THISDAY HEADLINE: 2019 Polls Take Centre Stage, Buhari Vetoes Electoral Act Amendment

With an eye on the 2019 elections, President Muhammadu Buhari has communicated his decision to the National Assembly to withhold his assent to the Electoral Amendment Bill, 2018, which is proposing a change to the sequencing of elections in the country.

Buhari conveyed his decision to veto the bill in separate letters addressed to Senate President Bukola Saraki and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, following which both leaders of the National Assembly read the letter at their respective plenaries Tuesday.
But as the news made the rounds of the president’s veto, lawmakers in both chambers immediately set in motion plans to override the veto.

A two-third vote of the National Assembly will be required to override the president’s veto.
Should two-thirds of the legislature vote in favour of the amendment bill, it will become law and binding on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) which has the responsibility of determining timetables for elections in the country.

However, it was not all bad news for the executive arm of government, as the Senate Tuesday made a concession to suspend the consideration of nominees of the president, as it resolved to screen the deputy governors-designate and members of the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

The Senate said it decided to make the concession in order to ensure that the MPC forms the required quorum at its next meeting scheduled for March 19 and 20, having considered the importance of the body to the national economy.
In his letter to withhold his assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, Buhari informed the legislature that the amendment to Section 25 of the Principal Act, which changes the order of general elections, might infringe on the discretion of INEC to organise and supervise elections.

Section 25 of the Principal Act was amended and substituted with a new Section 25(1) which provides that the elections shall be held in the following order: (a) National Assembly elections (b) State Houses of Assembly and Governorship elections (c) Presidential election.
The amendment is expected to whittle down the bandwagon effect of the presidential election on other elections.
THISAY had exclusively reported that the amendment did not go down well with the presidency, as there were concerns that the amendment was targeted at weakening Buhari at the 2019 polls.
The amendment has also caused discomfort at INEC, as the electoral body had already scheduled the presidential and National Assembly elections for February 16, 2019 while the state assemblies and governorship elections had been slated for March 2, 2019.

Accordingly, Buhari, in his letter dated March 8, 2018, said: “Pursuant to Section 58(4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), I hereby convey to the Senate, my decision, on 3rd March 2018, to decline Presidential Assent to the Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2018 recently passed by the National Assembly.
“Some of my reasons include the following: the amendment to the sequence of elections in Section 25 of the Principal Act, may infringe upon the constitutionally guaranteed discretion of the Independent National Electoral Commission to organise, undertake and supervise elections provided in Section 15(A) of the third statue to the Constitution;
“The amendment to Section 138 of the Principal Act to delete two crucial grounds upon which an election may be challenged by candidates, unduly limits the rights of candidates in elections to a free and fair electoral review process; and

“The amendment to Section 152(3)-(5) of the Principal Act may raise constitutional issues over the competence of the National Assembly to legislate over local government elections.”
But THISDAY gathered that several lawmakers were already aware of the presidential veto by the early hours of Tuesday, and commenced in earnest to ensure that they get the necessary votes to override the veto.

At a 30-minute closed-door session of the Senate before plenary, it was learnt that the senators discussed their next line of action, after Saraki informed them of the letter notifying the Senate of the veto.
The senators resolved at the meeting to get further legal advice on the bill, while also individually perusing the amendments with more thoroughness.

The arrowheads of the push to override the bill are believed to be loyal to Saraki and are working along party lines to garner more support.
A source disclosed that there are at least 65 senators comprising 43 from the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and 22 from the ruling All Progressives Congresss (APC) who are ready to vote to override Buhari’s veto.

The arrowheads, the source explained, are, however not leaving anything to chance and are lobbying to get more support from among the president’s loyalists in the Senate, as 73 senators will be needed in the upper legislative chamber to override the veto.

“In line with Section 58(5) of the 1999 Constitution, we need 73 votes of our 109 seats here. We are assured with PDP members, but you know we have many in our party (APC) that are yet to make up their minds.
“So we are trying to appeal to those we know are sympathetic to this issue from within the APC also. We need to work to get more than 73, because of those who could change their minds at the last minute,” the source said.

Section 58(5) of the Constitution states: “Where the President withholds his assent and the bill is again passed by each House by two-thirds majority, the bill shall become law and the assent of the President shall not be required.”
Also in the House, said the source, lawmakers in the lower chamber are eager at a chance to get back at Buhari over his attitude towards the National Assembly.

The House lawmakers, particularly the first timers, are miffed at the attempts by the executive to paint the legislature in a bad light and present them to the public as corrupt.
They are also angry that since the inception of the Buhari administration, the release of their constituency project funds has always been an afterthought, or used as a bargaining tool between both arms of government.

The development has jeopardised their electoral fortunes in their constituencies, with most expressing fears that they might not be able to return to the legislature in 2019 owing to their inability to deliver on any of the promises they made to their people.

A House member, who also spoke with THISDAY, but preferred to remain unnamed, said that overriding the veto would scale through easily in the lower chamber.
“Remember that the amendment, which the president does not like, emanated from here. So we would use this vote to show him our true position.
“It would also be a vote against his poor governance which is setting Nigeria back,” the lawmaker said.

Adamu Maintains Stance

Prior to the presidential veto, the amendment to the Electoral Act had caused ripples in the upper chamber last month when some senators staged a walkout during its adoption.
Led by Senator Abdullahi Adamu (Nassarawa, APC) and Senator Ovie Omo-Agege (Delta, APC), they had cited irregularities in the adoption of the harmonised report of the Conference Committee on the Electoral Act Amendment by the Senate.

They also accused their colleagues of passing the amendment with a pre-determined motive.
But in a fallout of their vocal opposition, Adamu was removed as the Chairman of the Northern Senators’ Forum (NSF), while Omo-Agege was directed to appear before the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions over his comment that Buhari was the target of the amendment to Section 25.
Adamu was accused by his colleagues in the NSF of financial mismanagement and not being able to account for N70 million left in the coffers of the forum.

One of his colleagues, Senator Shehu Sani (Kaduna, ACP) had said that when Adamu was asked to account for the N70 million, he had informed them that the money was carted away by monkeys on his farm.
However, Adamu who has not said much since his removal as chairman of the NSF, Tuesday reiterated his opposition to the amendment of the bill and addressed the allegation that he had attempted to spearhead a plot, with the support of the presidency, to impeach Saraki.

In a lengthy statement issued Tuesday, Abdullahi said he was being persecuted by the Senate over his stance that National Assembly has no business changing the sequencing of the elections.
He also accused his colleagues in the APC-led Senate of sabotaging the efforts of the executive.

“It is important for the public to know that I have committed no crime against the Senate and/or its leadership. I have done nothing to bring the revered upper legislative House to ridicule intentionally or inadvertently,” he said.
Abdullahi said he was also being persecuted for his decision to caution, at a “raucous” plenary session, against the increasing show of disrespect for the president, which he noted had become the pattern.

“The National Assembly is the second arm of this administration. We cannot undermine the executive without undermining the government of which we are a part,” he added in the statement.
It stated further: “Part of my crime is my stand on the amendment to the Electoral Act. In that controversial amendment, the Senate seeks to change the order of the elections decided by the electoral umpire, INEC, for the 2019 general election.

“I and some of my colleagues were opposed to this amendment on the grounds that it is not the duty of the Senate to determine the order of elections. It had never been part of the Electoral Act and there is no need to deny the commission the right to do its duty as it deems fit.
“Happily, I am not alone in taking this stand. Some of my colleagues are opposed to it too. We addressed a press conference to that effect. Our intention was not to insult the Senate but to register our principled stand on a matter that concerns all Nigerians.

“Our party, the APC, has the majority in both chambers of the National Assembly, yet we hold the executive a prisoner of politics; that is unhealthy for the polity.
“It is such a terrible irony that we sabotage our own government by refusing to do our part in support of the executive. Appointments requiring Senate approval are held up. The consequence is that the public has nicknamed the president and his administration ‘go-slow’.

“The people gave us the mandate as a party to deliver. With our control of the executive and the National Assembly, there is no reason why the government cannot acquit itself and fulfil the yearnings of the people.
“Perhaps, while we are consumed with sabotaging the administration and stabbing one another in the back, we forget that in less than a year from now, we shall be required to seek the people’s revalidation of our mandate to sit in these hallowed chambers. What shall we tell them?”
He also refuted allegations that he was working to oust Saraki, saying he could have contested for the Senate presidency in 2015.

“I have also heard what I consider to be rumours to the effect that the Senate plans to suspend me. I hope it is a mere rumour bandied around in the current climate of mutual recrimination.
“However, I would not be surprised if such an extreme form of punishment is being contemplated by the Senate leadership. In the history of mankind, dissent as a matter of principle, has always been punished rather than rewarded.

“I would caution against the decision, if indeed such a decision is on the cards to suspend me because it would serve no purpose other than to demonstrate the exercise of power in a manner that results in its abuse.
“I am in the Senate primarily to represent the interest of my people in the South-western Senatorial District of Nasarawa State.

“My voice is the voice of my people; my stand on critical national issues that agitate us is the stand of my people. To suspend me on the basis of baseless allegations that do not amount to the infraction of Senate rules, is to deny them my voice and my representation.
“The power to suspend a senator must be exercised with a grave sense of responsibility, in order to protect the integrity of the Senate as an important democratic institution and of individual senators,” Abdullahi said.

PDP Chides Buhari

However, in reaction to the presidential veto, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Tuesday said it was not surprised that the president had withheld his assent to the legislation by the National Assembly, given the tendencies he has continued to display as a politician.

The PDP, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, said it believes in democracy and subscribes to all its tenets, including the respect for the powers of the National Assembly to make laws and to amend such laws as the occasion demands.
The party said like all well-meaning Nigerians, it would wait for the final decision of the National Assembly on the amendment.

The statement said: “As a party, we are not afraid of the 2019 general election because we know that Nigerians have already rejected President Buhari and his dysfunctional All Progressives Congress (APC).
“Against this backdrop, the PDP is assuring that it will provide all the members of our great party a level playing field to choose a presidential candidate in a National Convention that promises to be open, free, fair, credible and transparent.
“We know that with the support of Nigerians, any candidate that emerges on our platform ahead of 2019 will clinically defeat President Buhari at the polls and lead our nation back to the path of progress, national cohesion and a vibrant economy.”

CBN Nominees for Confirmation

Meanwhile, the Senate Tuesday made a concession on its resolution to suspend the consideration of nominees of the executive arm of government.
Accordingly, it has decided to screen the deputy governors-designate and members of the MPC of the central bank.
The Senate said its decision to make the concession was to ensure the MPC forms the required quorum at its next meeting scheduled for March 19 and 20, having considered the importance of the body to the economy.
The nominees for the deputy governorship positions of the CBN – Mrs. Aisha Ahmad and Mr. Edward Adamu – would be considered because they are part of the MPC.

The nomination of four members of the MPC whose names had been previously announced on the floor of the Senate are Professor Adeola Festus Adenikinju, Dr. Aliyu Rafindadi Sanusi, Dr. Robert Chikwendu Asogwa and Dr. Asheikh A. Maidugu.

The nominations into the Governing Board of the central bank would however not be considered alongside the others.
Tuesday’s resolution followed a half-hour closed-door session ahead of plenary.
At the commencement of the day’s business, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Banking and Financial Institutions, Senator Rafiu Ibrahim, made the appeal for the concession, citing the inability of the MPC to sit in January.

“The inability of the MPC to hold its meeting is already having some adverse effects on the economy,” Ibrahim said.
The Senate and the executive have been engaged in a face-off, following the president’s inaction on the rejection of the nomination of the acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Magu, twice by the upper legislative chamber.

It was made worse when Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo had said last year that since the EFCC was not listed in the 1999 Constitution, Magu’s nomination should not have been sent to the Senate in the first instance.
His comment caused the Senate to resolve to suspend further screening processes for all nominees whose agencies are not specifically cited in the Constitution, pending the legal determination of its power of confirmation.

Some nominees affected by the July 2017 resolution include Mr. Tony Ojukwu, who was nominated Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission; Mr. Lanre Gbajabiamila (Director-General of the National Lottery Regulatory Commission); Mr. Funso Doherty (Director-General, National Pension Commission); Mr. Muhammad Isah (Chairman, Code of Conduct Bureau); and Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye (Chairman, Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission).

The Senate also suspended confirmation processes into the boards of the agencies and forbade them from operating in an acting capacity.
However, Senator Ibrahim, making the case for the MPC, said the Senate has been known to be pro-economy and pro-foreign direct investment.

“I rise to ask that the Senate does consider the possibility of us taking the very important aspect of the economy which is the Monetary Policy Committee. The MPC is made up of 12 members; about seven from the private sector and five from inside the central bank.
“As of today, only three of them are valid. Almost all other members’ tenures expired in December last year and that culminated in the MPC meeting not being held on January 22nd and 23rd and the next meeting is March 19 and 20,” he said.

Ibrahim explained that the MPC is a creation of the CBN Act which is autonomous.
“It is not run by the Board of the Central Bank of Nigeria but each meeting of the MPC every two months borders on the economy. As it is today, it is already affecting foreign direct investment inflows into Nigeria.
“Some foreign portfolio investments are already leaving, some that are supposed to come, are not coming,” he said.
Ibrahim therefore urged that the Senate considers the aspect of the nominations that affects the MPC so that the body can hold its meetings and steer the affairs of the economy.

Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu and Deputy Senate Leader Bala Ibn Na’allah lent their voices to support Ibrahim’s prayers, arguing that the nominations should be considered to prevent the collapse of the economy.
Presiding, Saraki reiterated the commitment of the Senate to ensure the growth of the economy and directed the Senate Committee on Banking and Financial Institutions to begin the process of confirming the nominees.
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