There were strong indications on Saturday evening that the Senate would, this week, begin the process to override President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to withhold his assent to the 2018 Electoral Act amendment bill.
Senate spokesperson, Senator Ben Murray-Bruce, had told Saturday PUNCH that the red chamber had rejected Buhari’s reasons for declining assent to the legislation and would do everything possible to override his action.
A cross-section of the senators, who spoke with SUNDAY PUNCH on the issue on Saturday, vowed to make Buhari’s position a major issue on resumption of plenary on Tuesday.
They vowed to ensure that to ensure that all the amendments made to the new electoral act formed part of what the Independent National Electoral Commission would comply with in the conduct of the 2019 polls.
But there are other indications that as Senate President Bukola Saraki and the Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, prepare to read the letter to members in plenary at their respective chambers on Tuesday, the lawmakers are set for a stormy debate on the matter.
SUNDAY PUNCH can authoritatively report that Buhari’s decision has polarised members of the National Assembly across political lines.
While members of the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress, have expressed their support for the President, those of the opposition PDP alleged an ulterior motive behind the withholding of the assent by the President.
Already, the Majority and Minority Leaders of the Senate, Senator Ahmad Lawan and Senator Biodun Olujimi, separately told SUNDAY PUNCH on Saturday that the matter would be discussed when the lawmakers reconvene, after which a decision would be taken on the bill.
Also, a senator from the South-East geopolitical zone, who also spoke off record, alleged that Buhari withheld assent to the bill because he did not want the usage of card readers in the North where a lot of Permanent Voter Card had allegedly been procured for underage voters.
The senator stated, “If INEC should make use of the card reader in northern Nigeria, we would demystify their bogus claims that they have the majority of voters in that part of the country.
“They can write any figure and declare it if there is no electronic accreditation of voters. The moment the ‘already-biased’ INEC officials signed the fraudulent election result sheets, we would not be able to do anything on them.”
But a prominent member of the ruling APC caucus in the Senate, Kabiru Marafa, said the moves by his colleagues in the opposition parties to override Buhari on the issue this week would fail.
Marafa argued that the opposition lawmakers did not have the required number to form the two-thirds majority needed to achieve their aim.
He added, “How will they get us to support their action when we already agree that the reasons given by President Muhammadu Buhari were genuine and reasonable?
“INEC, at the moment, has a lot of issues to contend with. Why should we overburden them with new amendments that would make its works more cumbersome? Why can’t we wait till after the 2019 elections before we introduce new electoral laws?”
Marafa also disagreed with his opposition colleagues who claimed that Buhari rejected the new law in order to give room for unqualified voters to vote.
Another APC lawmaker, Senator Ali Ndume, dismissed the claim by Murray-Bruce that the Senate would veto the President.
Ndume added, “You quoted Ben Murray-Bruce as saying that the Senate was going to veto. Who gave him the right to speak on behalf of the Senate? Even if you are the Vice-Chairman of the Media and Public Affairs Committee, you don’t just go and talk on behalf of the Senate.
“Let it be on record that he did not speak on my behalf. The letter from Mr President has not even been read and it has not been deliberated upon. His responsibility is to speak on behalf of the Senate, but if he is speaking for himself, that is a different thing.
“He went on to say that they are going to veto it. Where are they going to get the numbers (two-thirds) to veto it?”
But the Secretary of the Parliamentary Support Group, a body of the APC lawmakers in the National Assembly backing Buhari’s interests, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, said while the President had the right to sign or withhold assent to a bill, the lawmakers also had options they could consider.
Senator Ovie Omo-Agege
“But from what I have read, his reasons are very genuine. Like I have always maintained, Mr President has always supported this bill.
“It is the usual ‘town crying’ of the PDP particularly. Let me say that PDP is scared because they were used to rigging when they were in government. We are in government now and they think everybody will be the same. If you are not a rigger, why are you talking about rigging when the election has not been conducted?”