• As lawmakers throw out Buhari’s request to amend contentious clause 84 which abridges constitutional right of appointees to vote and be voted for
For the first time since the country returned to democracy in 1999, the Senate yesterday reneged on an agreement it reached with a sitting president as the lawmakers overwhelmingly threw out a bill seeking to amend the new Electoral Act 2022.
According to analysts, that was the first time the National Assembly would reach an agreement with a sitting president and go against it.
The Executive request was made by President Muhammadu Buhari to amend the Electoral Act signed into law on February, 25 2022.
Buhari had requested that the National Assembly should delete Section 84 (12) which mandates government appointees to resign their positions three months ahead of primary elections of political parties in the newly signed Electoral Act 2022
Owing to the development on the Red Chamber yesterday, pundits argued that there might be distrust between the executive and the National Assembly going forward, adding that it could negatively impact future bills.
The analysts pointed out that right from the tenure of former presidents: Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan – when the president wants to get a bill signed, they would agree with the National Assembly on areas they want removed or included and it would be done as agreed by both arms of government.
Therefore, they noted that for the Senate not to abide with what was agreed with the executive would endanger future bills because the president would not listen to them again.
“By their act, they have broken a sacrosanct tradition that is done everywhere in the world that practices democracy. This would have major impact on future bills and with future presidents,” a source who pleaded to remain anonymous said.
Another source explained further; “The President had wanted to veto the reworked electoral act but was sensitive about the mood of the nation and the impact another delay would have on the 2023 elections calendar. Instead he raised the issue of the contentious clause with the leadership of the National Assembly who went to meet their caucus to discuss the President’s concerns. They came back to the president that they have agreed to expunged the contentious clause that infringes on the constitutional rights of political appointees to vote or be voted for from the bill after he signed the bill into law. Having extracted that commitment from the leadership of the National Assembly, the President proceeded to sign the bill into law. And immediately followed with a request for an amendment based on the understanding reached with the lawmakers. It is therefore a betrayal of the understanding for the lawmakers to now turn round to reject the request from the President to amend the law to bring it in conformity with the constitution.”
Reacting to the request by the president that Section 84 (12) be deleted in the new Electoral Act 2022, the source argued that, the section of the law was discriminatory because it allows elected officials to perpetuate themselves.
“That means they would have no challenge from appointed officers,” he added.
However, the Electoral Act Amendment Bill was unanimously rejected by the lawmakers when it came for second reading on the floor during plenary, amidst a mild drama.
There were strong indications before plenary that the senators would kick against the bill despite the position of the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan that the red chamber would go ahead to consider the bill notwithstanding a court order barring it from doing so.
The court had, in a ruling delivered by Inyang Ekwo, on an ex-parte application by the People’s Democratic Party, barred the President Muhammadu Buhari, the Attorney General of the Federation and the Senate President from tampering with the newly amended Electoral Act 2022.
The Court maintained that the Electoral Act, having become a valid law could not be altered without following the due process of law.
The move to reject the bill was signaled by a point of order from Senator Adamu Aliero for it to be stepped down after the Senate Leader, Yahaya Abdullahi, moved a motion for the bill to be read a second time.
Aliero, who came under a point of Order, drew the attention of his colleagues to the provision of Rule 52(5) of the Senate Standing Order.
The Order 52(5) provides that, “Reference shall not be made to any matter on which a judicial decision is pending, in such a way as might in the opinion of the President of the Senate prejudice the interest of parties thereto.”
Aliero, therefore, advised the upper chamber to step down further consideration of the bill pending the vacation of a court order delivered by the Federal High Court, Abuja, on Monday.
The Senator maintained that going ahead with the amendment of the Act would be clear conflict with the sub judice rule in law which prevents the legislature from deliberating or considering any matter already before a court of competent jurisdiction.
Aliero explained: “Going ahead to consider the bill obviously will mean that we are disrespecting that order, and this is an institution of the Senate – the symbol of Nigeria’s Lawmaking body.
“We should not be seen to be disobeying the court order. No matter how bad that court order is, we should respect it.
“So, I’m of the opinion that we should stop considering this bill pending the time the court set aside that order, and I think I’m speaking the opinion of my colleagues here.”
The Senate President, while ruling on Aliero’s point of Order, insisted that the move by the upper chamber to amend the Electoral Act was in line with exercising its Constitutional duties amid following due process.
Lawan said: “To be specific to this particular request, for us in the Senate, it is to look at the request and follow our due process.
“Looking at the request does not mean granting the request. Members of the National Assembly are at liberty to review the request to see if the arguments by the Executive arm of government are convincing enough.
“If the arguments are not convincing enough, the National Assembly can deny the request, and that is how it is. We have no encumbrance from that order.
“So, it is for Senators here to decide to vote for this amendment or vote against it.
“I think we are not breaching any law, in fact, we are trying to promote democracy because to do otherwise may mean that one day someone will go to court and say that the Senate of the National Assembly should not sit.
“I want to appeal to all of us, that we are on the right course and my ruling remains that we are going ahead to consider the proposal which the Leader of the Senate is leading the debate.
“At the end of the debate, we are going to vote, and the vote will decide the fate of the bill.
“I’m sure all of us know that whatever we do here is to protect democracy and the sanctity of the upper chamber,” the Senate President said.
The Senate Leader, was then given the floor to lead the debate on the Electoral Act Amendment bill.
The real drama started unfolding when the Minority Leader, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe (Abia South), kicked against the deletion of Section 84(12) of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill as requested by President Buhari.
He said: “There are certain things that we see which we think we don’t even have to come here to debate.
“One of those things is the fact that in every democracy, all over the world, there are certain rules which we don’t need to be told about.
“One of those rules is the fact that you cannot be a referee and a player on the same field. It is either you’re a referee or a player.
“So, every other place in the world where democracy is practiced including Nigeria, we don’t need to be told that if we want to run for office, we have to resign. That is a sine qua non that we don’t even need to debate.
“Yet here we are today in Nigeria, and people think they can sit in an office and contest an election and become candidates and continue to sit in that office until the date of election. So, how would we continue to debase democracy in this way?
“Mr. President, I think, a cursory look at this paper shows that this paper is dead on arrival. And I urge you, my colleagues, to help us to continue to deepen democracy by insisting that this bill not be read a second time in any manner whatsoever.”
The rejection of the bill continued with the bombshell from the APC Senator, representing Kogi West, Smart Adeyemi, who also, vehemently, expressed his disapproval to the consideration of the bill.
Adeyemi said, “one of the hallmarks of democracy is justice, fairness and equity.”
He continued, “Indeed, Mr. President, it is a settled matter in law that you cannot be a judge over you own case.
“In any election, where people have the added advantage of holding executive power, either by proxy or directly or by appointment, for such people to have access and compete with others who came from the street, I think is an unjust society.
“Therefore, Mr. President, I disagree with all the arguments on the need to consider a decision that has already been settled.”
A last minute move by the Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege, to save the bill from sudden death by swaying his colleagues’ standpoint, also suffered a devastating blow.
Omo-Agege said, “The framers of the constitution, knew that a day like this will come. And notwithstanding, it clearly stipulated in the constitution those provisions with qualification and disqualification on running for political office.
“If it was their intent that for holding a political office, you should not contest election, they would have so provided.
“There were some provisions some of us voted for at the beginning of section 84(2) that says no political party shall seek to disqualify anybody by importing into the process a provision for qualification or disqualification not otherwise provided for in the constitution.”
When the bill was eventually put to a voice vote for second reading by the Senate President after its consideration, it received a resounding ‘nay’ from senators in the majority across party lines.
The Senate President made a futile attempt to save the bill when he put the question for a voice vote the second time and the senators maintained a resounding ‘nay’ again, leaving the presiding officer no other option than to hit the gavel in favour of the anti-bill lawmakers.