- As Senate empanels c’ttee to reconcile differences in Bill
Damilola Oyedele in Abuja
The House of Representatives’ amendments to the Electoral Act, which effected a change in the election order, has caused ripples and discomfort in the presidency and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), THISDAY has learnt.
The amendment to Section 25 of the Electoral Act, 2010, which the House members voted for on Tuesday, would see the National Assembly elections holding first, before elections into the state Houses of Assembly and governorship on a separate day, while the presidential election would be conducted last to complete the general election cycle.
Specifically, the House amended Section 25 of the Principal Act and substituted it with a new Section 25 (1).
According to the amended version, the elections shall be held in the following order: (a) National Assembly elections (b) State Houses of Assembly and Governorship elections (c) Presidential election.
Similarly, Section 87 was amended by adding a new Subsection (11) on the order and timing for the conduct of primaries political parties.
“The primaries of political parties shall follow the following sequence: (i) State Houses of Assembly (ii) National Assembly (iii) Governorship, and (iv) Presidential.
“The dates for the above stated primaries shall not be held earlier than 120 days and not later than 90 days before the date of elections to the offices.”
The House also amended Section 36 to allow the running mates of candidates who die before the conclusion of elections to inherit the votes of the dead candidates and continue with the process.
The proposed amendments, which came barely two weeks after INEC released the final timetable for the 2019 elections, differ from the current order that provides for the conduct of the presidential and National Assembly elections first, and governorship and state assembly elections conducted afterwards.
Going by the INEC timetable, the presidential and National Assembly elections were slated for February 16, 2019, while the state assembly and governorship elections have been scheduled for March 2, 2019.
But sources told THISDAY Thursday that the presidency was shocked by the amendments and considers them a deliberate ploy by the leaders of the National Assembly to influence the upcoming polls.
The fear in the presidency is that the bandwagon effect of the first set of elections into the National Assembly could affect the other elections.
Under the current order, the reverse is the case as the outcome of the presidential elections, in particular, has a bandwagon effect on the governorship and state assembly elections.
With the re-ordering of the primaries, the House has also made sure that the state governors minimise their influence on the conduct of primaries for the state and national legislatures, so that candidates vying for seats in the assemblies can in turn back them (governors) at their own primaries.
Speaking on the amendments passed by the House, a lawmaker explained Thursday that the presidency had expected that the lower chamber would have gone the way of the Senate with the amendments.
“The presidency had expected the House to go the way of the Senate, which made its own amendments to the Electoral Act since early last year.
“The amendments by the House are considered suspicious because of the bandwagon effect of elections in this part of the world.
“If the PDP (Peoples Democratic Party), for instance, wins the majority seats in the National Assembly, that momentum could affect other elections and voters may not be so inclined to vote for another party.
“So there is a fear that it is the deliberate handwork of the Senate President and the Speaker,” the lawmaker, who preferred not to be named, said.
Another source in the National Assembly said that with growing concerns that Senate President Bukola Saraki and Speaker Yakubu Dogara may defect to another party, the amendments may have been deliberate.
“Remember that there are already moves to see to the impeachment of Saraki, who they fear may be planning to move to another party to actualise his presidential or even Senate ambition (with the way things are going in the APC), and Dogara may not be able to retain his seat under the APC also as he is at war with the governor of his state.
“So the fear is that the two men may move together to another party, which is being tagged the ‘Third Force’, and the amendment may have the impact of helping that ‘force’ win more seats,” the source explained.
“As it is, the Senate has set up its conference committee to harmonise the two versions (Senate and House amendments) but in the presidency, the feeling is that the committee would go with the House’s amendments.
“And this will put the president in a spot if he declines to sign, as he may be perceived to be against free and fair elections even though he has been a beneficiary,” the source added.
He noted that even if President Muhammadu Buhari elects to veto the legislation when passed, the National Assembly would most likely override his veto, making the amendment to the Electoral Act a fait accompli.
The source, however, clarified that the discomfort in INEC stems from the fact that the electoral body already has its plans outlined with the recent release of the timetable, and may have to rearrange its plans.
Reinforcing this position, the Senate Thursday announced the composition of its conference committee to reconcile the differences in the amended version of the Electoral Act passed by the House of Representatives and the version passed by the Senate last year.
Members of the Senate conference committee, as announced by Saraki, include Senators Shehu Sani, Biodun Olujimi, Hope Uzodinma, Dino Melaye and Peter Nwaoboshi.
The conference committee is to be chaired by the chairman of the Senate Committee on INEC, Senator Suleiman Nazif.
The committee is expected to meet with the House to harmonise the Senate version of the Electoral Bill with that of the lower chamber before it is sent to the president for his assent.
Saraki Thursday also announced the appointment of Senator Victor Umeh as the vice-chairman of the Committee on Labour, Employment and Productivity.
Umeh, who was sworn in last week, represents Anambra Central Senatorial District in the Senate on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).