Senators seek legal opinion
Bill ‘infringes on Constitution’
There was anxiety in the Senate and the House of Representatives following President Muhammadu Buhari’s rejection of the bill on the reordering of the 2019 election sequence.
The Senate and the House on February 14 adopted the conference report of the Electoral Act amendment.Unlike what is in the Electoral Act in which elections will hold on two legs: Presidential/ National Assembly and Governorship/ State Assemblies, the amendment is a three-leg process; National Assembly, Governorship /Assemblies and Presidential.
But the President, in a correspondence to the lawmakers, which was read on the floors, declined assent to the bill.
The presidential letter entitled “Presidential decision to withhold assent to the Electoral Amendment Bill 2018” reads: “Pursuant to Section 58(4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), I hereby convey to the Senate my decision on 3rd March 2018 to decline Presidential Assent to the Electoral Amendment Bill 2018 recently passed by the National Assembly.
“Some of my reasons include the following:
“A.The amendment to the sequence of elections in Section 25 of the principal act may infringe upon the constitutionally guaranteed discretion of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to organise, undertake and supervise elections provided in Section 15(A) of the third statue to the Constitution;
“B.The amend to Section 138 of the principal act to delete two crucial grounds upon which an election may be challenged by candidates, unduly limits the rights of candidates in elections to a free and fair electoral review process;
“C. The amendment to Section 152(3)-(5) of the Principal Act may raise Constitutional issues over the competence of the National Assembly to legislate over local government elections.”
Before Senate President Bukola Saraki read the letter, senators went into an executive session.
He read the letter at the plenary convened after the closed session. Thereafter, there were no comments.
After Speaker Yakubu Dogara read the letter in the House of Representatives, there were also no comments.
This is the second major bill that the President has declined to sign in the last one month, the first being the Peace Corps Bill.
It was learnt that at the executive session, senators resolved to seek advice from the legal department on the issues raised by President Buhari for withholding his assent to the amendment of the Electoral Act Bill.
A source said that the next line of action would largely depend on the advice from the legal department.
The source said: “If the advice turns out that the reasons given by President Buhari to decline assent on the Bill were not cogent enough, we will surely mobilise to override the President.”
Some senators, he said, “are already of the view that we should go ahead and override the president.” The Senate requires 74 members to take that step.
Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe (Abia South) told reporters that the Senate would do “the needful” because it believed that what the National Assembly did was in the best interest of the country.
But another ranking senator dismissed Abaribe’s claim.
He said: ”The President’s action was expected. Many of us felt it (the sequence) should not be altered. Many APC members are not for reordering of elections clearly this time around and there are sympathisers in the PDP.
“We felt that it will be money-guzzling and where will the funding come from? The position of the Senate on the development would soon be made known.
“The issue of veto is not as smooth as the people say it. If there is a stalemate on any matter, it will be put into vote. It is then everyone will answer his father’s name.”
Following the bill’s passage, some senators, led by Senator Abdullahi Adamu, stormed out of the chamber to fault the amendment.
The group of nine senators also claimed that President Buhari was the target of the amendment and vowed that it would not stand.
Some commentators have also risen to fault the amendment and threatened to challenge it in court.