For the first time since the Senate was inaugurated in June 2019, no fewer than 76 senators, yesterday, indicated their readiness to go against the veto of President Muhammadu Buhari to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, Vanguard reports.
As tension enveloped the Upper Chamber of the National Assembly, the 76 senators drawn across party lines, wrote down their names as those interested in overriding President Buhari’s veto.
The senators took the decision after, Senate President Ahmad Lawan read President Buhari’s letter withholding assent to the 2021 Electoral Act Amendment bill that was passed by the National Assembly.
President Buhari in the letter dated December 13, 2021, and addressed to both the President of the Senate, Senator Lawan and the Speaker, House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, said he withheld assent because of imposition of direct primaries for picking candidates on political parties violates the spirit of democracy.
With direct primaries, which he said was undemocratic, there would be a plethora of litigation from party members and stakeholders, the process would fuel corruption and encourage over monetisation, cause a huge financial burden on political parties, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, the economy and security agencies.
Buhari, who explained that his decision to withhold assent to the electoral bill was informed by advice from relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies of Government after a thorough review added that 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.
The letter was read during the start of the plenary by Senate President Lawan after the senators came out from a closed-door session that was held from 10.42 a.m. to 11.42 a.m.
On a day that President Buhari’s letter generated mixed views in the polity, the move generated tension in the Senate.
According to the newspaper, three ranking Senators from South-South, North-Central and North-East respectively went round the Chamber with lists to collate those who are against overriding President Buhari’s veto.
Vanguard gathered that 76 Senators across the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, the All Progressives Congress, APC and the Young Progressives Congress, YPP, have already written down their names. The number is three more than 73, which is two-thirds of the 109 members of the Senate required to override the president’s veto.
According to a source, the President of the Senate who was worried over the development at the Chamber insisted that everybody must be available, but the Senators disagreed with him as they said no to his position, as some senators complained that Lawan did not handle the situation properly.
Senate delays passage of 2022 budget
To express their anger over the rejection of the Electoral Act Amendment bill, the senators refused to pass the 2022 Appropriation bill that was slated in the order paper as the second report to be considered.
The Senate was to receive the Senator Jibrin Barau-led Committee on Appropriation’ report.
A source told Vanguard that the President of the Senate at the meeting told the Senators that the 2022 Budget would first be considered today (yesterday) at plenary, but the Senators vehemently refused to accept his submission as they have resolved that the Electoral Bill must be tackled before the issue of the budget will come up.
Meanwhile, the Senate, yesterday, dissolved into a closed-door session twice to deliberate on the letter of President Buhari.
The move to break into an Executive session at 1.57 p.m.,, which lasted for 45 minutes was sequel to a point of order raised by Senator George Sekibo (PDP, Rivers East), who came via Order 14 and 15, who said that the closed-door session became imperative because the Senate after, yesterday’s session would commence the Christmas and New Year holiday.
Gbaja shuts down motions to debate President’s rejection
Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, Speaker Gbajabiamila averted a stormy session by shutting out debates on the letter, which he shifted to next year and assured his colleagues that the Electoral amendment bill would survive.
This was after the legislators passed the 2022 budget.
Miffed by President Buhari’s rejection of the electoral bill, Mr Solomon Bob representing Abua/Odual and Ahoada East Federal Constituency of Rivers State, at a point during the plenary raised a point of order, pleading with the Speaker to allow the House to debate the matter.
“Mr Speaker, you read correspondence from the President. We need to at least be able to exercise our rights as a House of the people. That bill that has come back to us we invested a lot of energy into it,” he said.
In his response, the Speaker said there was a lot to still discourse ahead, asking him to wait until the House resumed in January.
“When we come back, we will look at the issue. We cannot rush it. We have the Appropriation bill, Finance Bill and all that,” Gbajabiamila said.
Similarly, the Minority Leader, Ndudi Elumelu, at a point called the attention of the speaker to the bill, saying that since the House was adjourning till January 18, 2022, it would be patriotic to debate the withholding of presidential assent.
He said: “Mr Speaker, on the issue of the electoral bill, you said that the National Assembly will find a way to resolve the issue. Nigerians are looking up to us. If we wait to resume before we can talk to Nigerians, it will be too late. We can suspend our rules and look at the bill and amend that clause, this I think will make Nigerians see us as good representatives. This is my submission.”
Responding, the Speaker said that the National Assembly was a bicameral legislature, meaning that even if the House decided to make a decision, it would not be valid until a concurrence was secured with the Senate.
“We run a bicameral legislature. Whatever we do here today comes to nothing if it is not done on the other side. While your point is well noted, it is not practical,” he said, pleading with his colleagues to wait till the House resumes next year.
Bill must survive — Gbaja
In his remarks to round off the last plenary session of the year, Speaker of the House, Gbajabiamila who expressed disappointment that the bill returned to the National Assembly unsigned, however, assured that it must survive.
He said: “By the time we resume next year, we will be closer to the end of our tenures, with national elections rapidly approaching. In the past, election years have witnessed a decline in governance activities as political pursuits cloud the calendar. That will not be the case this time around. As you are aware, we have a legislative agenda in this 9th House of Representatives, which we tagged ‘Our Contract with Nigerians’.
I expect that we will do everything within our power to keep the commitments we made in that document so that when we appear before our various constituencies, we can stand tall in the knowledge that despite challenges and difficulties, we did what we promised to do, and given a chance again, will do even more.”