Trouble started when the Chairman of the Conference Committee, who is also Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Independent National Electoral Commission, Senator Suleiman Nazif, presented the report at the plenary on Wednesday.
After the presentation, President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, put the adoption of the report to voice vote, saying there was no need for debate on it as it was from a conference committee which had harmonised the versions of the two chambers.
“Let me remind us all on what the procedures are for conference reports. It is very simple. You either adopt the report or you reject the report. So, I am going to make it simple and put the question,” Saraki said.
After the vote, the Senate President ruled that “the ayes have it,” a development that generated uproar in the chamber.
Raising a point of order, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege called for a division, citing Order 73 of the Senate Standing Rules.
Responding, Saraki said, “As I keep on emphasising, institutions are what are important. As senators, we will finish our terms and go, but we must continue to strengthen institutions. We must always follow the procedures that we have all laid down.
“For conference reports, this has been the procedure and as such, with all due respect, I have to rule you out of order.”
Dissatisfied, Senator Kabiru Gaya raised another point of order, citing Order 87(C), which states that the conference committee can deliberate on issues between the Senate and House of Representatives but cannot make insertions on any matter not committed to it by either of the chambers.
Also ruling Gaya out of order, Saraki said, “You are a ranking senator and I have all the utmost respect for you. I know that politics is local; and I appreciate that. But as much as it is local, we also have to maintain the integrity of this institution. I have heard you and I am sure that your constituency too have heard you; but I have to rule you out of order.”
Still not satisfied, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, who is the Chairman of the Northern Senators’ Forum, raised another point of order, citing Section 76 of the Constitution and pointing out that only INEC was empowered to determine the date of elections.
Ruling Adamu out of order, Saraki said, “Thank you for the point you raised. As you know, we have ruled on this. And as you also know, there are many bills that we have passed and if there are issues, there are mechanisms within the system through which issues have been raised. With all due respect, I will say it is noted.”
At that point, several members began to scream, “Point of order!”
Saraki, again, insisted that the lawmakers must be guided by the rules, especially Order 53(6). He urged members to allow consideration of the next item on the order paper.
Shortly after, 10 APC members stormed out of the chamber and moved to the Media Centre of the Senate Press Corps.
The senators, who claimed that 59 of them were against the amendment, were Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa-West), Abu Ibrahim (Katsina-North), Abdullahi Gumel (Jigawa-North), Ali Wakili (Bauchi-South), Binta Masi Garba (Adamawa-North), Ovie Omo-Agege (Delta-Central), Umar Kurfi (Katsina-Central), Andrew Uchendu (Rivers-East), Benjamin Uwajumogu (Imo-North), and Abdullahi Yahaya (Kebbi-North).
The senators took turns to criticise the adoption of the report without a debate.
They also alleged that the amendment was targeted at the Office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria currently being occupied by Muhammadu Buhari.
The protesters cited irregularities in the signatories to the report.
Adamu said, “We feel very strongly that the process by which the so-called conference committee report was laid and considered was rushed.
“We are against what happened. Incidentally, if you take note of the report that was laid – the report that was circulated – the chairman and the co-chairman did not sign it. We don’t know why they did not sign the report.
“Normally, if we are going through due process, we need to know why they didn’t sign it, or do we have different reports submitted over the same bill from the same committee?”
Alleging that the report was biased, Adamu stated that the bill needed better attention while its passage must be fair.
He said, “Why do you want to do a law to address just one particular problem. This is a very partisan report; you could see it from the body language, the utterances and the gesturing that it is a pre-determined thing by a political party that is threatened by the APC government.”
Also, Omo-Agege said, “Thirty six people in the House of Representatives cannot determine the faith and the destiny of 360 people in the House, which is now carried over to a Senate of 109. If a conference committee is set up to reconcile the differences, the least we are owed is for this amendment to Section 25 (of the Electoral Act) to be deliberated upon.
“We did not even dissolve into the committee of the whole. We were not even given the opportunity to consider this.
“Today, we have 59 senators who are opposed to the inclusion of this Section 25 in the Electoral Act. If that division (which he called for) was allowed 59 senators would have voted to delete that purported amendment to Section 25 of the Electoral Act.
“You don’t make a law targeted at one person. The perception out there is that this Section 25 was included to target Mr. President,” he stated.
The Senate however insisted on the adoption of the report, stating that it had passed due process.
Chairman of the Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Aliyu Sabi-Abdullahi, who jointly addressed journalists with Nazif, dismissed the allegations by the aggrieved senators.
Nazif said, “Let me make it very clear that I have signed the concurrent committee report. I don’t know where that (allegation) came from, but I signed it. This is it, signed by me (displaying the report). And if you go to the clerk, it is also signed by me.
“I am not aware if the sequence of election is being targeted at anybody. What I know is that as the Chairman of the Committee on INEC at the Senate, I chaired the concurrent committee of both the House and the Senate.
“In the past, we have had elections from the top to down. I don’t know if anybody questioned that. In the past also, we have also had elections from down to top. I don’t know if anybody questioned that.”
‘Why underage persons were registered’
The Independent National Electoral Commission says some underage voters are being registered in some parts of the country because the lives of registration officers are being threatened by some members of the community.
The Director of Publicity and Voter Education, Mr. Oluwole Osaze-Uzzi, said this on Wednesday during a programme on theAfrican Independent Television titled, ‘Kakaaki.’
Osazze-Uzzi, while answering questions over pictures and videos on the social media showing children registering and voting in northern Nigeria, said when officials refused to register underage persons, their lives were threatened by members of the community and they eventually caved in.
The INEC director said, “I agree that it is the responsibility of the registration officer to do that (refuse to register underage persons), but there are times that circumstances are such that where there is present and clear danger that he risks being assaulted or being killed, I think it will be unreasonable to expect him not to succumb to the pressure. But we encourage them to report immediately they get out of that dangerous zone.”
Osazze-Uzzi said INEC had received reports from some members of the National Youth Service Corps taking part in the exercise.
He added that parents came along with their children claiming that their children were over 18 and usually forced registration officers to register the underage children.
The INEC director said, “Even to the untrained eye, that child doesn’t look more than 15, but in such circumstances, you cannot argue too much with them. The law says the registration officer is entitled to act on some kind of identification or birth certificate or proof of age.
“But very often, they are resisted, especially when there are lots of people there. They are challenged in a charged atmosphere and they are there without any protection. Many of them are there in strange communities which they don’t know anything about. So, there is undue pressure on them to register at this point.”
Osaze-Uzzi, however, said mechanisms had been put in place such that after an underage person is registered, he could be removed from the register.
He said the registers were usually inspected by senior INEC officials who could identify underage persons through their facial looks or through assistance from members of the community.
“It is not a complex process, you display the voter register and people come there. That is in addition to the fact that the registration officer can refuse anybody registration. But we don’t expect people to risk their lives for what is essentially a simple patriotic service.
“But if they get away with that (getting registered) and the report is not taken, the second opportunity is when the register is displayed. The best opportunity is where higher officials physically look at each register as much as they can and those who are clearly not qualified are removed. So, it is a three-pronged process and there are different stages,” the INEC director added.
He said the process of registration and voting could never be perfect since it was a human endeavour.
He, however, said the media and members of the public should assist the commission by exposing such cases of underage registration and voting.
Osaze-Uzzi said, “I think the law recognises that being a human endeavour, it may not be perfect and that is why it gives some kind of leeway such that when you weigh everything together, it is a reflection of what the people have chosen.
“If one per cent of the register has underage persons; will this affect the outcome? We agree that the register is the very foundation of every election and what we can do and what the media can do is that when we get these reports and we have a fair idea of where this issue is prevalent, we can look at the registers again, look at those who are clearly underage and try to weed them out and prevent them from exercising a franchise that does not belong to them legally.”
The INEC director maintained that the local government election which held in Kano State was not organised by INEC but the state government.
He assured members of the public that the 2019 general elections would be free, fair and credible.
INEC can’t be trusted with 2019 elections –PDP
The Peoples Democratic Party has accused the Independent National Electoral Commission of being responsible for the registration of underage voters in Kano State.
Pictures and videos of the voters recently went viral on social media shortly after the conduct of local government election in the state on Saturday.
The PDP consequently said Nigerians had lost confidence in the commission.
It added that the commission could not be trusted with the conduct of the 2019 general elections.
The former ruling party alleged that the documented “massive underage voting that characterised the exercise” was an indication that the commission was part of the fraud.
The party said it was INEC that registered the minors as voters and as such should not exonerate itself of involvement in the electoral fraud.
The PDP National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, in a statement in Abuja on Wednesday, said the press release by INEC, exonerating itself from culpability in the participation of minors in the Kano election showed that INEC under Prof. Mahmood Yakubu was unreliable.
The statement read in part, “Who is fooling who? Is it not INEC that registered the minors and issued Permanent Voter Cards to them to participate in elections as documented in the Kano council election?
“Can INEC truly acquit itself as the culprit who set the stage for the eventual participation of the minors and overall rigging of the elections?
“By resorting to lame excuses and trying to exonerate itself at a time it should be taking decisive steps to protect the sanctity of its sensitive materials such as the PVC, this INEC has shown that it cannot be relied upon as a responsible and trustworthy electoral umpire.
“Indeed, if this INEC was serious about the sanctity of sensitive electoral materials, by now it should have ordered the immediate review of its voter register in Kano and Katsina states, fishing out and prosecuting those who registered the minors and clean up the electoral system in the affected states.
“Viewed alongside a series of numerous other irregularities being allowed by INEC to favour the ruling All Progressives Congress, including alleged conspiracy with APC-controlled security operatives to intimidate opposition members and manipulate elections as witnessed in the Mashi/Dutsi Federal Constituency Supplementary election in Katsina State, any reasonable person will decide that INEC, as presently constituted, has serious questions to answer, especially as we approach the 2019 general elections.”
Ologbondiyan warned that Nigerians would not accept anything less than a credible, free and fair general election in 2019.
“The commission should ensure that it does not allow itself to be used by the APC against the will of the people, particularly in the 2019 elections, as such will be resisted,” he added.
Meanwhile, the National Chairman of the party, Uche Secondus, alleged that the Federal Government was not ready for free and fair elections in 2019.
Secondus spoke when he received members of the International Republican Institute in his office in Abuja.
The team was led by the President of IRI, Mr. Dan Twining.
Secondus said, “Our major concern with the party in power is that they are not ready a for free and fair election and the best Nigerians want is afree and fair election.
“The people of Nigeria are passing through challenges like killings by herdsmen, insecurity, bad economy and inability to protect lives and property of Nigerians by the government.
“Our major concern is for INEC to conduct a free and fair election because if the 2019 election is rigged, it will be a recipe for crisis.”
Twining told Secondus that Nigerian was the most important country for IRI in sub-Saharan Africa.
He said the group had been in the country for the past 20years, adding that IRI would want to work with political parties in order to make them responsible to the citizens of Nigeria.