Electoral Bill: Senate Mobilises to Override President’s Veto, House Defers Battle Till Jan

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• Over 75 Senators sign proposal, more expected

Nigerians have not heard the last of President Muhammadu Buhari’s refusal to assent to the 2021 Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, as the senate, yesterday, showed readiness for a showdown with the executive over the matter and immediately moved to override the president.

Although the situation in the House of Representatives, was not as heated as the Senate, the House leadership said, while the bill might not have received presidential assent, it was within the responsibility of the parliament to decide the best way forward, adding that it would resume efforts to reform the electoral system next year.

THISDAY, however, learnt that over 75 senators had already signed a proposal, as at yesterday evening, indicating a commitment to override Buhari’s veto of the electoral bill, which would be introduced as a motion.

Buhari’s letter was read at the start of plenary by the President of the Senate, Dr. Ahmed Lawan, after the upper chamber came out from a closed session, which lasted some 40 minutes.

In the letter, the president 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.

“In the premise of the above, I hereby signify to the National Assembly that I am constrained to withhold assent to the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2021, in line with the provisions of Section 58(1) & (4) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). It is my considered position that the political parties should be allowed to freely exercise right of choice in deciding which of direct or indirect primaries to adopt in the conduct of their primary elections as their respective realities may permit.”

According to him, 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 also said any attempt to impose direct primaries on the political parties would be undemocratic.

Buhari further noted that such imposition would negatively affect the rights of citizens to participate in government as constitutionally guaranteed.

This is the second time the president would be withholding assent to the electoral bill, the first being during the Eighth National Assembly in 2018, when he said the passage of the bill by the then National Assembly was too close to the 2019 general election.

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Two closed-door sessions held at yesterday’s plenary was said to be inconclusive, as senators, reportedly, threatened to invoke the provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) to veto the president’s position at Wednesday’s plenary.

Apprehensive of possible outbursts from senators on the president’s veto and, apparently, to prevent open opposition to Buhari’s communication to the senate, Senate President Ahmed Lawan called for an executive session at 10:44am, which lasted an hour. Again, midway into the plenary, Senator George Sekibo (Rivers East) cited Order 14 of the Senate Standing Rules for the senate to go into another round of closed-door session, which Lawan upheld.

Sekibo was said to have used the opportunity of the closed-session to vent his anger over the decision of Buhari to turn down the signing of the Electoral Bill after the two chambers of the National Assembly had dully passed it.

It was further gathered that, at a point, the second closed-door session became rowdy, when some senators suggested that the veto should be upturned, while some others tried to prevail on them not to take the matter too far.

THISDAY also learnt that more senators were in support of the plan to override the president, because it had become a fierce battle for their political survival in their respective states, where governors had become their arch-rivals.

It was learnt that the reason for the executive sessions was to enable the senators to resolve some contentious issues, including the electoral bill, so that they would not openly confront themselves at plenary.

Speaking after yesterday’s plenary, Sekibo confirmed that senators were ready to override Buhari’s decision at today’s plenary. He also stated that his colleagues were being mobilised ahead of the plenary today, adding that many senators have already signed the veto notice.

According to him, “By law, we have the power to override him. That’s what Section 58 (4 & 5) of the 1999 Constitution says. We will use our powers to do it. And they are saying that people must be present at voting.

“Our rule gives us three methods of voting. Voice vote, by signing the document (signature), and electronic voting. So, we can use anyone. We collected signatures in the chamber and it cuts across party lines.”

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Senator Abba Morro also faulted the president’s reason for rejecting the bill saying, “The reasons given by the president to withhold assent, to my view and the views of majority of senators, are not enough, because all stakeholders have acknowledged the fact that the amended electoral act, as it is today, contains fantastic provisions that could deepen democracy.

“If we reject the amended electoral bill because of direct primary, then, it will be very unfortunate. If it’s because of direct primary, the president rejected the will of the people, I can assure you that myself and my colleagues are prepared this time around to override the president.”

Other senators, who also spoke, but on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that it was the plan of the lawmakers to override the veto on Tuesday, but it was scuttled by some of their colleagues, who considered it an embarrassment to the president, and would not allow it to happen.

One of the senators said, “Yes, our initial plan was to override President Buhari’s veto on the electoral bill, but they truncated it in the process. So, we will come back on Wednesday and continue from where we stopped.”

Another senator explained that he and his colleagues were out to override the president, but the senate president started saying it was not a just cause.

Yet, another senator, when asked whether or not there was a plan to override Buhari, responded, “That’s what we want to do,” adding that of all APC senators present yesterday, only three did not sign. But he was optimistic they would sign today.

On whether there was need to carry the House of Representatives members along, a ranking senator said, “We have a majority of willing team in the House of Representatives, because the idea of the direct primaries emanated from the lower chamber and it was sold to us in the senate.”

But the Speaker, while reading his remarks at the last plenary of the year, said, “This year, despite the differences of opinions, all of us in the House of Representatives and indeed, the entire National Assembly, worked to pass the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill. We included in that bill, provisions we hoped will significantly enhance the conduct of our national elections and improve public confidence in our electoral outcomes.

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“As it is now, that bill has not received presidential assent, and it falls to parliament to decide the best way forward. When we return in the New Year, we will resume our efforts to reform the electoral system in our country. And we will do it together. That is what the Nigerian people expect of us, and we will do our duty for God and country.

“Whichever way it pans out, we must not throw out the baby with the bath water and must deliver a credible and enduring electoral system to Nigerians. Every law is a living document and as long as it has breath, it must survive.”

He assured Nigerians that the House would pass Appropriation Bill 2022 yesterday, in keeping with the new tradition of operating an annual national budget from January to December.

Gbajabiamila said the ninth National Assembly, with each budget cycle, sought to improve the appropriations process to ensure more effective and efficient allocation and use of national resources.

He noted that the recurring challenge was how best to ensure that the ministries, departments and agencies of the federal government adhere strictly to the appropriation law.

This, the speaker noted, was of grave concern, especially, now that the country must contend with the reality of limited resources amid significant developmental challenges.

“However, one thing that is now abundantly clear, is that the legislature needs to act to reform the envelope system currently in place, because it imposes conditions that do not make for optimal outcomes.

“At the same time, we must begin also to consider options for merging agencies, where there is a significant overlap in functions and responsibilities, and scrapping other institutions, where their utility is no longer apparent,” he said.

While the House has adjourned till January and promised to revisit the matter when it reconvenes, it has also said it would recall its members immediately, if the senate overrides the president.

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