The direct primaries clause adopted by the Senate in the Electoral Amendment Bill seemed to have almost caused a rift between the Executive and the Legislature until a recent concession by the latter.
In this exclusive interview with Nairametrics, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on INEC, Senator Kabiru Gaya, representing Kano South Constituency, talks to Faith Dafe-Joseph about the Electoral Bill and why the Senate moved to amend the bill in accordance with the recommendation of the President.
Mr Gaya, a former governor of Kano State in the Second Republic was ever cheerful and ready to take on some of our questions around fuel subsidy, INEC’s budget, FG’s foreign borrowings and others.
Let’s start with the amendment that happened with the electoral bill. Why did you do it and how did you get there?
Initially, some members were aggrieved and wanted to exercise our power to veto the president because we have already made over a 100 amendments on this bill. Since it was just one amendment the president talked about, so, we had a change of mind and saw reasons with what he said and accommodated the president so that the electoral bill can be signed. The Senate included the consensus option because the initial bill by the Senate had all three options, the house didn’t have that so when we resume, we will form a conference committee of both Senate and House leadership to review that option and to harmonize it.
Some CSOs are of the opinion that the consensus option is not democratic, what do you say to that?
It is about satisfying the people, for example, if a candidate is doing well and does not have opposing contenders, the people come together and say let’s have a consensus. Once people agree, it makes it acceptable.
Will you consider their opposition to this?
The joint committee on harmonization will look at the issue and deliberate on it. It is a matter of numbers, if majority vote for or against it then we can go with that.
How long will this take?
I believe we can do that within a maximum of two weeks
What do you expect this bill to address?
The bill covers a lot of areas. We have put a lot of laws to safeguard buying of votes and protecting an electoral officer from being forced under duress to declare results. We also address the issue of the card readers as well to make sure we have enough.
What is the update on the electoral offences commission bill?
This is a bill establishing a commission on offences during elections as INEC has so many cases to handle. We hope by early March, the bill should be ready for the president’s signature as we have finished most of the processes; the only thing left is to hold a technical committee meeting to discuss the views of the public hearing and then come up with a bill and bring it to the floor of the senate for it to be passed
What about INEC’s budget, the chairman of INEC presented an additional budget of N305billion saying the 2023 elections will gulp a lot more than what was predetermined. The question is, why is it so much?
The standard budget for INEC was N40billion, for election budget, we provided a 100billion because there is equipment they need to buy and they need to order it now.
Let me offer a clarification. The Senate has made a provision for an N100billion but when the chairman for INEC appeared before the committee on appropriation he asked for an extra N205billion asides from the N100billion provided by the Senate. Are you saying you are not aware of this request?
I know he was invited by the committee on appropriation but what the committee passed was our N100billion
Let’s move from that to the very famous conversation going on now about the removal of subsidy, the senate president had a meeting recently with the President and he said he was very concerned about the issue of the subsidy and that the president said he didn’t ask for anyone to remove the subsidy. I find it very interesting because the senate passed the appropriation bill which doesn’t have any subsidy for the 2nd half of the year, the senate also passed the PIB which is now the PIA that indicates a complete deregulation of the sector. The Senate passed these two bills, but the Senate president is just now worried about subsidy removal, the agitation didn’t start today, why is the senate just now worried, why wasn’t this worry factored into the deliberation of the appropriation bill to make sure there was subsidy for the 2nd half of the year, what is going to happen to that now? Why didn’t this conversation come up before?
We have been worried from day one. We thought as it is we can go with the removal of the subsidy but we realize when you remove the subsidy, you are putting more worry and increasing inflation which means everything goes up. Even though the appropriation bill has been passed without the subsidy for the next 6months, we are looking for how to cushion the effects of inflation in the country. If there’s a need to do a supplementary budget to cover the cost of the subsidy, we will be glad to do so.
So you admit the senate dropped the ball on this in the first instance and are now just trying to rectify it?
We are the representatives of the people and at any time, we like to support whatever Nigerians want.
Why did the senate sit for only 66 days of the year in 2021? According to reports, that is breaking your own rules because you sat for two days of the week instead of the legislative calendar of three days a week you were supposed to seat, why is that?
We went through Covid and we are still in the covid pandemic. The effect of covid reduced it to 2days instead of 3days. Our committee days increased because that is fewer people sitting. So, it is because of Covid we could not maintain the number of days in a year.
After the Senate agreed to the president’s demand on the electoral bill, the conversation about the Senate being a rubber stamp to the executive came up again. The Senate has been accused of not having a mind of its own, it does come across like the executive always has its way most of the time. This applies to the 9th National Assembly in general. What do you have to say about that?
We are not a rubber stamp legislature, there are areas we have gone against the executive. For instance, in my own committee, we disqualified some commissioners that were brought like Lauretta Onochie, it was all over the news. This also happened in other committees, names were rejected for clearance. We support the president in whatever is good. Even on the issue of the budget, we didn’t support it fully as it came, there were some increases from the national assembly based on the price of petroleum. We support the president to do his job well. If there are problems to prove we are not rubber stamp and we are fighting, that means we are draining the system of good governance.
What about the National Assembly always approving of the loan requests the president brings even though the debt keeps going up but the Senate just keeps approving these loans.
The loans are necessary; they are for infrastructure, rails and roads. These infrastructures are needed, if we try to do them later without the loans, we will not be able to do them. The interest rates also are very low. Projects like the 2nd Niger bridge, the Lagos-Ibadan road, the Lagos-Kano rail, all these are on loan and are of interest to Nigerians. Infrastructure development is very important for this country.