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Electoral Act: Why senators dropped plot against Buhari

  • Buni, five governors pulled last minutes’ strings

  • Senate to consult Reps on next action

The threat by senators to override President Muhammadu Buhari’s veto of the Electoral Act Bill 2021 may have collapsed.

Following overnight lobbying by six governors, the federal lawmakers backed out of the plan, it was learnt yesterday.

Sources said the ability of Senate President Ahmad Lawan to manage the situation maturely made senators to ‘defer’ issues on the presidential veto till January, next year.

Also, a legal technicality raised by Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Senator Gabriel Suswam was said to be the “clincher”, which foreclosed any debate on the veto.

The session was however, not without a drama as some senators, purportedly behind the collection of signatures to override the President, were conspicuously absent at the plenary.

A few others who came after the Executive Session of the Senate opted to observe the plenary where the President of the Senate only communicated the decision of the Executive Session.

However, the PDP caucus in the House of Representatives vowed to mobilise its members to override the President, when the House reconvenes.

According to sources, six governors, led by the Chairman of the Caretaker Committee of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Mallam Mai Mala Buni, lobbied senators overnight to stay action on their plan.

Other governors who pleaded with the in placating the senators were the Chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum(NGF), Kayode Fayemi(Ekiti); the Chairman of the Progressive Governors Forum (PGF), Atiku Bagudu (Kebbi), Yahaya Bello (Kogi);  Gboyega Oyetola(Osun)  and Hope Uzodinma (Imo).

It was learnt that the lobbying, which started at about 9pm on Tuesday ended at 5am on Wednesday.

The intense horse-trading made Buni to cancel an appointment to inaugurate the Ado-Ekiti-Iyin road in Ekiti State yesterday.

A governor, who spoke in confidence with our correspondent, said: “We spent hours to engage senators to sheathe their swords.

“President Buhari is the nation’s leader and the leader of our party. Even if he is wrong, we cannot allow senators or any group to disgrace him.

“In this case, President Buhari was not even wrong. He took a decision in the overall interest of the nation’s fledgling democracy. We felt we owed it a duty to explain the President’s position and ask senators to see key reasons in his position for rejecting the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021.

“We had sufficient engagement till 5am on Wednesday until we got a firm commitment that all will be well in the Senate yesterday.”

Some senators disclosed that when the Lawan convened the Executive Session yesterday, they were still aggrieved. About 98 per cent of those from the opposition and 20 per cent to 25 per cent from the APC were not happy with the President.

But, Lawan exhibited maturity as he persuaded his colleagues to avoid tension, stressing that the crisis can only be resolved through a proper legislative process.

A source at the session quoted Lawan as saying: “The House of Representatives is already on recess and if we pass any resolution on the veto, the Senate has to wait for the chamber. By precedents, it is a joint matter for the two chambers. We cannot proceed further.

“We need to have a dialogue as to the way out so that we will not be acting without focus. The two chambers must be on the same page on this issue.

“We also need to consult other stakeholders and our constituents during the recess to have a broader perspective.”

Suswam, who came up with a clincher that weakened the opposition and aggrieved APC senators, cited a judgment of the Court of Appeal on veto and how to override it.

A ranking senator said: “Suswam opened a new dimension to the threat to override the President’s veto. He told us that going by the judgment of the Court of Appeal, we cannot override Buhari’s veto by a mere motion or a quick win resolution of two-thirds of the chamber.

“He said some people were thinking we will come and just decide to overrule the President. Suswam said by the Senate’s rules, the 1999 Constitution and the judgment of the Court of Appeal, we can only override if we follow the same procedures for passing the vetoed bill.

“He said the bill must go through the First Reading, Second Reading and Third Reading where the question of override will be decided.

“He said any decision not taken procedurally by the National Assembly will be a nullity.”

Another senator from the Northwest said: “It dawned on some of us who signed the signatures that we did not have adequate knowledge of the procedures.

“By the time Suswam concluded his submission, most of us gave up that we cannot go beyond the euphoria of appending signatures to show our anger on the presidential veto.”

Sen.  Ahmad Babba-Kaita (Katsina North) said: “Since there is a superior argument, those agitating for override of the President’s veto should calm down and adopt dialogue to resolve the matter.”

A Senator from the North-East was upset that his colleagues have opted to chicken out based on technicality and the absence of some vocal collectors of signatures.

He said: “It is important we are true to what we said. We should live up to what we have said.”

Attempts by Sen. Betty Jocelyne Okagua-Apiafi (Rivers West), who is gifted in swaying arguments, were thwarted by APC senators who were shouting: “Sit down; sit down, your governor is opposed to direct primaries.”

Notwithstanding, Apiafi said: “We should allow democracy to prevail in what we do.”

As if setting the records straight, Sen. Sam Ominyi Egwu (Ebonyi North) said: “I am happy many people appended their signatures and it cuts across the parties, even though things have changed.”

After some arguments, it was apparent that APC senators had overwhelmed their PDP counterparts

Speaking with our correspondent last night, Sen. Smart Adeyemi said: “I have been a lone ranger in the Senate in opposing direct primaries. I still believe it can lead to anarchy and destabilize our democracy. The President had genuine reasons for rejecting the bill.”

The session was however, without drama as many vocal senators for override either refused to come for the plenary or came late.

A few others widely quoted as champions of override also avoided the Executive Session and kept mute at the plenary.

It was learnt that senators from the Northcentral, especially Kwara, Kogi, Niger, Nasarawa, Plateau and some from Benue were nearly 97 per cent against plot to override the President, with many of their colleagues mocking them as having been pocketed by a governor.

Many senators from the Southwest at the session did not speak on the matter.

Options before National Assembly

Although the kernel of negotiation between the governors and the senators was not disclosed yesterday, some senators were of divergent opinions.

A Senator from the North-West said: “We have four options, including putting clauses on direct, indirect and consensus primaries in the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021 and leaving the parties to adopt anyone suitable.

“Actually, the Senate passed the bill with provisions for direct, indirect and consensus primaries, but things changed at the Joint Conference with the House of Representatives.

“Some Senators are also considering allowing independent candidacy and a third option of the inclusion of the offer of the Right of First Refusal to an incumbent holder of an elective office to reduce tension associated with primaries.

“The fourth alternative is to discard the bill and use the existing Electoral Act (as amended) 2015 for the 2023 elections.”

Another senator said: “I think unless there is a spirit of give and take with the Executive, this bill may be dead on arrival. To move forward, it is the Joint Committee of the National Assembly that must activate the bill before it can be debated.

“This Joint Committee will activate it in a manner to determine whether to make amendment to the bill or to foreclose the bill.”

Leader of the PDP caucus in the House Kingsley Chinda alleged that the President declined assent to the Electoral Act because of his dislike for the electronic transmission of result.

He said: “The untold reason of 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.”

Bill will nationalise parties, says monarch

The Adeboruwa of Igbogbo Kingdom, Oba  Semiudeen Orimadegun Kasali, Emugoriade I, a lawyer cautioned against the nationalization of political parties.

He spoke at the International Security Conference organized by the Institute of Security, Nigeria.

The two-day conference with the theme, “Enhancing Integrity and Security Solutions to Election Threats and Political Violence in Democratic Environment” took place at the University of Lagos.

He said: “Political parties are not government agencies but private associations with their own rules and governance systems, clearly known to members. The adoption, rejection, and amendment of rules are sine-qua-non for political parties. Lawmakers should not infantilize political party members in the guise of promoting internal democracy.”

 

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