The moves by some senators to override President Muhammadu Buhari’s veto on the Electoral Act Amendment Bill suffered a setback Wednesday as the lawmakers failed to make good their threat after enormous pressure from their state governors.
Following the president’s letter to the parliament conveying his decision to withhold assent to the draft law, the lawmakers on Tuesday set in motion to override his veto.
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However, the moves were scuttled when governors and other stakeholders of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) moved in Tuesday night, a development that deflated the numbers of senators who had signed for the override.
Daily Trust had reported that over 70 senators had thrown their weight behind the move to override Buhari.
Both the Senate and House of Representatives will require the support of a two-thirds majority to override Buhari’s veto.
Our correspondents report that the lawmakers could not achieve this because of the relentless efforts of some powerful forces, which prompted some senators to have a re-think. Governors are incontestably influential when it comes to decision making at the state and national levels.
It was learnt from credible sources that many APC governors and some from the opposition PDP called the senators and asked them to back out from any move to override President Buhari.
Some sources said the governors deployed “carrot and stick” to douse tension on the grounds that any move to override Buhari would amount to embarrassing him.
Other sources said the position taken by the president tallied with the governors’ wish because allowing many options for primary elections would help them consolidate their firm grip of party structures.
Buhari had, in a letter to the National Assembly, dated December 13, 2021, titled ‘Withholding of assent to Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2021’ withheld his assent to the bill, citing economic, security and legal issues.
While faulting the removal of indirect primaries as contained in Section 87 of the Electoral Act 2010, Buhari said the amendment as proposed violated the underlying spirit of democracy, which is characterised by freedom of choice.
The president also said the amendment would also stifle smaller parties without the enormous resources required to mobilise all their members for the primaries. This, he said was not healthy for the sustenance of multi-party democracy in Nigeria.
During the plenary on Tuesday, many senators said reasons advanced by the president did not hold water and collected signatures to override the president in line with section 58 (5) of the 1999 Constitution.
They also suspended the passage of the 2022 appropriation bill earlier scheduled for Tuesday to further push the plan.
Section 58 (5) states that: “Where the President withholds his assent and the bill is again passed by each House by a two-thirds majority, the bill shall become law and the assent of the President shall not be required.”
How move to tackle Buhari crashed
PDP senators, who had been speaking publicly on how to override the president’s veto, will need the support of at least 35 senators from the ruling APC to get the required 73 votes for the plan to scale through but credible sources said the number would be difficult to get.
In the Senate, the APC has 70 senators, PDP 38 and YPP 1.
However, in a surprise move yesterday, the senators stayed action on the plan after a closed-door session, which lasted for about 40 minutes and resolved to consult with the House of Representatives on how to respond to Buhari’s decision to withhold assent to the bill.
Multiple sources said the governors who had kicked against the deletion of indirect primaries from the 2010 Electoral Act, reached out to lawmakers from their states, warning them against overriding the president’s veto.
A lawmaker who preferred anonymity said a second-term governor from the North West led the plot to thwart the plot to override the president.
It was also gathered that during the Red Chamber’s closed session, though some lawmakers were keen on going ahead with the override, their attention was drawn to constitutional provisions, which state that a two-third majority is required in both chambers for a bill to become law without presidential assent.
The House of Representatives had on Tuesday adjourned plenary till January 18 after passing the 2022 budget.
“We can’t go ahead with our decision. It has to be done jointly with the House of Representatives. This is the go slow,” a senator said.
Another lawmaker confirmed that the adjournment of the plenary by the lower chamber delayed their plan to override the president but said the move has not been jettisoned.
Speaking after the closed-door session, Lawan said constitutional provisions did not permit the Senate to exclusively take any action on a bill while the House of Representatives is not in session.
He, however, assured that a joint position would be reached with the House of Representatives after due consultation with Nigerians to determine the appropriate line of action when both chambers reconvene in January.
He said, “The Senate also in the closed session discussed how to respond to the letter from Mr President on the electoral bill amendment.
“The Senate consequently resolved to consult with the House of Representatives in January when both the Senate and House will be in session.
“Presently, the House of Reps has gone on recess and like we all know, the constitutional provision is for the Senate and House of Representatives to jointly take the appropriate action.
“The Senate also resolved to consult with our constituents during our recess in January.
“The Senate believes that our constituents have a role to play as the major stakeholders in the laws that we make in the National Assembly.”
Act fast – Saraki
A former Senate President, Bukola Saraki has urged federal lawmakers to fast track their decision on the Electoral bill so that the country could have a new electoral law in January 2022.
Saraki, in a statement he personally signed, said Nigerians could not sit back and allow one contentious clause to throw away all the positives in the bill.
He said, “At this point, two options are open to the National Assembly. They either veto the president’s decline of assent or remove the contentious provision on direct primaries and send it back to the president for his assent.
“Whichever option our legislators choose, can be accomplished in the shortest possible time. We could have a new electoral law in January 2022.”
APC scuttled bill because of 2023 fear – PDP
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) also yesterday accused the All Progressives Congress (APC) of scuttling the signing of the electoral bill because some key provisions in the draft law will not allow its grand design to rig the 2023 General Elections.
The PDP National Publicity Secretary, Debo Ologunagba, stated this on Wednesday while reacting to the decision of the president to withhold assent.
He said the subversion of the passage of the bill by the APC further validated the fact that the party remained averse to the aspiration of Nigerians and did not believe in democratic principles of credible elections.
The PDP called on all Nigerians, civil society organisations, the international community and all lovers of democracy across the world to rise up and put appropriate pressure on the APC-led National Assembly to immediately do the needful to safeguard the country’s democracy.
Lawmakers have no structures in their states – Gov Umahi
Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State has said the governors are not threatened by direct primaries. Besides, he said the National Assembly members agitating for direct primaries have no structures in their respective wards, claiming the governors are the ones keeping parties alive.
While congratulating President Buhari for declining assent to the bill, Umahi in an interview on Channels TV last night said those advocating for direct primaries were not looking at the concerns raised by the President for rejecting the provision for direct primaries in the Bill.
Our correspondents recalled that Governors Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti and Samuel Ortom of Benue state had also applauded Buhari for turning the bill down. Meanwhile, the National Association of Nigeria Students (NANS), on Wednesday threatened to mobilise all students in the South West against the federal government over the rejection of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill.
NANS, at a press conference addressed by the South West Coordinator, Olatunji Emmanuel Adegboye, in the company of other executives in the region, said all other excuses given by the presidency in the letter addressed to the National Assembly were not tenable and considered inconsequential.
He said the association was ready to mobilise all its members in the South West to the villa if the federal government refused to bow down to the demand of the National Assembly.
By Abdullateef Salau, Muideen Olaniyi (Abuja), Abdullateef Aliyu (Lagos) & Jeremiah Oke (Ibadan)