By Damilola Oyedele in Abuja and Christopher Isiguzo in Enugu
Two weeks after the transmission of the amended Electoral Act to President Muhammadu Buhari for assent, the presidency has intensified efforts to defeat the plan by the National Assembly to override the anticipated presidential veto of the Act.
The lobby is intended to ensure that the required two-thirds majority votes of the 469 federal lawmakers, comprising 109 senators and 360 members of the House of Representatives, is not secured.
This is just as a stalwart of the All Progressives Congress (APC) has dragged the federal legislature to court in Enugu challenging the Electoral Act passed by the National Assembly altering the election sequence.
The lawmakers on February 14 had voted in both legislative houses to change the sequencing of general elections for the presidential election to be conducted last, instead of first, as is the current practice.
The amendment, which is expected to weaken the bandwagon effect of presidential elections on the governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections, has allegedly not been well received by President Muhammadu Buhari, who believes it is targeted at weakening him in the 2019 presidential polls.
It is therefore widely anticipated that the president would withhold his assent to the amendment of Section 25 of the Electoral Act, which provides for the National Assembly elections to be conducted first, followed by the governorship and state assemblies, while the presidential poll will be conducted last, all on separate days.
The president, who is required to give reasons for withholding his assent to any bill, is expected to state that the amendment to the Electoral Act, is in conflict with Sections 76(1), 132(1) and 178(1) of the Constitution, which specifically empowers the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to set the dates for the elections into the National Assembly, Office of Governor, and President.
The Senate and House spokespersons, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi and Hon. Abdulrazak Namdas have, however, indicated the readiness of both legislatures to override the president, if he declines assent.
The president, according to Section 58(4) of the Constitution, has 30 days, from the time a bill is presented to him, to give assent or indicate that he is withholding his assent.
Section 58(5), however, provides that “where the president withholds his assent and the bill is again passed by both Houses by two-thirds majority, the bill shall become law and the assent of the president shall not be required”.
But THISDAY gathered that the backlash that followed some of the lawmakers, who vocally criticised the amendment of the Electoral Act in the Senate, was also worrisome for the presidency, as the lobby was expected to be more successful in the Senate as opposed to the House where the amendment originated from.
Senator Adamu Abdullahi was suddenly removed as chairman of the influential Northern Senators’ Forum, while Senator Ovie Omo-Agege was mandated to appear before the Committee on Ethics and Privileges over his comments that the amendment was targeted at the president.
Lawmakers who spoke with THISDAY off record at the weekend, however, believe that the requisite two-thirds votes would be secured, despite the efforts of the presidency.
“It is two-thirds of the 469 that is required, not two-thirds of each chamber. So it is possible. We would simply call a joint session. It has been done before when the legislature overrode the veto of the President Olusegun Obasanjo on the NDDC (Niger Delta Development Commission) Bill in year 2000,” a lawmaker explained.
“It is likely to pass as long as the House of Representatives is in support of overriding the veto. And this current House is willing, I can assure you.
“Many of the members are really angry and they have reasons to be. So, even if we are unable to get many Senators on board, as we expect the EFCC to go after some senators in the coming days over past corruption cases when they were governors, we will get to override the veto,” he said.
The lawmaker further pointed out that the opposition to the president was not really about the Electoral Act, but about his perceived hostility to the legislature and his manner of governance generally.
A lawmaker from one of the North-central states also disclosed that chieftains of the APC were being enlisted to lobby their “people” in both legislative chambers.
“Unfortunately for those (chieftains) deployed from our area, the president has lost the confidence of North-central zone. The manner he has handled the Benue killings and attacks by herdsmen in other states, show that he is isolated from reality. Defeating his veto on any bill, not just the Electoral Act, would show him that he has no base in this parliament, which he does not have good relations with anyway.
“He has refused to release the zonal intervention funds, which has killed the re-election bid of some lawmakers in 2019. So such lawmakers already know they have nothing to lose,” he said.
Another lawmaker from the North-west explained that the president has remained aloof in the face of governors on the platform of the party battling federal lawmakers from their states, and has refused to intervene in several internal crises which had deeply polarised the party.
“If he asks my state governor to speak to me and the other members, how can that work when we do not see eye to eye. There is hardly any APC state where the party is not in disarray, how would any emergency fence mending work?” the lawmaker wondered.
Another lawmaker added that the gloves were completely off in the hostile relations between the two arms of government, then proceeded to enumerate the missteps of the president.
“We told the president to call his overzealous and disrespectful aides to order, yet there was no action; we refused to confirm someone, yet no action; we asked for constituency funds, that one is a tussle completely ignored. We are tired of this hot and cold relationship, it is enough.
“We were elected by our people, not by the president. So, when they try to remind us that some people here (in the legislature) rode on the back of the president in the 2015 APC tsunami, we tell them it is not necessarily a bad thing for everyone to independently test his popularity. It is better for our democracy,” he said.
N’Assembly Dragged to Court
But just as the National Assembly appeared to be set on overriding Buhari’s anticipated veto of the Electoral Act, a stalwart of the APC, Chief Anike Nwoga at the weekend filed a suit at the Federal High Court, Enugu, challenging the bill passed by the National Assembly.
The party chieftain also prayed the court for an interlocutory injunction restraining the president from assenting to the bill.
Nwoga, who is the zonal vice chairman of the APC in Enugu East senatorial district, filed the suit on Friday through his lawyer, Godwin Onwusi.
No date has been fixed for hearing of the suit.
In his motion on notice, supported by a 25-paragraph affidavit, Nwoga is insisting that no action should be taken on the bill, pending the determination of the substantive suit.
The motion on notice was brought pursuant to Orders 26 and 28 of the Federal High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules 2009 and under the inherent jurisdiction of the court.
Aside the National Assembly, which was listed as the 1st defendant/respondent, others listed as 2nd to 4th defendants/respondents in the suit numbered: FHC/EN/CS/28/2018, were the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the president and the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF).
Apart from the prayer for interlocutory injunction restraining the president from assenting to the bill re-ordering the election sequence, Nwoga is also praying for an order of interlocutory injunction, restraining the National Assembly from overriding the president’s veto, should he decide to veto the bill, and re-ordering the sequence of the elections, pending the determination of the substantive suit.
The plaintiff equally asked for an order of interlocutory injunction restraining INEC from complying with the sequence of elections contained in the bill passed by the National Assembly and such further orders as the court may deem fit to make in the circumstances, pending the determination of the substantive suit.
Specifically, the plaintiff is asking the court to among other things to determine: “Whether the National Assembly in exercise of its lawmaking powers can make laws to compel INEC to exercise the powers to organise, undertake and supervise elections conferred on it by the constitution in a particular sequence.
“Whether the National Assembly, in exercise of her law making powers, can make a law to change the sequence of elections already adopted and published by INEC, pursuant to the powers conferred on it by the Constitution.
“Upon the determination of the questions, the plaintiff urged the court to make the following orders: A declaration that the National Assembly cannot make laws to compel INEC to exercise the powers conferred on it by the Constitution to conduct elections in a particular order.
“A declaration that the bill passed by the two chambers of the National Assembly, which altered the sequence of the 2019 elections, already adopted and published by INEC pursuant to the powers conferred on it by the Constitution, is a usurpation of the constitutional powers of INEC and hence unconstitutional.
“An order of perpetual injunction restraining the 3rd defendant from assenting to the bill changing the sequence of elections, already adopted and published by the 2nd defendant, when it is presented to him for assent.
“An order restraining the 2nd defendant from complying with the sequence contained in the bill or the law, if assented to by the 2nd respondent.
“Any further or other orders or consequential orders that the court may deem fit to make in the circumstances of the case.”
NFI Bill for Passage
Meanwhile, in a bid to avert Nigeria’s explosion from the Egmont Group and save the financial sector from being blacklisted in the international community, the National Assembly is set to pass the Nigeria Financial Intelligence (NFI) Bill this week.
This was confirmed by the President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, on his twitter handle on yesterday evening.
The bill is expected to be passed on Tuesday and transmitted immediately to Buhari for his assent ahead of the next plenary meeting of the Egmont Group coming up on March 12, 2018.
The bill had been delayed over a disagreement at the conference committee level when the Senate and House Committees on Financial Crimes and Anti-Corruption failed to agree on the domiciliation of the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), which is currently in the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
However, following the intervention of Saraki and the Speaker of the House, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, it was agreed that the unit would be domiciled in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
The chairman of the Senate Committee on Anti-Corruption, Senator Chukwuka Utazi last Thursday had accused his House counterpart, Hon. Kayode Oladele, of frustrating efforts of the conference committee to conclude work on the bill, an allegation which the latter refuted.
Saraki, however, assured that the leadership of the legislature would intervene in the matter.
On his twitter handle Sunday, he said: “Following my meeting on Thursday with Speaker @YakubDogara, the chairman @NGRSenate Committee on Anti-Corruption and @HouseNGR Chairman on Financial Crimes, the conference committee meeting for the NFIU Bill will hold tomorrow (Monday) and the report presented in both chambers on Tuesday.
“I am confident that we will pass the NFIU Bill this week,” Saraki said.
Nigeria was suspended from the Egmont Group, a network of the financial intelligence units of 152 countries, following the nation’s failure to grant operational and financial autonomy to the NFIU.
The country has a deadline until the next meeting of the group to meet the requirements, or be expelled from the group.
The Egmont Group provides a platform for sharing criminal intelligence and financial information bordering on money laundering, terrorism financing, proliferation of arms, corruption, financial crimes, economic crimes and similar offences geared towards the support of local and international investigations, prosecutions and asset recovery.
Nigeria was fully admitted into the body in 2007 after operational admittance in 2005.