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Cracks in Nâ€™Assembly as Election Reorder Bill is Stepped Down
- Chamber upholds Gwarzoâ€™s suspension from SEC
Damilola Oyedele and James Emejo in Abuja
Obvious cracks appeared wednesday in both chambers of the National Assembly over the reordering of election sequence, as heated arguments led to the suspension of the debate on the bill in the Senate and the House of Representatives.
The bills for an â€œAct to amend the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2010, to make provisions for sequence of elections in Nigeria and for related mattersâ€ was stepped down by the sponsors after it had been listed for second reading in both chambers.
The development raises questions on whether the National Assembly still has the determination to push through, with the piece of legislation that had generated controversies in recent times, and pitched the legislature against the presidency.
The lawmakers had amended Section 25 of the Electoral Act, to change the order of 2019 general electionsâ€™ time table. In the initial version, the National Assembly election is to hold first, followed by gubernatorial, state assembly and presidential elections.
The bill was, however, rejected by President Muhammadu Buhari who declined assent on the premise that it infringes on the powers of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to organise and supervise elections.
The amendment was feared to have the potential to weaken the president, if presidential poll is conducted last, instead of first, due to its bandwagon on other elections.
Both legislative chambers were working to override the presidentâ€™s veto, leading to intense lobbying by the presidency for the National Assembly to abandon the cause.
In the version of the bill presented wednesday, the governorship elections were slated to be held first, followed by National Assembly and state Houses of Assembly next, and then Presidential polls.
The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Senator Sulaiman Nazif, presenting the new version, named â€œa Bill for an Act to amend the provisions of the Electoral Act No.6, 2010, to make provisions for sequence of elections in Nigeria.â€
Nazif argued that the bill does not infringe on the powers of INEC to fix election dates.
He added that the constitution does not specify a sequence for the general election.
As he explained the new sequence, several senators were heard saying â€˜Noâ€™.
Majority Leader, Senator Ahmed Lawan, opposed the bill, and urged the Senate not to tamper with INECâ€™s powers on election, on grounds that it would make elections more costly.
â€œWe should not legislate on sequence, but rather, assist INEC to do its job,â€ he said.
Senator Olusola Adeyeye said INEC should be granted full autonomy to determine issues of elections.
â€œINEC before now chose dates, and should be allowed to do so. Anything after that is legislative rascality,â€ he said.
Senator Kabiru Marafa called for all polls to be conducted in one day.
Tayo Alasoadura also opposed the bill, and said the Senate does not have the constititonal right to â€˜do what it was doing.â€™
â€œWe are concentrating on irrelevancies, there are so many problems, people are dying, losing jobs,â€ he said.
Senator Dino Melaye disagreed that the attempt to create a sequence, was unconstitutional.
â€œThere is a difference between dates and sequence, and the constitution empowers INEC to fix dates,â€ he said, adding that other issues can be subjected to legislation.
The Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio, argued that the lawmakers had the powers to legislate on order of elections.
He however disagreed with the new order in the bill.
â€œMy disagreement with this bill is that we cannot approbate and repprobate. As a Senate, we are distinguished people; we cannot speak with both sides of our mouth.â€
â€œThe sequence, as proposed here, is such that not only has it taken us backwards, it shows that we look confused. And if we are confused, let us go back to the status quo. It is on that note, without joining issues with anybody, that I stand opposed to this bill,â€ he said.
Senator Mao Ohuabunwa also opposed the new version.
â€œI am not aware that we have changed the decision we took,â€ he said.
The session started to get rowdy as several senators verbally indicated their interest to contribute.
The debate was therefore stood down, to be continued on another legislative day.
It was a similar situation in the House of Representatives.
When the bill was mentioned for seconding, the lead sponsor, Hon. Edward Pwajok (APC, Plateau), said after due consultation with members, he had resolved to step down the bill- without further explanation.
Some members protested his decision on the bill which seven other members sponsored.
But, in a curious move, the Leader of the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, drew the attention of the House to the fact that he was erroneously listed among the sponsors of the bill, and demanded that his name be removed for record purposes.
Gbajabiamila said: â€œI want my name struck out from the bill.â€
Later, during a media briefing, House spokesman, Hon. Abdulrazaq Namdas, evaded further comments on the Electoral Act step down, stressing that it was the decision of the sponsor, who has the right to make such decision.
Meanwhile, the lower chamber yesterday adopted the returns of the state Houses of Assembly on the constitution Alteration Billâ€™s 2018, having met the requirements of the provisions of Section 9 of the 1999 constitution.
Also yesterday, the House approved the recommendations of the report of its Committee on Capital Market and Institutions on the need to intervene in the conflict between the Minister of Finance, Mrs, Kemi Adeosun and the suspended Director- General of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Mr. Munir Gwarzo.
One of the four recommendations said his suspension should be upheld.
It said: â€œBased on the constitutional provisions and other extant laws as well as relevant of the public service rules, cited and referred to, the suspension of Mr. Munir Gwarzo, the former Director General of the Securities and Exchange Commission by the Honourable Minister of Finance should stand.â€
It stated: â€œThat based on the petitions by various stakeholders of Ondo, the Committee agreed to conduct investigation of Oando Plc.
â€œThat based on the Public service rule, and SEC staff manual, the two staff of SEC- Mrs Anastacia O. Braimoh and Mr. Naif Abdulsalam should be recalled from suspension and report to duty immediately.
â€œThat the case of Mrs. Anastasia and Mr. Abdulsalam should be referred to the management of SEC for disciplinary action in accordance with the SEC staff manual.â€