By Deji Elumoye in Abuja
The last appears not to have been heard about the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2010 which President Muhammadu Buhari declined assent to thrice this year as senators at plenary Wednesday expressed concern about some sections of the Bill that President Buhari objected to.
Senators took turn to dissect the sections of the Bill that President Buhari had reservations about before referring it to the Senate Committee on Electoral Matters for finetuning.
The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Senator Suleiman Nazif, in a four-page lead debate of a Bill for an Act to Amend the provisions of the Electoral Act No.6 2010 and Electoral (Amendment) and other related matters, said the observations of the president on the Bill ranging from election sequence down to cross referencing shall be addressed by the committee.
He identified the president’s observations to include Section 49(3) that deals with the issue of failure of card readers; section 87(12)(14) which is on party primary election and dates of the primaries; section 91(1) which talks about election expenses ranging from N5 million for councillorship; N30 million for chairmanship and state Assembly; N70 million and N100 million for House of Representatives and Senate respectively; N1 billion for governorship and N5 billion for presidential.
Other provisions include Section 91(9)(10) that says no individual can donate more than N10 million to a candidate’s campaign and the penalty of 12 months imprisonment for contravention, while section 140(5) talks of postponement for not more than 90 days of an election where a party’s name or logo is ommitted by INEC with a N2 million fine or two years imprisonment for the liable INEC official.
Contributing to the INEC Committee’s submission, Senator Kabir Marafa expressed reservation about pegging of elections expenses.
He said: “I don’t see the logic in pegging the amount to be contributed to a candidate. We all know that this won’t stand, because people are going to spend much more than that.”
On the maximum N5 billion expenses proposed for presidential election, Marafa said such amount can never be sufficient for the poll.
According to him, “How many polling units do we have? If you give each agent say N10,000, the amount may get up to the the proposed amount. So, I don’t want us to do something that won’t stand.”
On his part, the Senate Leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan, asked specifically when the issues raised by the president on the Bill are going to be addressed.
Also contributing, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu said: “I’m very worried about item seven, which is on missing name of a candidate on the ballot paper.”
This provision, he said, is very dangerous because somebody who knows he can’t win election will raise an alarm and make other candidates suffer for it.
On his part, Senator Kabir Gaya emphasised that the issues raised by the president are vital “and since the committee said it would look into them, I believe the committee should come up with all the areas for us to discuss”.
Also contributing, Senator James Manager noted that some of the amendments raised are very technical and dangerous.
“I advise that when this is referred to the committee, it should check all the views expressed here, including those not expressed, and come up with something that’s acceptable.
“For example, the issue raised by Senator Marafa is a very serious one. Besides, who is going to enforce this? So, we should look at it holistically. What we have here is something that’s completely unimplementable. We should be able to make laws that can be implemented,” he said.
Senator Ali Ndume, on his part, said he aligned himself with the submission of Ekweremadu on the omission of party logo by INEC.
He said: “I want to add to what the Deputy Senate President said on the omission of logos. Prior to election day, a copy of the ballot papers should be made available to political parties to check their names and logos. If we allow it to go like this, there will be room for manipulation. A sample of the ballot paper should be displayed two weeks to the election for all parties to see.”
Commenting on elections expenses limit, Senator Victor Umeh stated emphatically that the provision can’t be enforced.
“It’s not enforceable. Making this provision in the Electoral Act is like making anybody that wins election to be taken to court. We should look at how to strengthen the law against vote buying.
“Monies spent by a candidate among his party members can never be ascertained by anybody. I suggest that this section should be expunged completely,” he said.
Senator Andy Uba called for the removal of section 87 (12) that talks about party primaries, saying: “In a state where you have parallel primaries and INEC officials attend both, how do you handle that?”
Also contributing, Senator Dino Melaye drew his colleagues’ attention to the issue of parties’ primaries which he described as a serious recipe for danger.
He said: “It can be used to witch-hunt political enemies. There’s a subsisting judgment by the Supreme Court that the issue of nomination is the prerogative of the political parties. This is a very dangerous trend.”
The Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, while summing up deliberations, said the Bill should be referred to the Committee on Electoral Matters.
The committee, he said, is to report back to Senate on Tuesday for further legislative action.