The adoption of the report by the Senate and the House of Representatives Conference Committee on the Amendment to the Electoral Act caused division in the ranks of the All Progressives Congress (APC) caucus in the upper chamber of the National Assembly on Wednesday.
According to the report, the sequence of the elections will commence with National Assembly, to be followed by governorship and State Houses of Assembly, while presidential poll will come last
Trouble started when the Chairman of the Conference Committee, who is also Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Independent National Electoral Commission, Senator Suleiman Nazif, presented the report at the plenary on Wednesday.
After the presentation, President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, put the adoption of the report to voice vote, saying there was no need for debate on it as it was from a conference committee which had harmonised the versions of the two chambers.
“Let me remind us all on what the procedures are for conference reports. It is very simple. You either adopt the report or you reject the report. So, I am going to make it simple and put the question,” Saraki said.
After the vote, the Senate President ruled that “the ayes have it,” a development that generated uproar in the chamber.
Raising a point of order, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege called for a division, citing Order 73 of the Senate Standing Rules.
Responding, Saraki said, “As I keep on emphasising, institutions are what are important. As senators, we will finish our terms and go, but we must continue to strengthen institutions. We must always follow the procedures that we have all laid down.
“For conference reports, this has been the procedure and as such, with all due respect, I have to rule you out of order.”
Dissatisfied, Senator Kabiru Gaya raised another point of order, citing Order 87(C), which states that the conference committee can deliberate on issues between the Senate and House of Representatives but cannot make insertions on any matter not committed to it by either of the chambers.
He said, “This report on the sequence of elections was never discussed here in the Senate. Why are we bringing it up here?”
Also ruling Gaya out of order, Saraki said, “You are a ranking senator and I have all the utmost respect for you. I know that politics is local; and I appreciate that. But as much as it is local, we also have to maintain the integrity of this institution. I have heard you and I am sure that your constituency too have heard you; but I have to rule you out of order.”
Still not satisfied, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, who is the Chairman of the Northern Senators’ Forum, raised another point of order, citing Section 76 of the Constitution and pointing out that only INEC was empowered to determine the date of elections.
Ruling Adamu out of order, Saraki said, “Thank you for the point you raised. As you know, we have ruled on this. And as you also know, there are many bills that we have passed and if there are issues, there are mechanisms within the system through which issues have been raised. With all due respect, I will say it is noted.”
At that point, several members began to scream, “Point of order!”
Saraki, again, insisted that the lawmakers must be guided by the rules, especially Order 53(6). He urged members to allow consideration of the next item on the order paper.
Shortly after, 10 APC members stormed out of the chamber and moved to the Media Centre of the Senate Press Corps.
The senators, who claimed that 59 of them were against the amendment, were Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa-West), Abu Ibrahim (Katsina-North), Abdullahi Gumel (Jigawa-North), Ali Wakili (Bauchi-South), Binta Masi Garba (Adamawa-North), Ovie Omo-Agege (Delta-Central), Umar Kurfi (Katsina-Central), Andrew Uchendu (Rivers-East), Benjamin Uwajumogu (Imo-North), and Abdullahi Yahaya (Kebbi-North).
The senators took turns to criticise the adoption of the report without a debate.
They also alleged that the amendment was targeted at the Office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria currently being occupied by Muhammadu Buhari.
The protesters cited irregularities in the signatories to the report.
Adamu said, “We feel very strongly that the process by which the so-called conference committee report was laid and considered was rushed.
“We are against what happened. Incidentally, if you take note of the report that was laid – the report that was circulated – the chairman and the co-chairman did not sign it. We don’t know why they did not sign the report.
“Normally, if we are going through due process, we need to know why they didn’t sign it, or do we have different reports submitted over the same bill from the same committee?”
Alleging that the report was biased, Adamu stated that the bill needed better attention while its passage must be fair.
He said, “Why do you want to do a law to address just one particular problem. This is a very partisan report; you could see it from the body language, the utterances and the gesturing that it is a pre-determined thing by a political party that is threatened by the APC government.”
Also, Omo-Agege said, “Thirty six people in the House of Representatives cannot determine the faith and the destiny of 360 people in the House, which is now carried over to a Senate of 109. If a conference committee is set up to reconcile the differences, the least we are owed is for this amendment to Section 25 (of the Electoral Act) to be deliberated upon.
“We did not even dissolve into the committee of the whole. We were not even given the opportunity to consider this.
“Today, we have 59 senators who are opposed to the inclusion of this Section 25 in the Electoral Act. If that division (which he called for) was allowed 59 senators would have voted to delete that purported amendment to Section 25 of the Electoral Act.
“You don’t make a law targeted at one person. The perception out there is that this Section 25 was included to target Mr. President,” he stated.
The Senate however insisted on the adoption of the report, stating that it had passed due process.
Chairman of the Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Aliyu Sabi-Abdullahi, who jointly addressed journalists with Nazif, dismissed the allegations by the aggrieved senators.
Nazif said, “Let me make it very clear that I have signed the concurrent committee report. I don’t know where that (allegation) came from, but I signed it. This is it, signed by me (displaying the report). And if you go to the clerk, it is also signed by me.
“I am not aware if the sequence of election is being targeted at anybody. What I know is that as the Chairman of the Committee on INEC at the Senate, I chaired the concurrent committee of both the House and the Senate.
“In the past, we have had elections from the top to down. I don’t know if anybody questioned that. In the past also, we have also had elections from down to top. I don’t know if anybody questioned that.”