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Senate summons Jega over elections shift, preparedness

By Bridget Chiedu Onochie, Azimazi Momoh Jimoh, Terhemba Daka (Abuja) and Eric Meya (Sokoto)
17 February 2015   |   10:19 pm
• Mark cautions against interim govt • Opposition lawmakers insist on card readers • Tambuwal foils move to remove Majority Leader, others • Ihedioha presents report on constitution for free education, health THE Senate which yesterday reconvened from the botched election break has summoned the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, on…

JEGA

• Mark cautions against interim govt

• Opposition lawmakers insist on card readers

• Tambuwal foils move to remove Majority Leader, others

• Ihedioha presents report on constitution for free education, health

THE Senate which yesterday reconvened from the botched election break has summoned the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, on the state of preparedness for the polls rescheduled to hold on March 28 and April 11. Jega is expected at the Senate by 11 a.m. today.

  Meanwhile, Senate President David Mark has cautioned Nigerians clamouring for Interim National Government (ING), stressing that such was alien to the country’s constitution.

  In the same vein, opposition senators yesterday vowed to resist further attempt to either shift the election dates or stop the use of card readers by the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

  In a related development, attempts to cause a change in the leadership of the House of Representatives yesterday failed on the floor of the chamber as  Speaker Aminu Waziri Tambuwal rejected a motion which sought to remove the House’s Majority Leader, Mulikat Akande-Adeola.

  Also, Tambuwal who is the All Progressives Congress (APC) governorship candidate for Sokoto State has appealed to non-indigenes not to relocate to their state of origin over fear of post-election violence.

  On his part, Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives, Emeka Ihedioha yesterday presented a report on the concluded nationwide review process of the 1999 Constitution highlights, which include undeniable right to free basic education and free healthcare services for all Nigerians.

  The Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba in a motion that was supported by the Minority Leader, George Akume, had urged his colleagues to invite Jega to brief the chamber on INEC’s readiness to conduct elections.

  Additional prayer by Akume to also invite security chiefs to explain their position in electoral matters as well as their efforts at forestalling security hitch during the polls was countered by the Senate President.

  In the motion, Ndoma-Egba stated: “That the INEC had earlier fixed February 14, 2015 for the presidential election and February 28 for the Governorship and State House of Assembly elections.

 “That INEC announced a postponement and rescheduling of the elections to March 28, 2015 for the presidential and National Assembly elections and April 11, 2015, for the governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections.

  “That apart from the security reports cited by the commission for the postponement of the elections, critical issues such as the distribution of the Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) and the palpable apprehension that considerable number of eligible voters may be disenfranchised and that the proposed deployment of card readers by INEC for the conduct of the elections may amount to a contravention of Section 52 of the Electoral Act 2010 and that if these issues are not resolved before hand, the conduct of the elections may cause more complications.

  “I therefore move that this distinguished Senate do invite the INEC Chairman to brief this distinguished Senate at plenary on the issues and various other issues related to her preparedness for the conduct of the 2015 elections and that secondly, the commission be made to demonstrate the workings of the card reader and its deployment before this distinguished Senate.”

  Akume, however, maintained that rather than invite Jega, who was working on instructions from security chiefs, it would have been better to hear directly from them on reasons they felt elections should be shifted on security grounds.

  He said: “We have no objection to the invitation of the INEC chairman on this matter of postponement which is a very, very sensitive issue. But we also want to add that in inviting Jega, we should invite those who wrote, advising him that because of their inadequacy to provide security for the exercise, the exercise should not hold.

  “It is important because Jega had spoken before that he was ready to go ahead with the elections. Jega was ready until he was overruled. The President, the National Security Adviser,  who first started this issue of postponement in London raised major issue that the distribution of PVCs was behind schedule and that so many people had not been availed the opportunity to collect the PVCs.

  However, Mark ruled him out of order on the ground that the major issue was the election and since Jega had been invited, it was natural to listen to him first and if afterwards there was need to invite security chiefs, then, the Senate would not hesitate to do so.

  “Well, I appreciate the points you have made, but I think it is appropriate for Jega to come. If Jega says that these are the reasons, then we invite the service chiefs. I think so, so that we do not pre-empt.

  “Jega is going to appear before us here. When he comes tomorrow (today) if he shifts the blame in any direction, then we invite the people involved. I think that is my candid opinion and this is a proper procedure to follow,” Mark insisted.

  Meanwhile, Senate also received letter from President Jonathan seeking confirmation of ministerial nominees. The list included Senator Patricia Akwashiki (Nasarawa), Professor Nicholas Akise Ada (Benue), Col. Augustine O. Akobundu (rtd) (Abia), Fidelis Nwankwor (Ebonyi) and Mrs. Hauwa’u Lawan (Jigawa).

  Others are Senator Mohammed Musiliu Obanikoro (Lagos), Kenneth Kobani (Rivers) and Senator Joel Danlami Ikenya (Taraba).

  Addressing his colleagues as they returned, Mark stated that anyone calling for interim government was making efforts in futility.

  “I am alarmed that the issue of ING has been given undeserved prominence in our national discourse. This is imprecise, sordid and strange. Interim National Government is alien to the 1999 Constitution (as Amended).

  “Therefore, those calling for ING are pushing for an exercise in futility. This Senate is committed to the provisions of our Constitution which we swore to protect and we will not do anything to sabotage the democratic process,” he stated.

  Mark also expressed concern of palpable tension in the country which he stated, was being complicated by the body language of the political class. As statesmen and women, he urged Nigerians to rise in defence of the country’s democracy by trying to reduce political tension.

  “Ordinarily, we would have commenced our legislative activities this morning without a welcome address. But these are not ordinary times in our nation. There is palpable tension in the land and the comments and even the body language of the political class further exacerbate the tension.

While calling on the INEC not to relent in an effort to conduct free, fair, transparent and credible general elections, Mark said that every Nigerian owed it as duty to give electoral umpire all the support it needed to conduct a credible election. 

  The senators also insisted that security chiefs must be invited to the Senate to explain their roles in the election postponement. They faulted attempt by the Senate leadership to suppress their views about summoning both Jega alongside the security chiefs.

  Led by Akume, the lawmakers maintained that elections must hold as rescheduled to avoid unpleasant consequences.

  Akume said: “Elections must be held as rescheduled and it is important that INEC must do this in order to avoid unpleasant consequences. Nigeria is a huge and complex society, culturally and structurally and all hands must be on deck to avoid the Somalia experience.

  “There would be too many war lords in this country should we fail to do what is right. Nigerians deserve the best.”

  He added that card readers would add value to the conduct of the elections and as such, any attempt to frustrate its use should be resisted. According to him, it was a ploy by the ruling party to manipulate the electoral process.

  “We are talking about free and fair elections. The whole world is watching this county. We have become a laughing stock; we are becoming a banana republic.

  “We believe that there is serious manipulation and a deliberate attempt to undermine and to manipulate the democratic institutions and structures.

The move to remove the Majority Leader and others came following the defection yesterday of six lawmakers from the PDP to other opposition political parties, a development which further depleted the status of the ruling party in the House.

  Others targeted by the veiled motion introduced by Sulaiman Abdulrahman Kawu (APC Kano) were the Deputy Majority Leader, Leo Ogor, Chief Whip Isiaka Bawa and Muktar Mohammed, all principal officers of the House who have automatically assumed minority status on account of the avalanche of defections from the PDP to the hitherto opposition political parties in the House.

  According to information obtained by The Guardian yesterday, the PDP which hitherto enjoyed majority status now has 156 members, while the main opposition APC currently leads with a 181 membership of the 360 strong chamber. The remaining 23 is shared among the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Labour, All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM) and Accord Party.

  But in rejecting the motion which bothered on privileges in the House rules, Tambuwal urged his colleagues to thread with caution and refrain from commenting on the matter which, according to him, was already before a law court for determination.

  Meanwhile, the lawmakers who announced their defection from the PDP to the APC yesterday were Robinson Uwak (PDP Akwa-Ibom) and Ibrahim Mohammed (PDP-Jigawa).

  In a letter read on the floor by Tambuwal who presided, included Tobias Okwurio Chukwuemeka (PDP Ebonyi), Peter Alli (PDP Ebonyi), Chinenye Eke (PDP Abia) and Akpan Micah Umoh (PDP Akwa-Ibom) defected to LP, APGA and AP respectively.

  Earlier, Tambuwal had said that the recent postponement of the 2015 polls had inflicted an indelible dent on the integrity of the polls, as well as the country’s entire electoral process. 

  Specifically, the polls initially scheduled to commence on February 14, were later postponed to March 28 and April 11, 2015. 

  Welcoming his colleagues at the resumption of plenary at the National Assembly yesterday, Tambuwal said: “Public reaction to this unfortunate development has been spontaneous, intense and varied. The preponderance of opinion is that the postponement was ill-timed, the blame on security concerns notwithstanding.”

  Despite the concerns, however, the speaker said that government owed Nigerians a duty to make deliberate and honest efforts to restore public confidence in the process and in its commitment to free, fair, peaceful and transparent elections.

  The report, a summation of the resolutions of the state Houses of Assembly on the amendment of the constitution which is a culmination of the process for amending the nation’s rules after both chambers of the National Assembly had harmonised their positions as stipulated by law. 

  A two-thirds majority of the state assemblies is required for any proposed amendment by the National Assembly to pass and take effect after assented to by the President of the country.

  Ihedioha who laid the report during plenary in his capacity as chairman of the House Committee on the Review of the Constitution, informed his colleagues that new sections 45a and 45b were introduced to lift two items bordering on free basic education and free primary and maternal healthcare services from Chapter 2 to Chapter 4 in order to make them justiciable. 

  By this amendment, citizens are guaranteed the freedom to go to court to seek redress for perceived breach of these rights by government.

  In another amendment which returned approved from states, national security agencies, the Police, State

 Houses of Assembly, Attorneys-General, Auditors-General are now listed as bodies and offices to enjoy a first line charge from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation. 

  “This shall grant them financial autonomy to enable them carry out their assignments without the hindrance of non-release of their allocations and ensure their operational autonomy,” the deputy speaker quoted the report. 

  A significant amendment that also scaled through from the states is the endorsement of independent candidacy in elections in “order to further open up the political space” and a further ancillary amendment in terms of a new section 228(e) which states, “the National Assembly may by law provide for procedures, guidelines and qualifications for access to the ballot by political parties and independent candidates.”

  The report also stated that the amendment process from the states upheld an amendment which originated from the Ihedioha committee in the House to remove the word ‘Force’ from the name of the Nigeria Police Force in order to emphasize the civil nature of policing “rather than celebrate brute force.”

  The report from the states also indicated that some ambiguities hindering the creation of new states and boundary adjustments with respect to section 8 which states clearly in the amended constitution that “the referendum required for a new State shall now be approved by at least two-thirds majority of the ‘registered voters’ of the local government areas where the demand originated from, instead of the current provision of approval by “two-third majority of the people of the area, which is ambiguous and subject to different interpretations.”

  Several other highlights of the report as detailed in Ihedioha’s presentation included introduction of a new office of the Accountant –General of the Federal Government as separate from the office of the Accountant –General of the Federation, introduction of civil/criminal sanctions for failure or refusal to honour summons issued by a legislative House or its committees, separation of the Offices of Attorney –General of the Federation (and State) from Minister (and Commissioner) for Justice, amendment for the 180 days and 60 days respective timelines for filing of election petitions and delivery of judgment by tribunal (or court) to take unforeseen events of force majeur into consideration, among others.