Making the 2019 Elections Their Business

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Saraki, Dogara and Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu during a joint sitting of the National Assembly

The outcome of some of the recent elections formed the basis of discussions in both chambers of the National Assembly last week, report Deji Elumoye and Shola Oyeyipo

The recent general election held in the country elicited a lot of reactions from both local and international observers, who posited that the exercise was flawed with the skirmishes that were reported in many parts of the country and canvassed necessary electoral reforms in future polls.

These contentious elections therefore formed the basis of discussions among the federal legislators last week as they resumed full legislative work after the general election held on February 23 and March 9 with the lawmakers expressing concern about the way the elections were conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

At the Senate, the lawmakers agreed that the alleged flaws in the polls would be discussed at plenary on Tuesday. The upper legislative chamber had at its last sitting on Wednesday resolved to debate all allegations of irregularities and unconstitutional conducts exhibited by different stakeholders in the just concluded general election in the country.

The debate was to enable the upper chamber of the National Assembly find out the causes of the irregularities and come up with solutions including the possible signing of the last electoral amendment bill that was declined assent by the President.

The resolution was sequel to a motion moved by Senator Dino Melaye (PDP Kogi West), who rose through Order 42 of the senate’s standing rules to move the motion that the Senate must rise against all forms of irregularities and abuses of the law as exhibited in the general election.

According to him, all legislative interventions that are required must be put to work to avert a repeat of the irregularities in future, stressing that the issue was not political, but one which would help curb electoral malpractices in future elections.

“What I am raising this morning has nothing to do with political parties. I want to bring before this Senate, the elections both on the 9th of March and 23rd of February in this country and I believe that the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall not close our eyes to the happenings of those elections.

“I want that election to be debated on this floor. I want to bring a motion to be addressed by this Senate in the next legislative day so that the militarisation of the process, the abuses of this election, will not go undiscussed in this parliament for posterity sake,” he further said.

Melaye added that the motion became imperative “so that solutions can be given and the president can also be properly advised and the electoral Act Amendment Bill be signed into law as we begin to prepare for future elections. This is my prayer. Let it be discussed as a Senate. We will debate and give accounts of what happened in our various senatorial districts with a view to correcting electoral malpractices”, he added.

Some Senators, who objected to the motion, however, tried but failed to stop the Senate from agreeing to debate the issue this week.

Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, was able to prevail on his colleagues to allow the debate to take place even as he assured that partisanship would not be allowed during the debate.

At the House of Representatives, the inconclusive elections in six states of the federation dominated discourse among members. The violence that characterised the general election and the issues of inconclusive elections in six states were extensively debated at the House. It was an issue discussed individually and collectively.

Speaker, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, in his opening remarks expressed sadness over the killing of his colleague, Hon Temitayo Olatoye, during the governorship poll in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, saying: “It is unfortunate we lost a member.”

According to him, “For Sugar, we say it is unfortunate, because no one should die the way he died after exercising his civic responsibility as a citizen of this country,” stressing that “assassination during elections or fighting over who should represent the people shouldn’t be what we should embark upon. Rather, election should be peaceful and when we are aspiring to lead, we should do so in the best way and manner possible.”

On his part, the Majority Leader, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, addressed the issue of the recent presidential, National Assembly, governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections, which he noted “were keenly contested, hard-fought but largely free and fair.”

He however did not shy away from the violence that marred the elections in many parts of the country. According to him, “We condemn those who perpetrated violence in pockets of places and regret the loss of lives. One life that is lost is one life too many. We do not believe that contests such as these should ever lead to the loss of any human life. We regret the loss of anyone. Naturally, we regret the loss of our colleague for whom we have today, in tradition, adjourned the sitting of the House. That is Hon. Temitope Olatoye (Sugar).

“APC caucus believes strongly that there is no victor and no vanquished, and victory only belongs to democracy and the Nigerian masses. We congratulate the president, all players and stakeholders. We congratulate our party, the APC. We congratulate the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and other parties for their remarkable showing and competitiveness. Our democracy is better for it. We congratulate INEC. Despite the hiccups, the electoral umpire gave us fairly credible elections.”

But in line with the position of the international observers that monitored the exercise and urged that there must be reforms in the electoral process, Gbajabiamila assured Nigerians that there will be improvements to the electoral laws as a way to improve future elections.

“As a country, we must strive for perfection and try to do better. In this regard, the legislature is key in retooling the electoral laws and processes, and perfecting them going forward,” he said, assuring Nigerians that necessary legislative actions would be taken in this regard.

On the inconclusive elections in some part of the country, Gbajaniamila said, “It is our understanding that some elections in some areas were declared inconclusive. We hope INEC will do the needful and speedily re-conduct elections in those areas so that we can move forward.”

Advising all aggrieved parties to forge ahead and leave the election behind them, the House Leader said: “There have been many disappointments on all sides as many of our colleagues have lost out across the divides during this electoral process.

“However, we must bow to the emergence of our democracy as the supremacy of the will of the people. We have lost good legislators with whom we have formed strong bonds and enduring relationships. But we urge them to accept the loss as good democrats, and as men and women with abiding faith in God’s will.”

Not satisfied with Gbajabiamila’s persuasions, Hon. Sunday Karimi representing Yagba East/Yagba West/Mopa-muro, Kogi State, in a motion moved under matter of urgent national importance and titled: ‘The Malady of Inconclusive Elections in Nigeria,’ pointed out that by continuously allowing INEC to rely on guidelines the will of the electorate will continue to be subverted, a development he said is making Nigerians lose faith in Nigeria’s electoral system.

“Inconclusive elections have become a demon hunting the Nigerian electoral system, eroding the confidence of the electorate in the electoral system and has become a tool for subverting the will of the people during elections in Nigeria,” the lawmaker said.

He urged his colleagues to urgently implement reforms that would prevent INEC from subverting the will of the people by resorting to the provisions of its guidelines (relating to inconclusive elections) but to adhere to the constitution and allow aggrieved parties to proceed to the relevant election tribunals in order to ensure peace and security and to promote the credibility of the electoral process.

He noted that Paragraph 4 of Section N of the 2015 General Election Guidelines is causing apprehension and lack of confidence in the nation’s electoral system, since Sections 134, 179 and 111 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria provide that the winner of presidential, gubernatorial and area council elections should emerge through majority votes of the total votes cast, score one-quarter of votes cast in each of at least two-third of the votes in all states, local government and wards respectfully.

It was a motion that immediately elicited reactions. Karimi’s position was corroborated by a number of his colleagues, who expressed disenchantment about the number of inconclusive elections, which they considered as deliberate attempt to tilt the results in favour of the ruling All Progressives Party (APC), particularly in places where it is obvious that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidates were leading.

Calling the integrity of President Buhari to question as a beneficiary of an election allegedly fraught with irregularities, Hon. Aliyu Sani Madaki, representing Dala federal constituency of Kano State, who seconded the motion, also condemned the fact that the elections were more of war than civil event that should throw up credible leaders, alleging that his re-election bid to the House was brazenly truncated on the altar of election rigging.

According to him, the contentious section 26 of the Electoral Act that gives INEC the power to declare election inconclusive should not supersede the provisions of the Nigerian constitution.

“I know for a fact that the constitution of Nigeria is supreme. It is above any other laws made by us or made by anybody. And the constitution of Nigeria is very clear about what you need to do to declare a winner in an election but for one reason or the other, in most cases INEC has shown not to be independent, because in states where PDP is winning, the elections have been declared inconclusive.

“We know for a fact that all the ballot papers used in Kano are still there intact with INEC. Even the original result sheets that were torn; it was not the result that was torn; it was the duplicate. We submitted it to them they said it has passed through hands so they cannot use it again. We then told them the professor who collected this result is here, let him look at it, is it his document or has it been tampered with, they said no and they went and declared our election inconclusive.

“We are talking about the integrity of President Muhammdu Buhari – his integrity, if he has any, is being questioned seriously. If he is watching, he has been declared as a winner while the margin of victory is less than the number of canceled votes all over Nigeria but he has been declared winner and election of PDP candidates in six states of Northern Nigeria have been declared inconclusive.

“From the information available to me, in the next two weeks when we are going for the election they will use every resource available and declare APC as winners in these elections. Let me sound a note of warning that we will not take it! What we went through in the last one month was war. What happened in the last one month is akin to military coup.”

On his part, Hon. Mohammed Soba representing Soba federal constituency of Kaduna State, emphasised that the INEC chairman did not know where his power starts and ends, because the Nigerian law has contemplated that the INEC has no power to declare a result inconclusive or canceled after it has been declared from the polling unit.

“This is where we differ with INEC. As much as there is that provision in the guidelines or in the Electoral Act, in the place where elections are canceled then you go for rerun, supplementary or whatever but at what stage could the votes be validly canceled?

“It is from the polling unit. Any result declared from the polling unit, nobody has power under our laws, to cancel it. So, we should not allow INEC working in tandem with other people to determine where and where to cancel elections, even at the ward level, local government level or even the collation centre. This is exactly what INEC did in many of the states, where elections have been declared inconclusive.”

For Hon. Sergius Ogun representing Esan North-East/Esan South- East federal constituency of Edo State, it was a clarion call to his colleagues to identify areas where urgent amendments must be introduced to the Nigerian law to forestall such occurrences in the future.

According to him, “For one to be elected to this House there is a lot your people expected from you. I strongly believe that we should start talking about amendment to the Electoral Act from today. We should start discussing the next amendment from today. If we cannot deplore more technology, let’s just go manual – Option A4.

“In this House, we had an amendment that would have taken care of all the problems we had today – transmitting electronically from the card reader. When we presented the card reader in 2015, they said it was the game changer. The government in power today fought for it, unfortunately, they are against it today. It is a shame and disgrace to the whole world that a country as Nigeria cannot do a simple election and come out with a result that is acceptable to all.”

The argument put forward by Hon. Abubakar Chika Adamu representing Shiroro/Rafi/Munya of Niger State was very instructive. He noted that if the situation is allowed to degenerate much further, it is capable of truncating the Nigerian democracy. He said elections should not have been declared inconclusive, when nobody was apprehended for the circumstances that brought about such situation.

“Quite a number of places where the elections were declared inconclusive, the elections were hitch-free; there was not much rancor. You must not cancel any election at the collation centre. If there is any problem during election, that problem should be at the voting centre. If we must have an inconclusive election then how many people are we prosecuting? How many people are found guilty? For the fact that election will be declared inconclusive means there must be a problem.

“If it were to be at the voting centre, then, somebody somehow must have done something wrong. That person should be brought to justice because you cannot tell me that there is an inconclusive election when nobody is being blamed. We expect that somebody should be prosecuted. To every centre that election has been canceled, even if it is at the voting centre, I expect to see the people, who participated in what led to the cancelation of the election to be brought to book.”

Wondering whether the trust and confidence reposed in university lecturers as Returning Officers was worth it considering the manner they mismanaged elections in parts of the country, Hon. Bulus Maren Solomon representing Mangu/Bokkos federal constituency of Plateau State, said there is need to re-evaluate “who should be a returning officer because what we have seen in recent time is that the academia that is supposed to be well-trusted and known to be non-partisan and that INEC has often times made them the Returning Officers are now partisan. So, what do we do if the academia is now partisan? This is because some are either acting on the fact that they want to be minister to the government that wants to come or they are looking for one appointment?”

But Gbajabiamila was quick to shed more light on the issue. He first agreed that all the lawmakers are on the same page on the need to reform the electoral laws. This was also the position of most of the international observers.

“I want to make it abundantly clear that everybody in this House is on the same page as regards the inconclusiveness of the elections that we have just witnessed. We are all speaking with one voice and in total agreement. However, the approach or the solution may differ.”

He said having listened very carefully to everybody the basic issue is on the interpretation of the laws and that, unfortunately too, lawmakers are not empowered to interpret the laws they make. We run a democracy with three arms of government. While we have the constitutional responsibility to make laws, we do not have the powers to interpret the laws or the constitution, and that is what has been done here today.

“We are talking about INEC usurping powers; we also appear to want to usurp the powers of the judiciary.

Once we agree that inconclusiveness should be something of the past, the question is, how do we get there? For me, the only way to get there is to forget this motion and debates, and within a matter of weeks or one week, let us set a crack team to amend the electoral laws to limit the powers of INEC.”

Drawing inference from what transpired in Kogi State on November 22, 2015, when the APC governorship candidate, Abubakar Audu died during the election, he said the Supreme Court had ruled on the matter, resolving issues being raised by the lawmakers.

“In the case of Kogi State, INEC used its guidelines to declare the Kogi election inconclusive. Our colleague is here, Honourable Faleke; he went all the way to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court looked at the totality of the laws and the constitution and said that INEC was in order to use the guidelines to declare that election inconclusive.

“So, we have a Supreme Court ruling on this matter. The only way to change the Supreme Court ruling is to amend our laws and the Supreme Court will be forced to interpret that amendment that has limited the powers to declare an election inconclusive.”