as a decoy. The untold reason for declining is to avoid the electronic transmission of results which will improve the credibility of the electoral system.

“This refusal, though contemplated, has left Nigerians confounded by a President who continues to show utter disdain for the Constitution and the reform of the institutions of state. Under him, our institutions of state have regressed, to the point that the gains of previous institutions reforms, embarked by our great party while in power,   have been either lost to his inaction or to his deliberate ploy to leave our country worse than he met it. On this point alone, we are not convinced that he is interested in the reform of the electoral process.

“A ruling party that cannot conduct its national convention lacks the capacity to implement some of the innovative and people-empowering provisions of the Bill, like the direct party primaries and electronic transmission of results from the units. As an opposition caucus, we will ensure that our members exercise their power under Section 58(5) of the Constitution to veto the President whenever the National Assembly deems it fit to table the issue for discussion.

“We make bold to remind General Buhari of the saying, of that old Greek General, Chabrias the Athenian, that “an army of sheep led by a lion is more feared than an army of lions led by a sheep.

“But, our nation and its people don’t have the luxury of time to wait on General Buhari to transform from the intrepid General who is currently missing in action to the lion that leads from the front, when bandits, terrorists and kidnappers, who have seized our nation by the scruff of the neck are inflicting malevolence on the nation and imposing informal rules on citizens to command obedience to their dictates.

“Time is running out. General Buhari should save our country by waking up from his long slumber or resign now.”

On the security challenge in the country, the caucus said that the bandits have turned homesteads, hamlets, villages, towns and cities into killing fields.

The statement noted that the bloodletting unleashed by the hostage-takers, which has gone unabated on Buhari’s watch with no concerted effort to arrest the situation, had become unbearable.

‘APC scuttled electoral act amendment for fear of 2023’

Also, the PDP has accused the All Progressives Congress, APC, of scuttling the signing of the electoral act amendment bill because some key provisions in the bill would not allow “its grand design to rig the 2023 general elections.”

The party in a statement, yesterday,  by its spokesman, Debo Ologunagba, said: “It is instructive to recall that the APC has been in trepidation of the amendment to the Electoral Act, due mainly to the provision of electronic transmission of election results, which will completely eliminate APC’s manipulations and alteration of results at elections.

“It is apparent that the APC and the Buhari Presidency were never committed to the amendment of the electoral act to ensure credible elections and as such triggered the controversy of the mode of primaries by political parties as a camouflage to scuttle the entire amendment bill including provisions for electronic transmission of results among others.

“It is imperative to remind Nigerians of how the APC, in collusion with their leaders in the National Assembly fought hard to stop the electronic transmission of results provision in the bill, but were resisted by Nigerians supported by the courageous action of the PDP Caucus in the House of Representatives, which staged a walk out only for the APC to orchestrate controversies and set the stage for the withholding of assent by Mr. President.

“The main reason for this manipulation of the legislative process by the APC is to prevent the electronic transmission of results, so that it can continue in its culture of rigging and electoral impunity, including alteration of results at collation, ballot box snatching, destruction of data among others, just to cling to power against the will of Nigerians.

“The PDP cautions the APC to note that no matter their machination, Nigerians are determined to pursue the electronic transmission of election results to its logical conclusion and that there is no going back in their resolve to vote out the APC in 2023.”

We can have a new bill in one month – Saraki

Speaking on the issue, former Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki urged the National Assembly to act fast to save the bill because of its fine provisions

“We cannot sit back and allow one contentious clause to throw away all the positives in the proposed Electoral Act [amendment] Bill. At this point, two options are open to the National Assembly. They either veto the president’s decline of assent or remove the contentious provision on direct primaries and send it back to the president for his assent.

“Whichever option our legislators choose can be accomplished in the shortest possible time. We could have a new electoral law in January 2022. “Anyone that has been following the mood of the nation knows that Nigerians desire to have a new electoral law that will lead to having a credible, free, fair, and peaceful process of electing our leaders. They want a system that will ensure that their votes truly count in the election of those who govern them.

“This proposed electoral law is expected to reassure the youths, many of whom steer clear of the political process because they have no confidence in the system. They believe the system is usually rigged and compromised. One way to bring this active demography into the political system is to enact a new law that will give them hope in our nation. This Electoral Act [Amendment] Bill serves that purpose.

“This is why, as the representatives of the Nigerian people, the National Assembly must take a decision in the interest of our nation and its long-term democracy. The option of not doing anything after the refusal of assent by the President is not an option. Our legislators in both chambers of the National Assembly and Mr. President must ensure that it becomes a law without delay.”

CSOs accuse Gbaja of betrayal

Meanwhile, civil society organisations, CSOs, under the auspices of Society Partners on Electoral Reform, yesterday, accused the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, of dropping Electoral Act Amendment Bill to pass the 2022 Appropriation Bill into law.

In a statement by the Executive Director, Adopt A Goal for Development Initiative, Ariyo-Dare Atoye; Speak Out Africa Initiative, Ken Eze; Raising New Voices, Jude Feranmi; and Executive Director, Youth and Students Advocates for Development Initiative Obinna Eze Nwagbara, they alleged that the Speaker arm-twisted the Senate to stop further action on the bill even when the Senate was even ready to do more in the interest of the nation’s democracy over alleged “personal and narrow political interest.”

They said: “The action of the Speaker in hurryingly passing the 2022 Appropriation Act and adjourning the House to next year, amounted to a betrayal of trust and arm-twisting of the Senate to stop further action on the bill even when the red chamber was ready to do more.

“The Senate had passed a version of the Electoral Bill that accommodated the two choices of party primaries but Gbajabiamila single-handedly led the National Assembly and Nigerians into adopting and appreciating the importance of the direct primaries, will be the first to chicken out. Some legislative activism was expected in the House over the President’s letter but that the Speaker made it impossible.”

Rework bill, send back to Buhari, PGF DG tells NASS

Also speaking, Director-General, Progressive Governors’ Forum, PGF, Salihu Lukman urged the National Assembly to rework contentious clauses in the bill and forward same to the president for his assent.

Lukman gave the charge, yesterday, in Abuja at the unveiling of his new book, “APC and Campaign for New Nigeria”.

Lukman said: “I am not opposed to direct primary, but there are some conditions which must be met for direct primary to be able to provide the democratic platform that will confirm the voice of individual members of the party.  

“Some of those conditions include the fact that the membership of the political party must be very clear; it should not be in dispute. In APC, we are very clear in terms of ensuring that we prioritize the question of developing the membership database of our party. That was why we went through the process of membership registration and revalidation.

“The next stage will be the question of internet provision within the party to ensure that every member of the party is aware of the records of members without any dispute.

“The whole debate about direct or indirect primary is basically an APC issue. To that extent, my position is to appeal to the leadership of the National Assembly to provide the necessary leadership so that we don’t muddle up issues.

“My argument is that the original bill which went for public hearing did not include all those provisions. It was out of the momentary anger I think, against governors following the management of the congresses that led to the situation whereby National Assembly members felt compelled to amend the law and include direct primaries.

“The issues that are necessary in the Electoral Act which are not contentious are issues of electronic transmission of results and all the other issues.

“I think they should work on it and submit it to Mr. President for assent. The other issues of direct primaries should go through the normal legislative process and if it is passed, so be it, so that we don’t throw the baby away with the bath water.”

Yiaga Africa, others urge NASS to send bill back to Buhari in 30 days

Meanwhile, an election observer, Yiaga Africa and other CSOs, yesterday, urged members of the National Assembly to transmit the Electoral Act Amendment Bill back to President Buhari within 30 days.  

In a statement by Yiaga Africa; International Press Centre, IPC; Centre for Citizens with Disability, CCD; The Albino Foundation; CLEEN Foundation; Institute for Media and Society, IMS; Nigerian Women Trust Fund, NWTF; and Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism, PTCIJ, they expressed sadness and disappointment over failure of President Buhari to sign the Bill into law as it has negatively affected relevant electoral stakeholders after spending enormous time and resources to put together “undermines public confidence and trust in the electoral system.”

According to them,  more disappointing  is the fact that the President delayed his response until the effluxion of time required for assenting to legislation until the date that the National Assembly was proceeding for the Christmas and New Year holiday.

They said: “The non-conclusion of the electoral amendment process will mean that these elections will be conducted using the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) denying INEC the opportunity to test the efficacy of some of the new innovations introduced in the proposed Electoral Bill 2021.

“This is apart from the delay the commission will have to contend with in the required effort to review its guidelines, regulations and manuals in accordance with certain provisions of the Bill.

“Furthermore, based on the revised timelines for specific electoral activities in the Bill, INEC and other stakeholders will have to grapple with logistical, financial, and programmatic difficulties in the run-up to the 2023 general election.

“To avert further complications and logjam in the efforts to strengthen the electoral process, we strongly recommend as follows: The National Assembly as a matter of national emergency should either override the President’s decision or remove the contentious clause (s) from the Bill and transmit the Bill back to the President for assent within the next 30 days. ‘’

NANS backs NASS on veto override

Reacting, the National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, urged the lawmakers to override President Buhari.

The students’ body, addressing newsmen, yesterday, described direct primary election as the process for selecting political party flag bearers as the best policy to be adopted into the law of the federation.

In his address, NANS Coordinator in the Southwest (Zone D), Adetunji Olagboyega, said that the association, as an independent body for all students in Nigeria, would not fold its arms and allow what it he described as double-dealing to scale the hurdles of the legislature.

He added that the body would mobilise its members to ensure that what is supposed to be an enduring legacy of the current administration was not truncated based on the interest of “very few shenanigans.”

Dismissing as untenable the reasons President Buhari gave to vetoing the bill, the students urged the NASS to override him saying: “We will mobilise our members to ensure that what is supposed to be an enduring legacy of this administration is not truncated based on the interest of very few shenanigans. By using your power to override the President’s failure to sign this Bill, Nigerians and indeed posterity will never forget you all as distinguished members of the National Assembly.”

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