A large number of senators have vowed to override the veto of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), on the Electoral Act amendment bill.
This is just The PUNCH learnt that Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, had begun making moves to prevent the embarrassment of the President.
But the Nigeria Governors’ Forum supported Buhari for not assenting to the bill, saying his reasons were cogent.
The President had withheld assent to the bill in a letter which was sent to both chambers of the National Assembly.
In the letter which was read by Senator Lawan, the President said he would not sign the bill because of the mandatory direct primaries. He further stated eight disadvantages of mandatory direct primaries which included legal, financial and security concerns.
After Lawan read the letter, the Senator representing Rivers East, George Sekibo, raised a point of order asking the chamber to go behind closed doors to discuss the issue. The Senate President sustained Sekibo’s point of order and the closed session commenced, lasting for 37 minutes.
Sekibo, who is a member of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, later told journalists in an interview that the Senate adjourned plenary to enable members to override the President.
The senator later confirmed to Channels Television that they had compiled 73 signatures to veto the President.
Impeccable sources told The PUNCH that many of the senators irrespective of party affiliations, vowed to override the President’s veto in line with Section 58(5) of the constitution.
A senator, who is a member of the All Progressives Congress, however, said Lawan was not inclined towards overriding the President’s veto and asked them to reconvene on Wednesday.
“Almost everyone who spoke disagreed with the President. However, the Senate President tried to calm nerves and asked that we reconvene on Wednesday. At the moment, he is the only one that seems to be okay with what Buhari did and is reaching out. We want to see how he will stop us tomorrow. This is beyond him because we are fighting a battle of life and death” the senator who wished to remain anonymous said.
When contacted, however, Lawan’s Spokesman, Ola Awoniyi, said, “I have no briefing on that subject, so I cannot make any comment on it.”
Speaking on the President’s rejection of the bill, Senator Matthew Urhoghide, (PDP/Edo-South), said the National Assembly would extricate itself from public odium and disrespect by going ahead to override Buhari on Wednesday.
Urhoghide said, “We must be reminded that members of the National Assembly are truly the representatives of the people because every federal constituency and senatorial district seat is allocated to a segment of the Nigerian people who are their constituents.
“The members of the National Assembly consulted with a cross-section of their constituents to reach an informed position on any matter of national interest and development. The issue of direct primaries in our electoral process has been well canvassed, elucidated and argued by both chambers of the NASS, and inputs were taken at public hearing from across the spectrum of all critical stakeholders.”
On his part, Senator Abba Moro, who is a former Minister of Interior, said the Senate would override the President
He said, “The reasons given by the President to withhold assent, to my view and the views of the majority of senators, are not enough. This is because all stakeholders have acknowledged the fact that the amended Electoral Act as it is today contains fantastic provisions that could deepen democracy.
“If we reject the amended electoral bill because of direct primaries, then it will be very unfortunate. If it’s because of direct primary the President rejects the will of the people, I can assure you that myself and my colleagues are prepared this time around to override the President.”
In an interview the Spokesperson for the Senate, Senator Ajibola Basiru, said the red chamber would follow legal processes to address the President’s action at plenary on Wednesday.
He said, “There are legal processes to follow when the President declines assent to a bill and there are options available to the National Assembly. It is either we agree with the President’s observations and delete those areas he objected to and return the corrected bill back to him.
“Secondly, if the majority of the two chambers, that is the two-thirds, feel that the President’s reasons were not cogent, then they could override him. They could also decide to abandon the bill just like they did in 2015.
“I am not in a position to determine where the pendulum would swing when the matter comes up for deliberation on Wednesday (today)”
In an interview on Channels Television’s ‘Politics Today’ programme, however, the Senate’s spokesman said some of the President’s reasons for withholding assent were fallacious.
Senator Basiru said the President declining the bill because of security concerns was like refusing to hold elections because of insecurity.
The lawmaker further argued that the President’s claim that the direct primaries would have huge financial implications was wrong.
“There is nothing that says the primary election must be conducted on a ward basis, it could be conducted either on a quarterly basis or local government basis. As regards the argument on smaller political parties, they may decide to organise their own at the state level. On the issue of security an extension of that argument would be that because we have security challenges then we should not even hold the 2023 election.”
Meanwhile, at the House of Representatives, the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, addressed the House, noting that action on the bill would be suspended till when the National Assembly resumes from the Christmas and New Year break.
The House adjourned plenary till January 18, 2022, while the Speaker barred committees from sitting until resumption.
The Speaker said the House would act on Buhari’s communication when the National Assembly resumes in January.
He said, “By the time we resume next year, we will be closer to the end of our tenure, with national elections rapidly approaching. In the past, election years have witnessed a decline in governance activities as political pursuits cloud the calendar. That will not be the case this time around.”
But some governors have hailed the President’s decision to reject the bill.
Ortom, however, said the electronic transmission of results would deepen democracy and add value to the electoral system.
He said, “I have been privileged to be a member of various political parties and I know that primaries should be the responsibility of the political parties. Consensus is even better because it solves the problem of acrimony and unnecessary expenditures.
“This also gives opportunity to smaller political parties to participate in the process. Just as the Presidency has done this with the Electoral Act, I call on him to do the same on the economy and insecurity in the nation. He should listen to the views of Nigerians and come out with the architecture in revamping the economy and security of the country.”