Senate To GEJ: We Are Not Your Rubber Stamp, Kills Electoral Amendment Bill
Abuja, Oct 20, (THEWILL) - The Senate today shot down the Electoral Act Amendment bill thus throwing a spanner in the works against the 2011 general election.
The bill was killed at its second reading, with majority of the senators alleging that it contained some highly toxic elements that would be contagious to the enthronement of internal democracy in the political parties.
Beating their chest, the Senate declared that they are no rubberstamp "that takes whatever is brought to the Senate. When we believe that laws, bills, communication that comes to us are not in conformity with the desires of our people, we rise up and say no and that is exactly what happened today," the Senate said. The bill which was for an Act to amend the Electoral Act 2011 and for other matters connected therewith.
Senate Leader, Senator Teslim Folarin who led debate, told Senators that the bill was with a view to streamline the procedures for the conduct of primary election by political parties.
Also the bill according to him was meant to afford the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) more flexibility in determining the dates for the conduct of elections in the country and making provision for the deletion of Section 134 which is redundant because it replicates the provision of the Constitution as altered on the same subject matter.
Despite entreaties by the Senate leadership for senators to see reasons and allow the bill majority of the lawmakers refused to accede. Particularly, Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu (PDP, Enugu) warned that if the Senate rejects the bill now it will put the 2011 election in jeopardy and set the process back by two weeks.
The ire of the senators was specifically against the clause that would have seen Ministers, Special Advisers, Commissioners among others become automatic delegates at party primaries.
To underscore the seriousness of their ire, the senators refused to allow the bill be referred to any committee, not even the Senate Committee on the Review of the Constitution, to undergo the crucibles of committee work and public hearing.
Senator Kabiru Gaya (ANPP, Kano) who is also the deputy Minority Whip, said; "Mr. President we have worked tirelessly on this bill and Nigerians commended the National Assembly particularly the Senate for a job well done for bringing a desired process when we amendment the electoral act.
"Mr. President this bill is entirely killing all the work we have done for years that Nigerians had been happy with. 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 Uwais and they came up with a recommendation. Now for us to consider this bill is entirely bringing the whole process backwards. I suggest that we should not waste time on this bill. We should just throw this bill out and ensure that it is dead before arrival.”
Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba (PDP, Cross River) who is the Deputy Senate Leader joined in the opposition saying; "I want to join my colleague, Senator Kabiru Gaya in suggesting that we should not spend much time on this bill for totally different reasons.
“I am sure for those of us who are members of the Constitutional Amendment Committee; we are surprised at some of these proposals. Because what we are doing in the committee is to appear different from what is being proposed. But I want to reassure members of the committee that there are actually two bills before us that is my understanding of it. The one that the Senate is already working on is the initiative of this Senate and this one is a proposal from the President. Mr. President, my honest suggestion is that we do not spend much time on this bill; we should just refer it to the Committee on amendment so that it can marry the two provisions." In the same vein the Senate Chief Whip, Senator Kanti Bello (PDP, Katsina) while contributing to the debate declared; "I am going to speak not as a member of the PDP.
“As rightly pointed out, if you look at the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Section 4 which deals with legislative powers, it said: ‘the legislative powers shall be vested in the National Assembly for the federation - in the Senate and the House of Reps. The National Assembly shall have powers to make laws for peace and good governance of the federation or any part thereof.’ We are to pass a bill based on public hearings, discussions, meetings day and night so that there will be internal democracies in our parties and some of the provisions the bill has 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. With due respect to my Leader, I am sorry you are bringing something that is dead on arrival".
Nonetheless, Senator Ekweremadu amid uproar tried to calm down the members and said: "First of all, we need to correct some of the impressions or misunderstanding of the origin of this bill. This bill is an executive bill, sent by the executive proposing amendments to the 2010 Electoral Act. It is not a proposal of the Senate Committee on Constitution Review or the INEC. This is from the executive. 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.
"Secondly 134, 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 with new ones. This particular bill is already gazetted, Nigerians are expecting an expeditious consideration of the bill for next year's elections. If we throw out this bill now, the implication is that we need another bill for which we need to gazette (uproar). My advice …
"The point I am making is this, we owe Nigerians the responsibility to amend the Electoral Act pursuant to the alteration we are already doing to 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. If we reject this bill it means we are going to prepare a new bill, we are going to send it for gazetting and two weeks we will not finish it.
“My plea distinguished colleagues is that the bill be returned to the committee and the committee will now do the necessary work by rejecting all that needs to be rejected and bring new provisions that will help us. If we reject this bill, in two weeks time we will have no Electoral Act.”
However, the President of the Senate, Senator David Mark admonished his colleagues and stated; " let me just make some quick observations on this bill. We are already amending sections of the Constitution, particularly the sections that deals with the timeline. You know there was a public hearing on it that I declared open on Monday. That is also contained in this bill. We have got a couple of alternatives. One way is for us to completely forget this bill which is before us and then go ahead, but we are still going to amend the Constitution in the areas that this bill has suggested, so don't forget that timelines is one of them. One of the areas being suggested here is the timeline.
"So it is not the whole bill as it is that will be thrown away, we have to be careful so that we don't throw away the baby and the bathtub. So I can allow more debate, but 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, but from the noise that it has generated it already shows clearly that there is a lot of attention being paid to this bill," he added.
The majority leader, Senator Folarin said: "I do not intend to withdraw this bill, I want you to put the question sir, before you put the question, let me make a very simple clarification. We don't have time on our side and that is very evident. What the DSP is saying is, ok we have received this bill proposal from the Executive. We don't have to accept everything. We can use the framework and then put in our (Uproar, Kanti Bello-there is virus). Mr. President if it is the wish of the senators you may wish to put the question sir".
When the question was put forward, it was a resonating nay, thus tearing the bill to shreds.
Addressing a press conference at the end of sitting, Senate's spokesman, Senator Ayogu Eze said; "the action today is a vindication that the Senate is not a rubber stamp Senate that takes whatever is brought to the Senate. When we believe that laws, bills, communication that comes to us are not in conformity with the desires of our people, we rise up and say no and that is exactly what happened today. "Government should be seen as a continuum of the different branches and the aspirations of these different branches at every point in time are to achieve one objective and if you think that one action by one branch did not accord with the expectation of the people that does not mean that there are a rupture in the relationship.
“Our relationship with the Executive is very cordial and that cordiality does not mortgage our independence. The cordiality means that there are no bases for confrontation if there are issues that we do not believe serves the interest of the people that sent us here, we will say so in a very polite manner. The cordiality means that the Executive cherishes its independence, the legislature cherishes its independence and the judiciary cherishes its independence. But that within those compartments, there is enough fluidity for the branches to interact in a seamless manner to deliver good governance to the people. That is what has happened," he said.
Senator Ayogu however gave insight into the contentious element in the bill saying: "One of the provisions was trying to go against the grain of what the legislature thought will set back the work they have done in trying to deepen internal democracy within the political parties when it sought to confer certain powers on the Executive Committee or the NWC to design certain decisions.
"I think one of the issues was an attempt to make what looked to us like a transitional provision which make specific reference to 2011 elections and we thought that if we want to make a law, we will make a law that will be holistic and that will capture the views. Do not forget that before now we have been accused that we have been paid some money to ensure that certain provisions were brought. We will not make laws that will confer on ourselves or anybody or group for that matter an undue advantage," he added.