There is palpable tension over the nation’s capital, Abuja as lawmakers-elect gear up for the inauguration of the ninth National Assembly on Tuesday, June 11; followed by the election of the principal officers of the legislature, including the Senate president and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Huhuonline.com has learnt that after months of bickering and maneuvering for advantage, the election of the presiding officers will be by electronic voting or secret ballot voting system in line with the 2015 rules of the legislative body.
The decision to use the secret ballot voting system was one of the main fallouts of a meeting between President Muhammadu Buhari and the Clerk of the National Assembly, Alhaji Mohammed Sani-Omolori last Friday at the Presidential Villa in Abuja. Aso Rock sources told Huhuonline.com that the meeting was said to be at the instance of the president, who was briefed as to the standing rules of the national assembly and on the level of preparations for today’s elections.
Sani-Omolori, according to sources, reportedly underscored the need to ensure that the image of the National Assembly is not compromised in the process of conducting the election and drew attention to the existing rules of both chambers.
Buhari was said to have appreciated the fact that Omolori expressed readiness to stick to the rule to avoid chaos and disorderliness. The president then directed the Clerk to conduct the elections in strict compliance with existing rules of both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Article 3, of the 2015 Standing Rules of the National Assembly, deals with the election of the presiding and principal officers. Article 3(3)(e) states: “When two or more senators-elect are nominated and seconded as Senate President, the election shall be conducted as follows : (i) by electronic voting, or (ii) voting by secret ballot, which shall be conducted by the Clerks-at-Table using the list of the Senators-elect of the Senate, who shall each be given a ballot paper to cast his vote, with the proposers and seconder as Teller.”
The mode of voting at today’s inauguration had been a bone of contention between two main contenders for the Senate presidency. While the supporters of Ahmed Lawan, the anointed candidate of the ruling APC canvassed for the open ballot mode of voting as contained in the 2011 Rules, his main challenger, Ali Ndume argued for the retention of secret ballot voting system as adopted in 2015.
The House of Representatives rules are the same with the Senate’s. The same powers of the Clerk of the National Assembly enunciated in the Senate Standing Rules are equally found in the Standing Rules of the Green chamber.
However, while the election of the Senate president or any other principal officer in the Senate looks straight forward, the situation is a bit complicated in the House of Representatives. The House election procedure states that for any principal officer to be so elected, the officer must score 180 plus one votes out of the 360 members. And where the election did not produce an outright winner in the first ballot, there could be a second ballot between the first and second runner up to produce the mandatory score of 180 plus one votes.
So far, the difference between APC and PDP has been reduced marginally. While APC has 213 members, the PDP has 127. Hypothetically, if the APC members in the House abide by the party’s directive to vote for Femi Gbajabiamila, it would be a straight win for the Lagos State lawmaker. But since it is obvious that Gbaja is facing a formidable challenge from Emeka Nwajiuba from Imo State and Mohammed Bago from Niger State, victory is all but uncertain for the APC anointed candidate as the party’s votes will be split; opening the door for the PDP to play the role of kingmaker.
The alignment of forces in the race for House speaker has opened religious fault lines amidst wide public perception of a “Fulanization and Islamization agenda” of the Buhari administration. Fears have been expressed that Nigeria’s quest for economic and social advancement might suffer a serious setback if the nation fails to reflect its diversity in its leadership structures; warning against the possibility of the leadership of the National Assembly being skewed in favor of one religion.
Some APC lawmakers have voiced concerns that any attempt to install two Muslims as the speaker and the deputy speaker of the House of Representatives would not bode well for the nation. “Unlike the Senate where the party candidate Lawan a Muslim from the Northeast was balanced with a deputy senate president from the South-south zone, the problem with Femi Gbajabiamila is that he is picking Wase from Plateau State as his deputy who is a Muslim. Femi used to be a Christian but now he is a Muslim, he has even gone to Mecca so you can’t have speaker and deputy speaker as Muslims, it won’t work in a country that is secular.”
The APC lawmakers are worried that the country might be saddled with Muslims as president, Senate president, House speaker and Chief Justice.