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Senate Passes Revised Constitution, Okays INEC's Move To De-register Non-performing Parties

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Serving And Ex-N'Assembly Leaders, Now Members of National Council of State

SAN FRANCISCO, June 05, (THEWILL) â€' The Senate on Wednesday voted to empower the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), to deregister non-performing political parties in Nigeria.

The Senators also amended the constitution to include serving and former heads of the two Chambers of the National Assembly; Senate Presidents and Speakers of House of Representatives to be members of the National Council of State.

It however, deferred voting on the contentious amendments to Section 9 (3a) which confers on the president, the power to initiate a new constitution.

These were the major highpoint when it overwhelmingly passed the Bill for an Act to further alter the provisions of Section 68 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). The Legislature is the only arm of Government not represented in the Council at the moment.

There is no provision in the current constitution for the electoral umpire to de-register any political party, irrespective of whether or not such party complies with the INEC requirement for political party operations in the country.

By this amendment, INEC can now de-register any political party that falls short of its requirement for existence as provided for in the Electoral Act, by failing to win at least a seat in any State House of Assembly in the country.

The Senate took the decision during its clause by clause voting on the amended Electoral Act 2010, which had to do with INEC's management of political parties and elections.

The upper Chamber embarked on this amendment as a legislative intervention to rescue INEC from the hiccups it had encountered in the past, when it attempted to de-register non-performing parties but without success, due to litigations challenging its constitutional powers to carry out such punitive measure.

All the 89 senators, who participated in the voting exercise were in support of Clause 6 of the amended Act, empowering INEC to de-register political parties which fail to win presidential, governorship, chairmanship of a Local Government Area council, or a seat in the National or States Assembly elections.

The Senate also passed clauses 6 and 7 which seek the alteration of Section 68 and 109 to mandate the Clerk of the National Assembly and the Clerks of States Houses of Assembly to notify INEC of any vacancy in the Senate, House of Representatives state Houses of Assembly. With this provision, the clerks are required to write within seven days of the existence of a vacancy arising from death, resignation or defection of a member of the National Assembly or a member of the State House of Assembly.

The senators also voted in support of clauses 4 and 5, which equally seek to alter Section 134 and 179, which have to do with the extension of the time for conducting presidential and governorship re-run election. The clauses prescribed the extension from seven days provided for by the extant Act to 21 days after results have been announced.

The Senate further voted in support of Clause seven, which deals with the conferment of exclusive jurisdiction on the Federal High Court for the trial of electoral offences. With the approval, Federal High Courts would be solely responsible for the trial of offences arising from, pertaining to or connected to the violation of the provisions of the Electoral Act and any other election related act of the National Assembly.

The lawmakers also passed Clause 8 of the amendments, which seeks to alter the Third Schedule of the Constitution to include Serving President of the Senate, former Presidents of the Senate, serving Speaker and former Speakers of the House of Representatives as members of the National Council of States.

Nonetheless, the lawmakers deferred voting on the contentious amendments to Section 9 (3a) which confers on the president, the power to initiate a new constitution.

In the same vein, the senate will vote on Clause 3 (m) which will mandate the INEC to within six months of the receipt of the draft constitution cause a referendum to be conducted to approve the draft constitution.

It will also vote on Clause 3 (n), which states that, 'If the Draft constitution receives a simple majority of votes cast in 2/3 of all states of the federation, it shall come into force as Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.'

Other amendments contained in the Electoral Act are among others, seeking powers for INEC to issue duplicate voter cards before election, determine voting procedure, holding of elections on a single day, and cause the electoral body to conduct debate for all candidates who are contesting election into the office of president.

Apart from this, the amendments seek the conduct of general election, six months before the expiration of the tenure of the incumbent while bye-elections should be held twice in a year. Briefing the press after the passage of the Bill, Spokesman of the Senate, Enyinnaya Abaribe, said: 'Basically, the clauses that we are considering are the clauses related to INEC and what they wanted with respect to the management of political parties and then the management of elections.

'One of the clauses that was passed today (Wednesday) is the question of the management of political parties in which the clause we passed now said in effect that, if a party is unable to win any elections from the state House of Assembly to the House of Representatives, to the Senate to the governorship and also to the Presidency, that INEC now has the powers to de-register parties.

'If you recall INEC had tried to do that and people went to court and said it was against the constitution and that there was no provision in the constitution for de-registry and so that was passed today.

'Secondly we also passed the clause that has to do with the management of elections with respect to re-run. The position as at today in the constitution is that if nobody emerges a clear winner in an election, then INEC will now have to conduct an election within seven days; and what they felt was that because elections are held and then it takes three to four to five days before you can get a result, if no result comes, then that means they will be left with two to three days to have to conduct a re-run and they felt that they needed to give them 21 days which is what was passed today.

'Also with respect to elections and with respect to electoral offences, what was passed also passed in the other clause; that is that all matters relating to electoral offences will now have to be taken only by Federal High Courts and of course the Appeal Courts as it were because what we found also with respect to elections in Nigeria is that all manner of obscure courts were granting all manner of judgments without actually looking out what was going on in cognate jurisdictions. So, we felt that they needed to stop all these confusion so we are actually helping the judiciary to be able to have a much more balanced way of looking at electoral offences and matters of that nature.

'Then of course there was also the question of membership of National Council of States. As at today, in all the arms of government, former heads of the other arms of government are members of the National Council of State. That is why former Presidents are there, former Chief Justices of the Federation, but for the legislative arm, which is an arm of government, the former heads of these institutions are not there, so the amendment that was passed today are to the effect that the former Speakers and former Presidents of the Senate are now members of the National Council of State. So, they are purely non-controversial matters.