WHY SENATE REJECTED JONATHAN'S ELECTORAL ACT BILL
It was high tech intrigues, political maneuverings and the anti climax of the behind the scene moves in the Senate, which culminated in the total rejection of the gazetted Bill for an Act to Amend the Electoral Act 2010 and other Matters connected therewith yesterday.
The bone of contention was the attempt by President Goodluck Jonathan to get the National Assembly amend Section 87 (8) of the Electoral Act 2010 to allow for political appointees to participate as automatic delegates at the national convention of political parties.
Section 87 (8) of the Electoral Act 2010 states inter alia; '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.'
Section 87 (9) further states that, 'Where a political party fails to comply with the provisions of this Act in the conduct of its primaries, its candidate for the election shall not be included in the election of or the particular position in issue.'
In the wisdom of the National Assembly, the clause was to provide a level playing field for every contestant and participant in the electoral process in such a manner that a sitting elected public officer would not have an undue advantage over others even as majority of the Senators emphasized that they would not make laws to confer on themselves or anybody or group for that matter an undue advantage.
Majority of Senators that participated in the killing of the Bill for the Amendment of the Electoral Act 2010 opined that the Bill contained some toxins that could be harmful to sustenance of Nigeria's democracy thus like what happened during the third term saga during the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the Senate threw away the baby with the bath water by its total rejection of the entire Bill.
The development, it was gathered, was as a result of the fact that most of the Senators were not happy with the President who they now perceive as only interested in using them just to massage his political ego without bothering to consider their own interest as allies in the march towards 2011. Thus when an opportunity was provided to hit back at the President, the Senators did not hesitate to catch in on it by ensuring that they demonstrated before the Nigerian public that they are not in any way a rubber stamp.
This is coming against the backdrop that some of the Senators were denied nomination forms for the party primary. They had sought intervention of President Jonathan who has yet to call the PDP governors to order on the issue.
This point was buttressed by Senator Eze who declared: '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.
Members of the Upper Chamber of the National Assembly, it was gathered, were particularly irked by alleged sponsorship of some unfounded rumours by the executive arm of government to the effect that the National Assembly members were equally interested in having a clause inserted in the Electoral Act that would enable them have special consideration under a new arrangement that was to be called; 'Right of First Refusal,' which they considered wicked and dangerous to the political future of the country as in their consideration, such a law has the capacity to destroy the foundation of party internal democracy.
While the Senate consistently denied knowledge of such an arrangement, some members of the House of Representatives were believed to have made desperate moves to get the Presidency endorse the Right of First Refusal to enable them have same opportunity with an elected President and Governors whose political appointees alone are usually more than half of accredited delegates to national convention of parties.
That was the issue the President of the Senate, Senator Mark tried painfully to explain at the public hearing organized by the Senate Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution when he said that the level of participation of the National Assembly in the second alteration of the 1999 Constitution and the 2010 Electoral Act is dictated by the mode of the Nigerian public and the request of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Senator Mark had declared: 'Legislators have no ulterior motive whatsoever in the second alteration of the 1999 Constitution as being alleged by some members of the public. There is general public perception and insinuation that the National Assembly members have ulterior motives in the constitution amendment. We don't have.'
With the killing of the proposed Amendment of Section 87 of the Electoral Act 2010 as proposed by President Jonathan to the National Assembly, the political battle line may have been drawn between the National Assembly members particularly the Senate and the Presidency.
In that wise, the National Assembly and the Presidency as two vital arms of government may find themselves in a precarious situation with regards to the harmonious relationship that existed between the two arms since the adoption of the 'Doctrine of Necessity,' that empowered Dr. Goodluck Jonathan to become Acting President in February.
The war between the National Assembly and the Presidency over election matters is not new in the present political dispensation. The first time was when the Senate threw away the third term ambition of former President Obasanjo which led to majority of the Senators and House of Representatives members that were opposed to it losing their seats.
In spite of the palpable fear, the Senate has said that there is no cause for worry. The lawmakers advised Nigerians not to be anxious about whether the National Assembly would meet the time frame to make all the necessary amendments in the Constitution and the Electoral Act, saying that there is enough time to achieve the required amendment.
The leadership of the Senate which tried hard to convince Senators to allow the Bill to be committed to the Committee on the Review of the Constitution to study and finetune grey areas contained in the Bill, therefore, said that Government should be seen as a continuum of the different branches. The leadership argued that the aspirations of the different branches at every point in time was to achieve uniform objective, insisting that one action by a branch that does not accord with the expectation of the people should not be seen as a cause that would rupture an existing relationship.
Senate spokesman, Senator Eze also said that the relationship of the federal legislature with the executive remained cordial, adding, however, that cordiality should not in any way mortgage the independence of the National Assembly. He stressed that the cordiality should also not mean that there are no bases for confrontation if there are issues that do not serve the interest of the people that members of the National Assembly represent.
'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,' Senator Eze said.
The Senators also noted that one of the provisions of the rejected Bill sponsored by President Jonathan was trying to go against the grain of what the legislatures thought would set back the work they had done in trying to deepen internal democracy within the political parties when it sought to confer certain powers on the Executive Committee and the National Working Committee of the parties to design certain decisions as well as make what looks like a transitional provision with specific reference to 2011 elections.
Part of the reasons adduced by the Senate for killing the Bill was hinged on their reasoning that if it was to enact a law, such a law must be holistic in a way that will capture every view.
However, in spite of the death of the Bill which sought to delete the provision of Section 87 (8) of the Electoral Act 2010, the Senate has said that already, members of its Ad-hoc Committee on the Alteration of the Constitution is already signing its report on the Constitution review with the belief that it might be passed by next Tuesday to address the crucial needs as requested by INEC in relation to the election timelines.
It is the desire of the Senate that if INEC is given not earlier than 150 days and not later than 30 days, it will grant the electoral body the scope of time it requires even if the law is not changed after this year, thus the electoral commission can as well start early preparation after this year when they are through with the election as they would have enough time to start and fix election.
The killed Bill was said to have suffered rejection at the Committee level which formed the basis for most of the Senators kicking against its presentation on the floor of the Senate since majority members of the Review Committee felt that the Bill was virus infected which must not be served Nigerians.
With the death of the Bill in the Senate, the same Bill can be said to be in coma at the House of Representatives since there is nothing that can be done to revive it in the next six months by which time the national convention of the political parties must have taken place.
Until and except another Bill with a different title is presented to the National Assembly on the same issue, President Goodluck Jonathan may as well start looking for how he may garner votes at the PDP convention next year.