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National Assembly: Management Pressured To Conduct Open Election



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The anxiety surrounding the voting method to be adopted for the conduct of the election in both chambers of the ninth National Assembly may have shifted to the NASS management.

Members-elect in both chambers had disagreed on the method to be adopted between open and secret ballot options.

Saturday Punch findings showed that lawmakers loyal to the anointed candidates of the All Progressives Congress, Ahmed Lawan, for the position of Senate President and Femi Gbajabiamila for the position of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, were putting pressure on the management of the Assembly to adopt the open ballot system, while those in the opposing camp were insisting on the open-secret ballot system.

The advocates of the open ballot had however reached out to the presidency with a view to compelling the Clerk of the National Assembly, Mohammed Sani-Omolori and his team to make use of the open ballot system.

Earlier, the Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Ita Enang, had said that the 2011 Rule Book, which has provision for open ballot, remained the most authentic legal document for now and that the management of the federal parliament has no right to amend the Senate rule book.

But the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, disagreed with Enang’s position, saying the management of the nation’s legislature could make new rules for the lawmakers between the period of dissolution of an outgoing Senate and the inauguration of a new one.

Already, the spokesperson for the Ahmed Lawan for Senate President Group, Senator Sabi Abdullahi, had said that the NASS management must use open ballot method for the election.

Some lawmakers from the Lawan/Gbajabiamila group boasted in separate interviews with Punch on the condition of anonymity on Friday that they must have their way.

One of them from the South-South geopolitical zone said, “There will definitely be a directive to the National Assembly management to conduct the poll in a transparent manner to avoid confusion. The implication of this is that the presiding officers’ election would be conducted using the open ballot approach.

“Anyone who is not satisfied could as well stay away. After all, it is not compulsory for everybody to vote or be voted for.”

Also, the National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Mr Lanre Issa-Onilu, had equally confirmed that the party would ensure that National Assembly leaders are elected through an open ballot.

He said, “We are not just pushing for the open ballot; that is what is in the rule book of the National Assembly.

“Like we all know, this 8th National Assembly from inception has been thriving on aberration, abnormality and absurdity. We do not expect that to continue.”

But, lawmakers opposed to the candidates of the APC in the two chambers, in collaboration with their counterparts in the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, are also insisting on the secret ballot system.

The anti-Lawan/Gbajabiamila lawmakers-elect told Punch on Friday that the proponents of the open ballot system were scared that many APC lawmakers may vote in protest against the party’s decision if the secret method was adopted.

Also, the duo of Senator Kabiru Gaya and Orji Uzor Kalu, who are both contesting the position of the Deputy Senate President, insisted that the secret ballot must be adopted on the day of the ninth Assembly’s inauguration.

Meanwhile, both camps are said to have put the management of the Assembly under intense pressure.

A ranking member of the National Assembly management, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Sani-Omolori-led management team and the clerks of the two chambers were under intense pressure from both camps.

He said, “There is truly a lot of confusion and tension in the management of the National Assembly at the moment as the advocates of open and secret ballot methods are insisting on having their ways.

“Even members of the management are already divided over the issue. While a school of thought believes that the 2015 rules which made provisions for secret ballot should be adopted, others are saying that we should avoid legal issues by using that of 2011 which allows open system.”

However, the lawmakers-elect who are opposed to the open ballot system refused to disclose the strategy they intend to use to make sure that the election was conducted by secret ballot method.

Kalu, who is a former governor of Abia State, told Punch that all the senators-elect were unanimous in their support for open-secret method during the induction programme held recently for them.

He said, “All of us (lawmakers-elect) have agreed during the induction programme that we would use open-secret method and we have asked the National Assembly management to provide ballot boxes and cubicles for that purpose.”

Also, a senator-elect on the platform of the PDP from Anambra State, Uche Ekwunife, said the Senate must adhere to its rule to conduct the election.

“The Senate rules are clear about it (voting method). It has to be open-secret balloting. That is what the rules say and I believe we have to stick strictly to it. We need to adhere to it,” she said.

Also speaking, a ranking senator loyal to the ruling All Progressives Congress disclosed that the lawmakers and Nigerians might be surprised on the day of the inauguration of the Assembly.

Also, a speakership aspirant in the House of Representatives, Mr Mohammed Bago, has vowed that the move for open voting would be prevented.

The lawmaker from Niger State, who is opposed to the adoption of Femi Gbajabiamila said the North-Central had been marginalised.

Bago said, “It is a burglary to democracy; it is a robbery to democracy; it is an assault on the parliament, for anybody, governmental and non-governmental organisation or group to start thinking of a primitive way to coarse people to do something. It is primitive.

“If they were so sure of what they are saying, why didn’t they agitate for it at the 2019 polls? They want to know those who are with them because they are unsure that their members are with them.”