Anguish and public outcry have continued to trail the alleged indifference of the National Assembly leadership to give the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) the green light to fill the vacancies created by the demise of two senators and one member of the House of Representatives.
Months after the death of Senator Malam Ali Wakili (APC, Bauchi), Senator Bukar Mustapha (APC, Katsina) and Rep Buba Jibril (APC, Kogi), their seats in the red and green chambers of the National Assembly have remained vacant amidst allegations of conspiracy, ineptitude and outride disrespect for the rule of law.
Wakili died on March 17, Rep Buba Jibril (APC, Kogi) on March 30 and Mustapha on April 4. Valedictory sessions had been held for them, a formal bye-bye in political parlance but short of what the law says to warrant filling the vacuum with new legislators.
The two chambers of the National Assembly are yet to transmit official communication to INEC to kick start the process of electing new lawmakers to represent the affected constituencies.
“Our hands are tied as far as by-elections are concerned in the three constituencies until leaders of the National Assembly officially informed us of the deaths,” a top official of INEC said.
“There is provision in the 1999 Constitution that speaks about vacancies in the legislature and what should be done. Similarly, the Electoral Act 2010 as amended clearly states that INEC can only organise by-elections to fill such vacancies after receiving letters from presiding officers of the National Assembly,” he added.
The Electoral Act said INEC should organize by elections within 90 days of receipt of notice of vacancy from the national or state assembly as the case may be; but was silent on what the electoral empire should do in the event the legislative arm did not give formal announcement.
Lawyers, activists, constituents and prospective aspirants have continued to express outrage over the development, saying something must be done to also check the “overstretching powers of the National Assembly.”
“The absence of the three legislators in the National Assembly means the constituencies they were representing are being shot-changed,” said Barrister Aminu Yunus, a legal practitioner based in Abuja.
“The Constitution of Nigeria is very clear about representation in the National Assembly and there is procedure in filling the vacancies during elections or when there is a recall or death.
“But there is a lacuna because the same constitution did not give time frame as to when the legislature must transmit a letter to the leadership of the assembly.
“And sadly, some presiding officers are taking advantage of this gap to hold many people to ransom; I might be wrong but if you take Bauchi for instance, Dogara who is not in good terms with his governor would not want the by election to hold because the tendency is that it is the governor’s preferred candidate that would win,” he said.
He added that the leadership of the National Assembly was also overwhelmed by their personal problems.
“I see no reason why vacancies would not be declared; I am sure INEC is ready to hold the by elections because it had conducted more than 100 off seasons elections after the 2015 general elections,” he said.
Aspirants from various political parties vying for tickets to fill the vacancies have decried “unnecessary delay” by the National Assembly in declaring the seats vacant to pave the way for by-election.
Some politicians eying the vacant Bauchi South Senatorial district seat following the death of Senator Wakili have expressed concern over the delay which, they said, has made it impossible for INEC to conduct by election.
About 30 aspirants across various political parties are now vying for the seat vacated by Senator Wakili.
Speaking to Daily Trust on Sunday, one of the aspirants on the platform of the opposition New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), Barr Hussaini Umar, said the delay was unnecessary looking at the importance of representation in democracy.
“Well, I am still hopeful that the by-election will hold. We are waiting to see what will happen, may be after the Fasting is over. After that period, if the National Assembly fails to transmit to INEC about the vacancy, then we know something is wrong.
“I know that there are three cases of vacancies at the National Assembly, there is nothing suspicious yet. However, if the other two were attended to and ours was left out, we would be compelled to suspect something. We are, however, not happy with the delay,” he added.
Another aspirant on the platform of the ruling APC, Barr Lawal Ibrahim, said the issue of the National Assembly transmitting letter to INEC did not even arise as it was not a constitutional provision but something brought in from somewhere.
Lawal, who contested for the ticket with late Wakili in 2015, said INEC should have initiated the process and notified the National Assembly about its intention to conduct the by-election into vacant elective positions after 90 days as stipulated in the constitution.
“There are many things started by late Wakili which need to be completed. There are bills in the Senate for our people but we don’t have anybody there. He has done a lot for the people and that is what we want to continue.
“Our people are now not represented. We are not happy with the delay, because, if there was no delay, we would have conducted party primaries by now and all parties would have forwarded their candidates to the electoral empire,” he said.
In Katsina State, Ibrahim Zakari, who is an aspirant for Daura zone senatorial seat under the APC to replace late Senator Mustapha Bukar, appealed to the Senate to declare the seat vacant so that the right thing could be done.
“This appeal is not because of my aspiration for the seat but for the interest of my zone and Katsina at large,” he said.
According to him, failure to fill the vacant seat was against the dictates of the Nigerian Constitution. “It is not a do or die affair but these places must be represented at the Senate and House of Representatives,” he said.
“Our senator died recently but I am surprised people from Bauchi are silent, the constitution is clear on what needs to be done on such matters,” he added.
And one of the leading aspirants for Lokoja/Kogi Federal Constituency and immediate past Speaker of Kogi State House of Assembly, Umar Ahmed Imam, who expressed concern over the delay in declaring the seat vacant, also urged the National Assembly to do the needful to ensure constituents were not denied representation.
Imam, who is currently a member of the ruling APC and member representing Lokoja 1 Constituency at the state Assembly, said it was unfortunate that declaration was not made to enable the people of Kogi/Lokoja find a replacement for their late lawmaker.
“Constitutionally, INEC cannot do anything until they are communicated. This development is further going to eat into the time left for the tenure.
“As stakeholders, we urge the National Assembly to do something urgent so that our people would have representation at the National Assembly,” he said.
Speaking in the same vein, a PDP aspirant from Kogi local government, Barr. Abdulrahman Ndakwo Tanko, urged the National Assembly to communicate to INEC as time was already running out.
“The truth of the matter is that ours is a federal constituency that needs to be represented. It is most unfortunate that the voice of our people is no longer heard at all in the National Assembly,” he said.
A source in the management of the National Assembly said they were awaiting the directive of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, to act.
“If we get directive, we will act on it by transmitting the declaration of vacancy to INEC,” he said pleading not to be named.
Contacted, the Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to Saraki, Yusuph Olaniyonu, also said he had no comment on the matter.
For Rep Jibril, House spokesman Abdulrazak Namdas (APC, Adamawa) said it was an administrative matter; and that he wouldn’t know if the communication had been sent to INEC on or not.
Also when contacted, the Director of Information at the National Assembly, Mr Lawrence Agada, similarly said he had no information about the matter.