President Muhammadu Buhari’s veto of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill might not have long to fly, as the Senate steps up moves to override it .
The ‘Like Minds Senators’ have already begun mobilising their colleagues for the legislative show of force. The group, led by Dino Melaye, had in June 2015 steered intrigues that ensured Bukola Saraki emerged as Senate President.
Buhari on Tuesday withheld assent to the controversial bill passed by the lawmakers on February 14, 2018. The bill, a potential game changer, re-ordered the sequence of next year’s general election, making the National Assembly first and the presidential last.
As at yesterday, it was unclear whether the ‘Unity Forum Senators’ had started any move besides earlier effort by 10 of the members to stop the re-ordering of the election sequence.
It was gathered that many of the 43 senators of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are favourably disposed to quashing the veto.
Although the Like Minds Senators dominated the All Progressives Congress (APC) caucus of the Senate in 2015, the leadership of the group is said to be making intense efforts to garner ample support.
“We are seeking about nine members to join the race, so that we can get the required 73 senators needed to override the veto,” a source said, regretting that some senators were still sitting on the fence.
Also yesterday, the House of Representatives declared it would override the veto.
The Spokesman of the House, Abdulrazak Namdas, insisted the constitution confers on the National Assembly power to determine the schedule of elections.
The House overstepped its bounds on two aspects of the bill, especially with legislation on the conduct of local council elections, noted Namdas. But once the grey areas have been cleared, the National Assembly will knock out the veto, he said.
He noted: “We are in disagreement with the president over the first reason that was advanced, where he states that the sequence of election in section 25 of the principal act may infringe upon the constitutional guaranteed discretion of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to organise, undertake and supervise all elections provided in section 15 subsection (a) of the third schedule of the constitution.
“Our reasons for disagreeing on this matter is that if you look at section 4 of legislative powers, item 22, it states that the National Assembly has the power over elections to the offices of the president, and vice president or governor and deputy governors and any other office to which a person may be elected under this constitution, excluding election to local government or any election in such council. So if section 4 of the legislative power item, no 22, gives us the power, it means that we have the power to work on the order of election as it stated.
“Again, if you look at section 76 of the constitution, it states that election to each Houses of the National Assembly shall be held on a date to be appointed by INEC. However, there is a clause that states that it must be in accordance with the Electoral Act. This was added in the first alteration of the constitution that INEC has the power to fix electoral date in accordance with the Electoral Act in its entirety from page one to the last page, which talks about organising election. That means we do not even have the power to even pass the Electoral Act itself. So, that means it’s an illegal thing because the National Assembly passes it.
“If you recall, INEC introduced the card reader by just regulation and the Supreme Court nullified it because it was not backed by legislation, hence the reason electronic transmission of results and electronic voting has been included in the current amendment of the Electoral Act.”
Asserting lawmakers’ right to dismiss the president’s veto, legal expert and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) Chief Sebastine Hon, said: “The National Assembly has the option of looking into the reasons for the veto. And if they want, (they can) effect some amendments to the observations of the president or override his veto by coming together and harmonising their position with a two-third-majority vote. When that is done, it becomes a law without presidential assent.”
Another legal luminary, Awa Kalu (SAN), backed his view. According to him, “The National Assembly has a duty under the constitution to amend any Act under its competence. Again, the president has the constitutional responsibility to withhold his assent. And when he does that, the National Assembly can in a joint session with two-third-majority votes override his veto and it becomes law. In democracy, the most potent power to legislate belongs to the parliament.”
Also, Abuja-based lawyer, Mr. Abubakar Sani, noted: “If they (National Assembly) can muster two-third-majority votes in the two legislative houses, they can override it. The president cannot hold them or the nation to ransom. That is the check and balances we have under the constitution.”
In a strange twist, however, the Federal High Court Abuja, yesterday, gave an order restraining the National Assembly from passing the bill into law.
Justice Ahmed Mohammed also asked the defendants to maintain the status quo ante belum, pending a March 20 adjournment. He gave the order while delivering ruling on an oral application for preservative order brought by the plaintiff, Accord Party.
He said: “In view of the provisions of Section 58, sub-section 5 of the 1999 Constitution, which empowers the National Assembly to veto the president’s withholding of his assent by two-third majority votes, the court is simply to preserve the rest in order to safeguard the integrity of the court and the sanctity of the judiciary under section 6 (6) of the 1999 Constitution. The parties are therefore ordered to maintain status quo ante belum between now and the next adjourned date. Hearing notice is to be served on the second defendant who is absent in court.”
In a motion filed pursuant to Order 26, Rules 1, 2 and 3, and Order 18, Rule 1 of the Federal High Court, the plaintiff had prayed for an interlocutory injunction, restraining the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria from assenting to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2018 as passed by the first defendant, pending the final determination of the substantive originating summons.
The plaintiff had also sought further order of interlocutory injunction restraining the defendant (National Assembly) from taking any further action or actions on the bill, particularly to convene to veto the said bill by two-third majority of each of its two chambers, pending the final determination of the substantive originating summons.
Meanwhile, the PDP alleged yesterday that the APC has constituted a team of eight governors to stop the National Assembly from overriding the president’s veto of the bill.
The National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus said: “This is not the first time the National Assembly has amended the electoral law. Why is this case different? Eight governors of the APC have been constituted to begin to move from door to door of members of the National Assembly to cage them not to freely make laws for Nigeria. We reject that move and we insist that the will of Nigerians must be done. The will of Nigerians must prevail.”
He added: “The APC government is a threat to the unity of the nation. So, wherever the youths are, whether they are in the PDP, APC or APGA, they must rise and defend this nation because this is a country in crisis.
“APC is planning to rig the elections and INEC is a parastatal of APC. The executive wants to make laws. They want to gag the National Assembly with a military fiat in a democracy. They want to sanction the National Assembly not to make laws.
“The lawmakers were elected from their various constituencies across this country to make laws for the benefit of the common man and not for a cabal. I urge the APC to allow the National Assembly to make its laws because they were elected to make laws. We are not operating a military dictatorship.”