What could be the most outstanding political showdown between the legislative and executive arms of government is gradually unfolding as the National Assembly digs deep in its effort to railroad an election schedule that removes the advantages of the president.
The presidency and the National Assembly are set for a showdown that is bound to define the desperation of the political class in the country.
An indication of that desperation turned into play when the Conference Committee on the Electoral Act Amendment Bill constituted by the two chambers of the National Assembly concluded the amendments last Monday.
At a meeting of the Senate and House of Representatives Conference Committee, presided over by Senator Suleiman Nazif, the 12 member committee without dissent approved an amendment to the Electoral Act, that would stipulate a specific order for General Elections.
A new section 25(1) implanted into the Act provides that the elections be conducted in three stages. According to the amendment, the National Assembly elections would hold first, followed by the governorship and state assembly elections on the same day, and lastly the presidential election.
When the amendment first came up in the House of Representatives sometime last month, a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, Rep. Yusuf Ikara from Kano State stoutly opposed it describing it as a move by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP to undermine the APC.
Ikara was on point. However, unknown to him the majority of his party members were already into the game to reverse the order of elections and put the presidential election last.
The simple explanation of the move by the legislators is to remove the bandwagon factor. The Senate had passed the Electoral Act without putting a specific order for the conduct of the election, a development that needed the two Houses to meet in conference to harmonise the bill.
The trend of putting the presidential election started in the Second Republic when the National Party of Nigeria, NPN in a bid to actualise its “moon slide” put the presidential election ahead of the National Assembly and governorship elections.
In 2002, the practice was repeated by the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP which reversed the order of the 1999 elections when it put the presidential election ahead of the other elections.
The elections that led to the Fourth Republic were first the local government elections, followed by state and governorship and lastly the presidential.
However, the federal legislators at that time fought seriously to ensure that their elections were held at the same time with that of the president to ensure that they benefited from the incumbency factor that the president would use.
Even more, holding the presidential election first means that whosoever is president would have the benefit of other political stakeholders working for him. Even more, the presidential candidate after delivering himself could turn to hound his foes. The presidency was as at press time yesterday still pondering over the move which insiders said is directly targeted at the president.
The presidency it was learnt believes the leaderships of the Senate and the House of Representatives are directly controlling the issue essentially because of the political problems that the presiding officers have.
Speaker Yakubu Dogara alongside the majority of the members of the Bauchi State delegation to the National Assembly including Senator Nazif who chaired the conference committee is enmeshed in conflict with Governor Mohammed Abubakar.
A presidency source who spoke on the condition of anonymity believes that Speaker Dogara pushed for the amendment to ensure his own political viability. As the election of the National Assembly would be done before the governorship election, it seemingly limits the hand of the governor from working against the legislators whose election would come first.
“You know the problems with the two leaderships of the National Assembly. Dogara has problems in Bauchi, and we all know Saraki’s problems with the party, so we know where it is coming from,” a high-level presidency official said yesterday.
When the bills were pushed through the Conference Committee last Monday, the legislators sought to justify their effort on the premise that it would stop the bandwagon effect.
Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, President of Transition Monitoring Group, TMG, an umbrella group of several civil society organisations in the country expressed three concerns about the amendments: cost, propriety, and rationale.
“I don’t think that with the economic challenges we have as a country that it is actually something that is prudent. Secondly, if the National Assembly continues in that regard it will likely tamper with the integrity and independence of INEC.
“We cannot get the rationale whether this is for good or for their own political aggrandisement. I know that there are political discussions of a bandwagon effect, but voter education programmes are being carried out and people are being told to vote wisely and all that. So, for me, that is not a strong reason for the additional cost that is going to be added to the cost of holding the election.
“The third issue for me is how did they come about the reordering that the National Assembly should be first and the presidential last? Why is the House of Assembly not being done first?”
Another civil society advocate, Ibrahim Awaal (Rafsanjani), executive director of the Civil Society Advocacy and Legislative Centre, CISLAC was furious over the move which he said did not follow the due process: regarding quorum and public hearing.
“I think this is one of the most unfortunate things that has happened. INEC is saddled with the responsibility of conducting elections nd National Assembly should not have done this amendment as INEC had already issued its timetable.
“Number two is that under the House rule you cannot pass a resolution without a quorum especially on serious issues such as this. It is a gross violation of the rules of the House because only 35 people were present when this amendment was done and 35 persons cannot be enough to amend a law,” Rafsanjani fumed.
On the claim that it was done to avoid the bandwagon effect, he said that the legislators should well have brought that argument to the fray and allow a public hearing to determine that. “Issuing of timetable is a role for INEC, and it will amount to legislative fraud. This should have been a discussion with Nigerians through public hearing,” he added.
The legislators are, however, unbending.
Senator Nazif said, “For the avoidance of doubt, this bill with the inclusion of section 25(1) which makes provision for sequence of election different from the one earlier rolled out by INEC has not in any way violated any provisions of the laws governing the operations of the electoral body.” His counterpart in the House of Representatives, Rep. Edward Pwjok on his part said: “The sequence of election provision in the bill is not targeted at anybody but aimed at further giving credibility to the electoral process by way of giving the electorate the opportunity to vote based on individual qualities of candidates vying for National Assembly seat.”
Giving steel to the determination of the House members to overcome whatever challenges that the presidency would use to neutralize the proposal, Pwjok said:”On whether it would be assented to or not by the President as far as we are concerned remains in the realm of conjuncture for now but if such eventually happens, we know how to cross the bridge.
Vanguard gathered that even before the expected veto on the bill by the president that the legislators are already mobilizing to override the veto. The prospect of achieving that figure remains in the realm of imagination.
It is a feat that has only been achieved twice since the advent of the Fourth Republic: the override of the veto on the Niger Delta Development Commission Bill in 2000 and the Order of Precedence Act.