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CONTROL OF PARTY NEC: THE INTRIGUE, THE LOOMING SHOWDOWN

By NBF News
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Are Nigerians really desirous of an amendment of the Electoral Act 2010 just for the purpose of ensuring that their representatives at the National Assembly become members of one of the major organs of their party structures, the National Executive Committee?

The probable and popular answer is likely to be in the negative. Who are the brains behind this self -serving  agenda to the extent of wanting to drag the entire nation into what ordinarily should be a party affair?  Were the people in any way consulted before such an agenda is put on the front burner of national discourse and why the speed with which the amendment is being pursued? These are pertinent questions begging for answers.

In less than 48 hours, the Bill with the title; 'A Bill for An Act to Amend the Electoral Act No. 64 of 2010'passed through its Second Reading on the floor of the Senate penultimate Thursday without much rigour as the debate that preceded its being committed to the Senate Committee on INEC for further legislative work was, but a mere formality.

While majority of the Senators obviously members of the ruling PDP argued that the amendment being sought on the 2010 Electoral Bill is aimed at democratizing the National Executive Committees [NECs] of political parties, the underlying current was that they were itching to position themselves as power bloc with the window created by the request of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on election time lines.

In the pursuit of the self-serving agenda of the members of the National Assembly, to position themselves at the helm of affairs of the parties, a lot of normative procedures are being swept under the carpet as their main concern is how to achieve their aim, since in politics, 'the end justifies the means.'

The present move by the federal lawmakers is premised on a vindictive motive: most of them have lost out on the 2011 power game due to what was attributed to powerful governors in control of the machinery of the party  in their states, who either deliberately denied the legislators considered not too loyal, nomination forms and in some cases, the governors ensured that the legislators did not even know the officials charged with the responsibility of disbursement of nomination forms and those in charge had to show total loyalty to the governors by not making themselves available to those that are not in the good books of the governors, who are self-proclaimed party leaders in the states.

The proposed amendment of the Electoral Act 2010 which is being sponsored by members of the Senate Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution led by the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu is believed to be the outcome of a meeting between Vice President, Namadi Sambo and the leadership of the Senate during which the presidency expressed dismay at the manner the Senate in particular threw away the amendment to Section 87(8) of the Electoral Act 2010 to allow political appointees become automatic voting delegates to party convention and congresses.

Section 87(8) of the 2010 Electoral Act states: 'A political appointee at any level shall not be a voting delegate at the convention or congress of any political party for the purpose of nomination of candidates for any election.'

This clause, it was believed, was carefully inserted by the National Assembly to check the overbearing influence of members of the Executive arm of government particularly governors that were in the habit of using political appointees to determine the fate of other contestants.

Daily Sun gathered that during the consideration of the Bill on the Electoral Review by the Joint Committee on Constitution Review and INEC, the Committee resolved to move against the governors by ensuring that their appointees were no longer automatic voting delegates.

The cases of Adamawa and Gombe Governors were specifically cited as members of the National Assembly Committee on the Review of the Constitution noted that over 800 political appointees of the governors would be more than the other delegates from the ward congresses put together— a development that was considered not ideal to the development of democracy that is all about participation.

The Senate leadership, it was further gathered, told Vice President Mohammed Sambo that the federal lawmakers were equally not happy over the way the executive usually use them to achieve set target only to be dumped thereafter, saying that since the passage of the 'Doctrine of Necessity' that empowered President Goodluck Jonathan to emerge as Acting President, they were no longer considered useful in the scheme of things.

The Senate leadership, it was further gathered, told the Presidency that whenever the PDP is taking any position, the interest of the members of the National Assembly is never considered, thereby leaving them at the mercy of the PDP governors.

A case cited was the political emasculation of some members of the National Assembly known to have done very well in legislative performance and constituency projects by their governors, who are feeling threatened by the rising profile of such lawmakers.

The complaints of the federal legislators which were catalogued by its leadership was believed to have jolted the Presidency which, accordingly requested the National Assembly to come up with possible suggestion to resolve the problem that was not given much consideration from the beginning.

It was also gathered that the Presidency feared that if the matter was left unaddressed, the possibility of losing the votes of members of the National Assembly at the PDP presidential primary by the incumbent was real since the PDP primaries are expected to be in the form of indirect primaries in which case the conventions of the party shall hold in each of the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) where delegates shall vote for each of the aspirants at designated centres.

Daily Sun gathered that it was at that stage that the National Assembly suggested to the Presidency the need to amend the Electoral Act 2010 to make members of the National Assembly automatic members of the NEC of their political parties with a view to wrestling control of the party from the governors such that the Presidency and the National Assembly would now be in a position to determine what goes on in the party.

In its observations while drafting the Bill under the chairmanship of Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba (SAN), it was later resolved that accommodating the over 560 members of the National Assembly as members of the NECs of a political party should they all belong to one party could make such a body become too unwieldy and could make quality and robust discussions difficult and articulation of issues to allow for effective resolutions complicated. The committee thus decided that the figure should be pruned down to include presiding officers, chairmen and vice chairmen of committees. This was equally arrived at with the aim of accommodating members of the House of Representatives if the bill is to scale through.

The Bill, 'A Bill for An Act to Amend the Electoral Act No. 64 of 2010,' according to the Senate Majority Leader, Teslim Folarin, is to ensure robust discussion on party issues by a larger number of party members and to avoid a situation where a few party members sit to decide the faith and affairs of a political party.

The implication of the proposed law is that all senators would be automatic members of their party NEC as each of the 109 senators is either a principal officer, chairman or vice chairman of a committee, while the situation is not the same with members of the House of Representatives as the positions are limited, relative to their number.

It was against this backdrop that Senator Teslim Folarin said that the bill is seeking to include presiding officers of the National Assembly, chairmen and vice chairmen of standing committees in the Senate as well as chairmen and deputy chairmen of standing committees in the Green Chamber as members of NEC of political parties.

Even though the Presidency is conscious of the ripple effect it may have on its relationship with the governors, it was considered as a better option in the situation in which it found itself, rather than continue to be at the mercy of the governors at all times.

If passed into law, the bill would only alter the power configuration in the PDP as Senators of the ANPP, ACN, APGA and PPA are members of their party NEC.

While leading the debate on the bill, Folarin said one of the highlights of the bill which seeks to amend Section 87 of the Principal Act is aimed at strengthening internal democracy by ensuring that NEC of a political party which is the highest decision-making body is made to institutionalize internal democracy in the conduct of its affairs.

It was also gathered that as part of efforts aimed at showing appreciation to the Presidency for the gesture extended to the legislature, it was resolved at the meeting between Vice President Sambo and the Senate leadership in which the leadership of the House of Representatives was carried along, that since the earlier amendment of Section 87 (8) earlier sought by President Jonathan could not be introduced before the next six months, the Senate should find a way to capture elected party officers who are political appointees to become delegates at the party presidential convention and congresses.

The case of Dr. Mohammed Haliru Bello, who is the Deputy National Chairman of the PDP and Chairman of the Nigerian Railway Corporation was referred to as a case in point. Section 87 (8) of the Electoral Act 2010 clearly ousts Dr. Bello as an automatic delegate to the national convention of the PDP like many other party officials in the states.

To redress this, part of the proposed amendment reads: 'No political appointee at any level shall be a voting delegate at the convention or congress of any political party for the purpose of nomination of candidates for any election, except such a political appointee is also an elected officer of a political party and every political party in Nigeria shall establish in its constitution a National Executive Committee [NEC] which shall be the highest decision making body of a political party.'

Daily Sun was reliably informed that  following the discomfort of President Jonathan with the arrangement in which nomination shall be taking place at the state levels, it would  be reviewed in order for the national convention of political party for the purpose of electing a presidential flag-bearer to hold at a central location.

The snag in all the moves of federal lawmakers particularly members of the PDP is the attempt to turn the provisions of its Standing Rules upside down just to ensure the passage of the amendment as the leadership of the two chambers are prepared to ensure that any stumbling block that stands on its way in the passage of the bill is not only crushed, but done away with.

While the Senate allowed 'debate' on the matter even as it appears that its position on the passage is fait accompli, the leadership of the House of Representatives would have none of such rules being followed as it merely read the bill the second time without allowing for debate.

Section 91 of the Senate Standing Rules, stipulates: 'If it appears to the President of the Senate from the notice of the terms proposed to be embodied in a bill not being a government measure that the proposals are intended to affect or benefit some particular person, association or corporate body then:

(ii)Before allowing such a bill to be read the first time the President of the Senate shall satisfy himself that in addition to the notice already presented under Rule 77 (Notice regarding bills), additional notice of the Bill has been given by advertising a statement of its general nature and objects in the Official Gazette and in one newspaper circulating in Nigeria.'

Similarly, Section 90 of the Senate Rules states;  'Not more than one bill of the same subject matter may be introduced, but when the second reading of a bill has been agreed to the question shall not be proposed for the second reading of another bill of the same subject matter during the same session. On the order of the day relating to such a Bill being read the President of the Senate shall direct that the Bill be withdrawn.'

In the same vein, Section 45 of the Senate rules states that; 'No rule shall be suspended except by a vote of two thirds of the Senate.

(2) When a motion to suspend the Rule has been submitted to the Senate, it shall be in order, before the final vote is taken thereon, to debate the proposition to be voted upon for twenty minutes, one half of such time to be given to debate in opposition to such proposition; and the rights of debate shall be allowed whenever the previous question has been ordered on any proposition on which there has been no debate.'

These rules were, however, not complied with by the lawmakers.

Section 30 of the Electoral Act, 2010 states; '(1) The Commission shall, not later than 90 days before the day appointed for holding of an election under this Act, publish a notice in each state and the Federal Capital Territory -

(a) Stating the date of the election; and Appointing the place at which nomination papers are to be delivered.

(2) The notice shall be published in each constituency in respect of which an election is to be held.

(3) In the case of a by-election, the Commission shall, not later than 14 days before the date appointed for the election, publish a notice stating the date of the election.

31 - (1) Every political party shall not later than 60 days before the date appointed for a general election under the provisions of this Act, submit to the Commission in the prescribed forms the list of the candidates the party proposes to sponsor at the elections.

(2) The list or information submitted by each candidate shall be accompanied by an Affidavit sworn to by the candidate at the High Court of a State, indicating that he has fulfilled all the constitutional requirements for election into that office.'

Ironically, the bill which is more of a private member's bill was not advertised in any newspaper circulating in Nigeria by both chambers of the National Assembly that want INEC through a law to publish notice of dates. No wonder even some of the legislators that spoke in favour of the passage of the Bill still on the floor of the Senate noted that the proposed law is self-serving thus may pitch them against the public particularly against the backdrop of the fact that INEC and Nigerians did not canvass for such an alteration.

While the National Assembly may have its way in its pursuit of  a self-serving agenda, the fact staring  at every Nigerian in the face remains that the proposed amendment is nothing more than an attempt to address a problem within the ruling PDP thereby making it look as if it's a national matter and when viewed against the backdrop  of  the recent gale of defection of members of the PDP to other political parties  and the possible mass exodus after its presidential primaries, the federal legislators particularly members of the present PDP would come to appreciate that the propose law is nothing but self serving aimed at addressing the needs of a group within a certain political party,  and not in national interest, it may sooner than expected  collapse like  a pack of cards.

As PDP-dominated National Assembly continues in its grandstanding of foisting the interest of a few on the collective, the question begging for answer is: When would Nigeria and Nigerians have genuine representatives that would not place their personal interest above that of the nation?