Signs of possible breakout of violence among senators-elect over method of voting to be adopted for election of the two presiding officers- i.e Senate President and Deputy Senate President, during inauguration of the ninth Senate in few weeks time– have emerged.
The ominous signs are coming from senators-elect from the camps of the two most prominent candidates for the position of Senate president currently locked in exchange of threats and counter threats.
Senator Ahmad Lawan enjoys the backing of the ruling All Progressives Congress for the top job while Senator Ali Ndume insists the party cannot gag him or any other person so interested in picking the number one Senate seat in the 9th NASS.
The current Senate Standing Rule, copies of which have already been distributed to all senators-elect, dictates that the method of voting shall be by secret balloting.
However, a re-elected All Progressives Congress (APC) lawmaker from one of the states in the southern part of the country and strong supporter of Lawan, told journalists Sunday under anonymity that unless the open balloting method was adopted for the election, there would be serious problem that could truncate the inauguration exercise.
He said, “We are going to adopt the open ballot system because that is the standard practice all over the world. The 2015 Rule Book which made provisions for the secret ballot was forged; we must revert to and use the 2011 version.
“I cannot guarantee that the event would be peaceful if the management succumbed to the pressures of the current presiding officers of the eight National Assembly by conducting the election through a secret ballot arrangement,” he insisted.
Ndume group kicks
Similarly another APC senator-elect loyal to Ndume, also said during a similar interaction that the management must sustain the secret voting method as provided in the current Senate ‘s standing rule to avoid any violent clash on the inauguration day.
The senator-elect, who also spoke on condition of anonymity said: “The Lawan group is jittery that its candidate would not win if the management adopted the current Rule Book to conduct the election.”
Gaya insists on due process
This is just as Senator Kabiru Gaya (APC Kano south) insisted the provisions of the Senate Standing Rule which stipulates secret balloting system to elect presiding officers shall be applied in the elections of the next National Assembly leadership.
While briefing National Assembly correspondents last week, Gaya said although with barely one month to inauguration, it is practically impossible to change the standing rule but cautioned that any attempt to effect a change in the rule must be in strict compliance with parliamentary procedures.
Gaya’s comments came in reaction to recent protests and calls on the Senate to adopt the open ballot system in electing its presiding officers for the ninth Senate.
Gaya said the process of amending the Senate Rules is such that a motion to that effect would be sponsored on the Senate floor and would be considered thoroughly by the Senate.
He said, “Such motion must be presented before the end of the life span of this Senate and processed and approved. Anything outside that is outside the due process. Between 2011 Rule and 2015 Rule, which one comes last? The second one supersedes the first one.
“I am a member of the National Assembly and we were able to do these rules together. We cannot change it now unless a member of the Senate moves for that change. If he moves for the change and somebody seconds it, the motion will be debated and the same thing also in the House of Representatives. It will be debated.
“If there is discrepancy between the Senate and the House, we will set up a Conference Committee. And they will bring it to us to find a date to sit down and pass it. Can you do that in one month?”
We‘re not for violence – Lawan group
But reacting to the threats, spokesman for Lawan Campaigns, who incidentally is the spokesman for the Senate, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi (APC Niger North), said Lawan and his camp would never encourage anything relating to violence.
Senate Deputy Minority Leader, Emmanuel Bwacha (PDP Taraba South), also reacted to the development saying “the Senate Rule on Secret Voting remains valid.”
The lawmaker said he was not aware the Senate Rule had been changed.
Just last Tuesday, Clerk to the National Assembly, Mohammed Ataba Sani Omolori, was invited to the headquarters of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for questioning relating to among others, method of voting to elect the Senate president.
Other officials of the National Assembly including the Senate and House of Representatives clerks had subsequently been invited to the EFCC on similar issues.
The Lawan Campaign team, however, denied putting pressure on EFCC officialsto harass the National Assembly officials.
Sabi said, “this is news to me. I am just hearing that officials of the National Assembly were invited by the EFCC. But what I can tell you is that, we are not aware and we have no hand in what you are alleging that we are using EFCC to harass them to change the rules for us or to harass our colleagues.
“We have been working and our contact and mobilisation committee has reached out to our colleagues. We are taking on our campaign and we are not taking our chances likely.
“We have no reason to harass anyone or do anything to scuttle the inauguration. We are solidly on ground and working round the clock to deliver our candidate on the day of inauguration. This is our preoccupation and whatever you have been told is not true.
“We are selling Lawan’s strong areas to our colleagues which are integrity, intelligence and capability. We are also selling our agenda to our colleagues to buy into what we intend to do for the 9th Senate.
“I know that I am part of the outgoing Senate. To be frank, there were so many things we didn’t do right. So, our plan is to ensure Lawan’s presidency improves on that. These are the issues.”
Sabi expressed optimism that Lawan would emerge victorious as Senate president at the end of the elections.
“With what we have done, on that day of inauguration, by the grace of God, we shall carry the day and Lawan will emerge as president of the 9th Senate. No cause for alarm my brother. We are marching forward”, he said.
However, just recently, a very ranking PDP senator and principal officer was invited by the EFCC and would have been kept behind the bars until after the inauguration but for the timely intervention of a strong member of the APC who signed his bail conditions.
“The principal officer was actually invited over the same case that he had earlier defended before the EFCC. He later alleged that his ordeal was equally related to his stance against one of the candidates for the 9th Senate’s Presidency,” a source confided in our reporter.