By Henry Umoru, Dapo Akinrefon, Charles Kumolu & Omeiza Ajayi

THE Senate, yesterday, threatened to suspend plenary sessions if the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, fails to conduct all pending re-run elections into legislative positions in Rivers State. This followed the unanimous adoption of a motion under matters of urgent public importance sponsored by Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, PDP, Enugu East and Senate Leader, Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume, APC, Borno South. Moving the motion, Senator Ekweremadu said INEC’s failure to conduct the re-run elections in Rivers State, within the time frame ordered by the respective Election Petition Tribunals/Courts, was in total breach of the Electoral Act and Section 76 of the 1999 Constitution, adding that the action of the electoral umpire in Rivers State was endangering the nation’s democracy.

The Senate’s threat elicited concern from former Senate President, Chief Adolphus Wabara and Senator Florence Ita-Giwa, who urged the lawmakers not to shut down government but rather should carry out their oversight functions.

Speaking with Vanguard, Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senate, Senator Ita Enang, said: “ It will not be fair for me to talk on the matter that involves INEC. It is an independent body and I am sure that it will take a decision within the stipulated time.”

However, INEC said, yesterday, that it would conduct the pending elections before the middle of next month. Senate threatens ‘strike’ over pending re-run polls On Tuesday, the House of Representatives gave marching orders to the electoral umpire to conduct the elections because it was denying affected states legislative representations. In the motion, the sponsors resolved to “call on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct all outstanding elections in Rivers State before the end of November 2016; failing which the Senate will suspend plenary till such a time the said elections are held and the people of Rivers State are represented in the respective Legislative houses.”

It was later amended to read that the Senate resolved to “call on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct all outstanding elections in Rivers State not later than December 10, 2016; failing which the Senate will suspend plenary till such a time the said elections are held and the people of Rivers State are represented in the respective Legislative houses.”

Ekweremadu’s motion

Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu in his motion titled, “ Non- conduct of elections in Rivers State”, said, Senate “observes that in spite of her resolution S/Res/O16/02/16 of 27th  day of September, 2016 calling on lNEC to immediately conclude all pending re-run elections in the country, lNEC has failed, refused and or neglected to conduct re-run elections in Rivers State into the Senate, House of Representatives and State House of Assembly.

“Also observes further that the failure of lNEC to conduct the re-run elections in Rivers State within the time frame ordered by the respective Election Petition Tribunals/Courts is in breach of the Electoral Act and Section 76 of the 1999 Constitution, thus endangering the nation’s democracy.

“Further observes that non representation of the entire people of Rivers State in the Senate and some constituencies of Rivers State in the House of Representatives and State House of Assembly is in breach of Section 14 (2) (c) of the 1999 Constitution, and endangers peace and order in the State.

“Further observes that failure of lNEC to conduct election in Rivers State has continued to deny the people of Rivers State their constitutionally guaranteed rights to be represented in the legislative houses where laws affecting them are being made, and has engendered palpable anxiety amongst people of the State.

“Aware that lNEC had successfully conducted elections in the North-East of Nigeria, especially in the areas around Sambisa Forest, in spite of the area having been acknowledged worldwide to be ravaged by terrorist activities. “ Also aware that INEC recently conducted successful elections in Edo State even after security advice from Police and DSS forced a rescheduling of the election date.

“Further aware that elections were held in Bayelsa State in spite of government acknowledged threat of militant activities that necessitated provision of additional security personnel in the State for the elections.”

How can we discuss PIB without senators from Rivers? – Ndume

Contributing to the motion, Senator Ali Ndume said: “Imagine that we are about to discuss PIB without any member from Rivers State. Some of our colleagues here today thought that they won while others believe that they did not win. “Let us remember that any of us could be in that position. If for whatever reason, elections were not conducted in my state, I would not be here let alone being the leader of the Senate. How will I defend my people? Imagine the Bill on the NDDC, how would we have brought it and passed it? “Our colleagues are out there and it is not their fault, we have a new leadership in INEC and we know the history- inconclusive, inconclusive  suspension and sometimes confusion. We have a capable government and we must get the voice from here.”

INEC must be called to  order– Urhoghide

Senator Matthew Urhoghide, PDP, Edo South, who noted that INEC must be called to order, said, “what INEC is doing in Rivers State is inhuman and the National Assembly cannot sit and have this country tolerate this treatment. I support this motion, INEC should be called to order. This is no time for favouritism, so I ask that INEC be called to order, I believe one month is too much.”

Also, yesterday, the Senate asked President Muhammadu Buhari to, as a matter of urgency, appoint a minister from Kogi State to be part of the Federal Executive Council. According to the Senate, the new ministerial nominee will replace the late Minister of State, Labour and Productivity, James Ocholi, SAN, who died in a motor accident in March 2016 with his wife and son on the Kaduna- Abuja road. The decision of the senate was sequel to an added prayer to the Ekweremadu motion by Senator Dino Melaye, APC, Kogi West.

Senate should invite whoever is in charge of INEC—Wabara

Speaking on the Senate threat, Senator Adolphus Wabara, said: “You can’t shut down the NASS or the government because of the perception about INEC’s competence. That is not right. What the NASS is supposed to do is to perform its oversight functions because the NASS is stronger than INEC. They should move in and find out why INEC has not concluded the elections. That can be done by inviting whoever is in charge of INEC to brief the Senate on what could have been the reasons for the inconclusive elections. But saying that you will shut down the government because of INEC’s incompetence is not right.

” It’s not the appropriate thing to do —Ita-Giwa

On her part, former Presidential Adviser on National Assembly Matters, Senator Florence Ita-Giwa, said: “Inasmuch as the Senate has the powers to suspend plenary over INEC’s failure to conduct elections that were declared inconclusive, I do not think it is the appropriate thing to do. I am aware that the Senate has its committee on INEC. I advise that the committee invites the INEC chairman and his executives and discuss the matter and come up with something strategic that will ensure election is concluded. If INEC is hinging their inability on security challenges, the state government and the security chiefs should meet and proffer solutions to security so that the areas with inconclusive elections can have their elections concluded. It has not gotten to the stage of suspending plenary. Senate should proceed with their oversight function by inviting INEC for a meeting.”

It’s the right decision—Afenifere

National Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, Mr Yinka Odumakin said: “It is a right decision by the Senate as there is no reason those elections should not have been held. If we want to remain under constitutional democracy, there should be some irreducible minimums. There is too much rule of the thumb in our affairs these days.

” We’ll conduct polls before December 15 – INEC

However, barring unforeseen circumstances, the INEC has expressed hope of concluding most of the outstanding re-run elections in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja, Lagos, Rivers and other states by the middle of December. The commission’s Director in charge of Publicity, Voter Education, Civil Society and Gender Liaison, Mr Oluwole Osaze-Uzi, disclosed this in a telephone interview with Vanguard, yesterday, in Abuja.

“All things being equal, we are looking at conducting most of them (elections) by the middle of December”, he said. He said the commission’s timetable could, however, be affected by court orders, explaining that in Rivers, INEC had just received three court orders restraining it from going ahead with the elections in Tai Local Government Area.

The INEC had before now said it would not go back to Rivers State until stakeholders in the area could commit to the safety of electoral personnel and materials.

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