By NBF News

President Goodluck Jonathan
With an overwhelming majority voice vote, the Senate, on Wednesday rejected President Goodluck Jonathan's bill seeking for an Amendment to the Electoral Act, 2010.

The rejection of the Bill, which was reminiscent to what took place during the rejection of the 3rd Term project of former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2006 was to prevent what the Senators described as an attempt to revise the gains of democracy achieved by the country.

The rejection of the Bill by the Senators was in spite of efforts by the leadership of the upper chamber of the National Assembly to persuade the legislators to allow for the reading of the Bill for the second time to allow it to be committed to the Committee on Constitution review to finetune the details of the bill.

The Senators were however not prepared to be dragged into any debate on the Bill and thus refused to accept the plea of their leadership led by the Senate President, David Mark, his Deputy, Ike Ekweremadu and the Senate Majority Leader, Teslim Folarin that were desirous of ensuring that the baby is not thrown away with the bathwater.

As soon as the Senate Majority Leader, Teslim Folarin read the lead debate during which he called attention to the relevant provisions being sought by virtue of the proposed bill in which he said Section 25 of the Principal Act should be amended by replacing the section with a new one to provide for elections at both the Federal and state levels in order to hold onto dates and in a sequence to be determined by the Independent National Electoral Commission.

Senator Folarin further said that Section 25(3) of the Bill equally provided for a new sub-section for the elections in the case of 2011 to be held not later than April 30, 2011, adding that the proposed Bill from President Goodluck Jonathan also seeks to amend Section 25 (1) of the Electoral Act.

According to Senator Folarin; 'The amendment Bill also sought to delete Section 87(8) of the Principal Act, which, if amended, would grant leave to political appointees to the President and Governors to vote during the primaries or convention of political parties.

'Section 134 of the Principal Act is to be deleted because it was already taken care of in Section 29 of the Constitution (First Alteration) 2010 and it deals with issues of the establishment of Election Tribunals and timelines for the filing of election petitions as well as delivery of judgment.'

As soon as the Senate Leader finished reading the lead debate, Senator Kabiru Gaya (ANPP Kano) immediately stood up calling on the Senate to throw out the bill outrightly, saying, it was a bad and selfish one, which concentrated only on the interest of the Presidency without an iota of consideration for the collective interest of Nigerians and growth of democracy.

According to Gaya; 'we have worked tirelessly on this bill and Nigerians commended the National Assembly, particularly the Senate for a job well done for bringing the desired process when we amended the Electoral Act. The proposed Bill is attempting to kill all the work we have done for years. The problem in the past years is that we did not have internal democracies in the parties and that is why we had to go through all these. The late president set up an Electoral Reform Committee headed by Justice Uwais and they came up with recommendations. For us to consider this bill is entirely bringing the whole process backwards.'

Senator Gaya who is the Senate Deputy Minority Whip, therefore, urged the Senate not waste its valuable time on the bill but should just throw it out.

In his own contribution, the Senate Chief Whip, Senator Kanti Bello noted that the National Assembly was empowered by Section 4 of the 1999 Constitution to make laws, adding, however, that some sections of the proposed bill negated such powers adding that if the Senate was to pass a Bill, it should be based on the outcome of public hearings, discussions and meetings to promote internal democracy in the parties.

In the words of Senator Bello: 'Some of the provisions in the Bill as pointed out are already contained in the amendment Bill of the constitution. So, I feel this should not be accepted and I appeal to my colleagues to just throw away this Bill, it has virus. With due respect to my leader, I am sorry you are bringing something that is dead on arrival.'

Also contributing, Deputy Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba noted that the bill contained provisions that were totally different from what the Senate Committee on Constitution Review was working on.He added that those of them on the Constitutional Amendment Committee were surprised at some of the proposals, stressing that; 'What we are doing in the committee appears to be different from what is being proposed.'

Senator Ndoma-Egba, therefore, urged that the Bill be referred to the Committee on Constitutional Review to collapse it into other similar bills currently before the Senate.

Ndoma-Egba's suggestion was however greeted with uproar by Senators who called on the President of the Senate to put the question in line with the rules of the upper house on whether the bill be read for the second time.

In his contribution, Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu said throwing out the entire bill might affect preparations for elections, which might suffer another postponement of about two weeks even as he explained that the proposed law was an executive Bill but not a proposal from his Committee on Constitution Review.

In the words of Senator Ekweremadu; 'we all agree that there are a lot of inconsistencies and unconstitutional provisions in this Bill, because the Constitution has given us powers to determine the sequence of elections and we cannot alter it by this Bill. This Bill is already gazetted. We have powers under the constitution and under our rules to receive a Bill and in the course of consideration, disagree with provisions and replace them with new ones.

'We owe Nigerians the responsibility to amend the Electoral Act pursuant to the alteration we are already doing to the constitution. The reason is this, because of the amendment we are doing is necessary that we do the consequential amendment to the Electoral Act and we believe that we can reject the content of this Bill and still build upon it and if we reject this bill, it is going to set us back by two weeks.

While putting the question, the Senate President, David Mark, tried to persuade the Senators to consider looking at the unacceptable provisions with a view to removing all the offensive aspects, saying, the Senate had a couple of alternatives by either forgetting the bill completely or going ahead. He addied, however, that the Senate was going to amend the constitution in the areas that the bill has suggested.

In the words of Mark; 'Don't forget that timeliness is one of them. One of the areas being suggested here is the timeliness. So, it is not the whole Bill as it was that would be thrown away. We have to be careful so that we don't throw away the baby and the bathtub. Let us be a little bit careful. Let us not see the Bill holistically as it is now and say that it is just a matter of changing day and dates or time and procedure of the order and precedence of the elections. I think the Bill contains much more than that.'

Another attempt by the Senate Leader to further appeal to his colleagues to spare the Bill for further legislative work equally fell on deaf ears. He stated that even though he has the chance to withdraw the Bill, he would, however, not do so and thus called on the Senate President to put the question.

Later at a press conference, Spokesman of the Senate, Senator Ayogu Eze appealed to Nigerians not to worry about the rejection of the Executive Bill, saying that the alteration of the Constitution would take care of the preparations for the 2011 elections.

In the words of Senator Eze; 'I just want to speak on the Executive Bill in the Senate today to say that Nigerians should not be very anxious of whether we will meet the time frame to make up the necessary amendment; within the Constitution and the Electoral Act, we have enough time. I want to assure Nigerians that it will be delivered timely and you know that any law that is not consistent with the Constitution to the extent of that inconsistency shall have no biding effect.'

He further said; 'So what is important is to keep our eyes on the ball and moreover even inside the committee we have already been working ahead on the Electoral Act to make sure that we purify the Electoral Act to conform with the changes that are being made in the Constitution.'