Wednesday, November 24, 2010

No going back on controversial clause – N’Assembly

The National Assembly has concluded plans to go ahead with the process of amending the 2010 Electoral Act (First alteration) in spite of the public outrage against it.

The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Information and Media, Senator Ayogu Eze, who made this known at a news conference in Abuja on Tuesday, said the public hearing on the bill seeking to amend the Act might begin on Thursday.

Section 84 of a bill which seeks to make federal lawmakers members of the National Executive Committees of their political parties, had attracted criticisms from opposition political parties, civil rights groups and prominent Nigerians.

But, Eze said at the press conference that the outcome of the public hearing on the bill would determine the direction to be followed by the lawmakers.

He said, “We need the public hearing because the process of making laws here is very clear and we cannot bypass any of the procedure because people are speaking for or against.

“When people speak for it, we will still go ahead and conduct public hearing, when they speak against, we will still conduct public hearing. Preparations are in top gear. All things being equal, we might be having the public hearing on Thursday.”

The Senate spokesman added that in order to save time, the committees handling the bill in both chambers of the National Assembly might merge to conduct a single public hearing.

According to him, the two committees, would after the public hearing submit a harmonised version of the bill to the chambers.

“If possible, they may eliminate the time that would have been wasted on setting up a conference committee. Everything is being done to ensure that that matter is treated speedily,” he said

The senator assured that the leadership of the Senate would be open to criticisms, and urged critics to appear at the public hearing to make their contributions.

He said, “The Senate President say, we are a listening National Assembly, we represent the people, at the end of the day, what will happen is what the Nigerian people desire and what will be in the overall interest of our democracy.

“That is what will guide our actions. We want to assure you that we will tale on board, all the views that have been expressed to the public hearing.”

There was, however, tension in the House of Representatives on Tuesday when the two lead sponsors of the bill in the House complained that one their colleagues — Mr. Patrick Obahiagbon — used abusive and unparliamentary language in his opposition to the controversial clause in the bill.

The sponsors of the bill — Mr. Igo Aguma and Mr. Cyril Maduabum — therefore urged that Obahiagbon be penalised for his action.

Obahiagbon, the first lawmaker to openly condemn the clause, had said that it would amount to ”legislative rascality and parliamentary gambadoism” if the House went ahead to pass the bill.

Raising a point of order on privilege and quoting from the Legislative Houses, Powers and Privileges Act at Tuesday’s plenary, Aguma noted that the Action Congress of Nigeria lawmaker went beyond the norms acceptable to the House to castigate his colleagues in the public.

Aguma urged the House to refer the matter to the Committee on Ethics and Privileges to investigate it and make appropriate recommendations to the House.

Aguma‘s prayer was a veiled call for the suspension of Obahiagbon, as the committee would have applied the relevant rules and recommend his suspension.

On his part, Maduabum informed the House that Obahiagbon appeared on a television programme where he allegedly asked Nigerians to ”take up arms against all members of the National Assembly.”

He said, “This is an incitement to violence; it simply means that by his action, we are no longer safe as legislators.

“The lives of members of our families are also at risk because he is inciting the public to come and attack us in the course of doing our job as legislators.”

But as tension rose, the Speaker, Mr. Dimeji Bankole, called for caution and sought to hear Obahiagbon‘s side of the story.

This attracted noisy reaction as the majority of lawmakers opposed the idea of allowing Obahiagbon to speak. They wanted the matter to be referred to the Committee on Ethics and Privileges immediately.

The speaker, in a bid to ensure fairness, insisted that Obahiagbon must speak amid loud protests by lawmakers.

When he rose to speak, Obahiagbon admitted to have addressed a news conference where he used the language complained of.

He, however, explained that he used ”legislative rascality” contextually to mean that he hoped his colleagues would not ignore the opposition to the bill by going ahead to pass it.

His explanation elicited further uproar as the lawmakers shouted him down. At this point, Bankole intervened again, saying that it was clear that Obahiagbon offended his colleagues by describing them as ‘legislative rascals.’

The speaker then advised Obahiagbon to withdraw the language and apologise to the House.

He also observed that by admitting that he considered the decision of the House to pass the bill as unethical, Obahiagbon ought to know that it was a matter for the Committee on Ethics and Privileges to handle instead of going to the public.

Obahiagbon bowed to pressure and tendered an apology, saying that “the House of Representatives will live forever.”

He also said that he offered an ”unreserved apologia.”

Many lawmakers still felt that Obahiagbon did not apologise properly, but Bankole intervened again to restrain them from fuelling the tension.

The speaker appealed for calm and urged his colleagues to focus more on other serious assignments before the House such as the amendment to the 1999 Constitution (2nd Alteration). [PUNCH]

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