Inconclusive Polls: Senate Threatens to Shut down Plenary after Dec 10

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  • Suspends amendment of Electoral Act on substitution of dead presidential, gov candidates
  • We can’t conduct relection without security guarantees, says INEC

Omololu Ogunmade and Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja

The Senate wednesday threatened to boycott sittings if by December 10 the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) fails to conduct outstanding rerun elections in Rivers State.

This resolution was the fallout of a motion moved by the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, in which he alleged flagrant breach of constitutional and Electoral Act 2010 provisions as well as disobedience to court orders by INEC’s failure to conduct outstanding elections.

Ekweremadu in his motion, expressed dismay over the decision of the electoral body to act on the resolution of the Senate on September 27, 2016, which implored it to conclude all pending rerun elections in the country.

He said it was appalling that INEC had continued to act in breach of Sections 14(2c) of the 1999 Constitution which he said guaranteed the participation of all parts of Nigeria in the governance of their country.

He said INEC’s perceived recalcitrance against the conduct of the elections also violates Section 76 of the Constitution which orders INEC to conduct elections into the Senate and House of Representatives on an appointed date.

Ekweremadu who lamented non-representation of the senatorial districts of Rivers State in the activities of the Senate for almost a year, described INEC’s action as not only an affront to various laws of the land but also unfair to the entire people of the state.

Whereas Ekweremadu’s initial prayer gave INEC the ultimatum to conduct the election before the end of this month, failing which he said Senate should suspend plenary, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Senator Abu Kyari, later informed the parliament that INEC had assured the committee to conduct the election on December 10.

The information provided by Kyari therefore led to an amendment to the prayer, asking INEC to conduct the elections on December 10, failing which it said the Senate would shut down plenaries.
Ekweremadu said: “We observe that in spite of Senate resolution 016/02/16 of September 27, 2016 calling on the INEC to immediately conclude all pending rerun elections in the country, INEC has failed, refused and or neglected to conduct rerun elections in Rivers State into the Senate, House of Representatives and State Houses of Assembly.

“We also observe that the failure of INEC to conduct the rerun elections in Rivers State within the time frame ordered by the respective elections tribunals and the courts is in breach of the Electoral Act and Section 76 of the 1999 Constitution is endangering the nation’s democracy.

“Further observe that non-representation of the entire people of Rivers State in the Senate and some constituencies of Rivers State in the House of Representatives and State Houses of Assembly is in breach of Section 14 (2c) of the 1999 Constitution which enjoined the participation of every part of this country in the governance of Nigeria and this endangers peace and order in Rivers State.

“Further observe that failure of INEC to conduct elections in Rivers State has continued to deny the people of Rivers State their constitutional guaranteed rights to be represented in the legislative houses where laws affecting them are being made and endangered probable anxiety amongst people of the state.

“Accordingly resolves that INEC should conduct the elections on December 10, failing which the Senate will suspend plenary.”

Supporting the motion, Senate Leader, Ali Ndume, lamented that Rivers State had been denied involvement in various important decisions affecting them including the debate on Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) which passed second reading wednesday.

Ndume lamented that if INEC was grappling with inability to conduct election in only one state, it would be problematic to expect the same commission to conduct a successful election in 2019, observing that the elections conducted so far by the current leadership of INEC has either been inconclusive, suspended or characterised by confusion.

He said: “We all know that it is not the content but the intent of this motion and the urgency in it. When we come here, we combine jobs with seriousness but we should know the difference between the jokes and whatever interpretation that we may give.

“You can imagine that today, we are about to discuss PIB without any member from Rivers State. You can imagine, our colleagues that were seated with us here, an election was conducted, they believed they won. Somebody elsewhere said they didn’t win. But the truth of the matter is that anyone of us here could have been in that position. Let us remember this: whatever happens to you, you should think of another person. If it is our colleague from Rivers today, it could be you any day.

“You can imagine if for whatever reason, for example, myself who had been a victim and our people who have been victims of insurgency, if elections were not conducted, I will not be here, let alone being the Senate Leader. How would it be for my people who are ravaged by insurgency not to have somebody to tell you people or my colleagues what is actually on ground? Just imagine the motions we raised that led to the passage of the bill on the North-east Development Commission.”

In his remark, Senate President Bukola Saraki, described the motion as important, pointing out that INEC must not fail to conduct the election on December 10 as it had failed previously.
He said the Senate had the responsibility to ensure that INEC does not derail from its primary duty, insisting that this election must take place on December 10, “because it endangers all the things that we are doing here if a particular state is not well represented.”

Also yesterday, the Senate’s move to amend the Electoral Act 2010 to provide for the substitution of a dead governorship or presidential candidate before the announcement of result with the first runner-up in the party primary.

The amendment was meant to circumvent the repeat of the crisis which accompanied the death of the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Abubakar Audu, at the November 2015 gubernatorial election in Kogi State.

The amendment which was among several amendments being carried out on the Electoral Act 2010 was meant to amend Section 36 of the Electoral Act “by inserting a new sub-section ‘3’ which provides for the substitution of a candidate of a political party who dies before the declaration of the result of an election with the first runner up in the party’s primaries (which was won by the deceased candidate.”

However, the parliament was forced to suspend the amendment because it was not satisfied with the committee’s recommendation on the mode of substituting dead candidates as debate on the matter was contentious. Therefore, the senators resolved to send the bill back to the committee for further legislation and consultation that will lead to a more acceptable recommendation.
However, INEC has insisted that it cannot go ahead with the conduct of the re-run senatorial elections without adequate security guarantees by the security agencies.

The commission said it was ready for the conduct of the election any day but that the situation on ground does not permit a peaceful exercise.

It blamed politicians and the two major political parties, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) of refusing to commit themselves to a rancour-free election.
The Chief Press Secretary to the Chairman of INEC, Rotimi Oyekamni, who spoke with THISDAY yesterday on telephone, said the commission has done almost everything necessary to get the key actors see reason to allow the election to be conducted in a peaceful atmosphere but that they keep trading words and issuing threats against each other.

According to him, the commission had held several peace meetings and conferences with a view to getting the parties and other stakeholders to give an undertaken to ensure that their members do not unleash violence during the poll but that not much was achieved.

He gave an instance of one of such meetings held in Abuja where representatives the two parties, PDP and APC almost exchanged fisticuffs as they disagreed on how to go about the electoral contest.

Oyekamni said what the commission was mostly concerned about is the safety of lives of the innocent voters, its officials and the ad hoc staff provided by the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).

“What we are saying is that in order for us to organise an election the atmosphere has to be very peaceful. The law empowers INEC to suspend any election if there is a threat of violence, not even the actual violence or occurrence of violence. What we are saying is that we cannot put our staff at risk when we are hearing of war songs from political parties.”

According to him, “You will recall that in March this year we held that election in Rivers which was disrupted by violence. In fact, an NYSC member was killed at that time and a lot of our staff were also sounded. So INEC was forced suspend that election.

“Since that time, we have been trying to bring the political, parties together to agree on a new date and to also undertake to be peaceful and observe all rules and regulations. I may this year we organised a workshop in Abuja where brought all the parties in order to fashion out a timetable for the re-run elections in Rivers State.

“Even the Inspector General of Police was represented at that workshop but you will not believe that it ended without any tangible result because the two political parties, PDP and APC started trading accusations and engaged in a verbal war and almost ended in fist-cuffs,” he said.