There were strong indications on Saturday evening that the Senate would, this week, begin the process to override President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to withhold his assent to the 2018 Electoral Act amendment bill.
Senate spokesperson, Senator Ben Murray-Bruce, had told Saturday PUNCH that the red chamber had rejected Buhari’s reasons for declining assent to the legislation and would do everything possible to override his action.
A cross-section of the senators, who spoke with SUNDAY PUNCH on the issue on Saturday, vowed to make Buhari’s position a major issue on resumption of plenary on Tuesday.
They vowed to ensure that to ensure that all the amendments made to the new electoral act formed part of what the Independent National Electoral Commission would comply with in the conduct of the 2019 polls.
But there are other indications that as Senate President Bukola Saraki and the Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, prepare to read the letter to members in plenary at their respective chambers on Tuesday, the lawmakers are set for a stormy debate on the matter.
SUNDAY PUNCH can authoritatively report that Buhari’s decision has polarised members of the National Assembly across political lines.
While members of the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress, have expressed their support for the President, those of the opposition PDP alleged an ulterior motive behind the withholding of the assent by the President.
Already, the Majority and Minority Leaders of the Senate, Senator Ahmad Lawan and Senator Biodun Olujimi, separately told SUNDAY PUNCH on Saturday that the matter would be discussed when the lawmakers reconvene, after which a decision would be taken on the bill.
Olujimi told SUNDAY PUNCH that the federal parliament approved the huge budget proposed by the INEC for the election because of the anticipated electronic voting being planned by the electoral umpire.
Olujimi said, “This is because 70 per cent of the INEC budget has to do with the funding of card readers and other equipment needed for the election.
“We are going back to the chamber on Tuesday to look at the reasons for the President’s rejection and we will do our best to override his assent because the Electoral Act (amendments) bill is the best thing that can happen to our election in Nigeria.
“It is not only the opposition senators who would override the President. We would work on our colleagues in the ruling APC, most of whom are disgruntled that their party denied them tickets to return to the Senate.”
Another senator from the North-West geopolitical zone, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also corroborated the position of Olujimi, describing Buhari’s reasons as untenable.
He said, “It is possible that we start the process to override the President’s assent when we resume on Tuesday. I can assure you that it will be on the front burner of our proceedings. It will be a major issue and I am very sure that it is going to generate a lot of debate.
“If you look at the equation these days, many of our colleagues don’t come to the National Assembly again because of campaigns. So, it is really not impossible to get two-thirds majority to override the President’s assent.
“If the decision to override the President did not take place on Tuesday, it will certainly be done on Wednesday when we would enjoy the privilege of the NTA live coverage of our proceedings.”
Also, a senator from the South-East geopolitical zone, who also spoke off record, alleged that Buhari withheld assent to the bill because he did not want the usage of card readers in the North where a lot of Permanent Voter Card had allegedly been procured for underage voters.
The senator stated, “If INEC should make use of the card reader in northern Nigeria, we would demystify their bogus claims that they have the majority of voters in that part of the country.
“They can write any figure and declare it if there is no electronic accreditation of voters. The moment the ‘already-biased’ INEC officials signed the fraudulent election result sheets, we would not be able to do anything on them.”