Over 73 senators have indicated interest to override President Muhammadu Buhari’s veto of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, Rivers senator George Sekibo has said.
He made this known in an interview with Channels Television at the close of plenary on Tuesday.
“Why will Mr President say he doesn’t want direct primaries? The country is not his limited liability company. This is a country and this is a chamber. So the Senate ought to override him.
“By the law, we have the power to override him, in Section 58(4) and (5) of the Constitution. So, if the Constitution gives us the power to do so, we will use our powers to do it…Yes, we are compiling signatures. We have gotten more than 73 persons prepared to override the veto.
“…Yes, it cuts across party lines,” he said.
The Senate will need at least two-thirds of its 109 members to vote in support of overriding the president’s veto if the matter is put to vote. The 73 senators Mr Sekibo talked about makes up the exact number that is required although he did not provide the names of the signatories.
It was Mr Sekibo who interrupted proceedings on Tuesday and asked that the Senate proceed into a closed-door session to discuss the president’s veto.
The lawmaker had raised a point of order stating the urgency of the Senate to make a decision on the matter before proceeding on the Christmas holiday.
“It is my opinion that the Senate dissolves into a closed-door session and discuss it so that we can take appropriate decision on it before we go for our Christmas break. So, I submit that the Senate – before we take the budget – dissolves into committee of the whole in closed session to discuss it and take a decision,” he said.
However, after the executive session which lasted for over half an hour, the Senate President did not disclose what transpired within. He simply adjourned plenary to Wednesday.
While it is certain that some lawmakers have agreed to override the president’s veto, it is not clear if the senators will make the move at Wednesday’s plenary or wait till January 2022 when they resume from the end of the year break.
PREMIUM TIMES had reported how the president wrote to both chambers of the National Assembly, communicating his decision to reject the bill.
He cited insecurity and high cost of conducting direct primaries as his reasons for declining assent to the legislation. He also said it would infringe on the rights of Nigerians to participate in governance and democracy.
“The amendment as proposed is a violation of the underlying spirit of democracy, which is characterised by freedom of choices of which political party membership is a voluntary exercise of the constitutional right of freedom of association.
“The conduct of direct primaries across…wards will lead to a significant spike in the cost of conducting primary elections by parties and increase in the cost of monitoring such elections by INEC. The indirect consequences of the issues of high cost and monetization are that it will raise financial crimes and constitute further strain on the economy.
“It will also stifle smaller parties without the enormous resources required to mobilise all party members for the primaries… It will also pose huge security challenges as the security agencies will also be overstretched,” part of the letter read.
The president’s letter has stirred mixed reactions among Nigerians – particularly governors and civic groups.
Already Benue and Ekiti State governors, Samuel Ortom and Kayode Fayemi, have applauded the president for rejecting the bill, describing the president’s decision as fair and letting all options apply in the inter-party elections.
On his part, a human rights lawyer, Jiti Ogunye, opposed Mr Buhari’s stance and called on the National Assembly to override the president’s veto of the bill.
A coalition of eight civil society groups expressed sadness and disappointment at the president for rejecting the bill.
In a statement sent PREMIUM TIMES, the groups said rejection of the bill undermines public confidence and trust in the electoral system.
More disappointing is the fact that the President delayed his response until the effluxion of time required for assenting to legislation until the date that the National Assembly is proceeding for the Christmas and New Year holiday, they said.
The statement was signed by Yiaga Africa, Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ), International Press Centre (IPC) and Centre for Citizens with Disability (CCD).
Others are the Albino Foundation, CLEEN Foundation, Institute for Media and Society (IMS) and Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF).
The groups also noted that the rejection of the bill will have serious implications for INEC as it prepares for the FCT Area Council election, the Ekiti and Osun governorship elections, and ultimately the 2023 General Election.
“The non-conclusion of the electoral amendment process will mean that these elections will be conducted using the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) denying INEC the opportunity to test the efficacy of some of the new innovations introduced in the proposed Electoral Bill 2021. This is apart from the delay the Commission will have to contend with in the required effort to review its guidelines, regulations and manuals in accordance with certain provisions of the Bill.”
The groups therefore recommended that the National Assembly either override the president’s decision or remove the contentious clause(s) from the bill and transmit back to the president for assent within the next 30 days.
They also called on Mr Buhari to expeditiously assent to the revised bill upon receipt from the National Assembly. They urged civil society groups, media, and development partners to sustain the efforts to protect the will of the people and safeguard the electoral reform process from policy capture and manipulation.
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