Abuja — Members of the House of Representatives have begun moves to return the country to a parliamentary system of government.
A bill aimed at amending the 1999 Constitution to achieve the goal was presented on the floor of the House yesterday during a plenary presided over by Speaker Yakubu Dogara.
About 71 members of the 360-strong Green Chamber are believed to be backing the bill.
"The economies of nations are known to thrive on the confidence of investors in the system and character of government. The level of instability and volatility of the presidential system makes it difficult to achieve economic objectives," Mr. Ossai Nicholas Ossai explained.
Speaking on behalf of the members, Ossai, who is the chairman of the House Committee on Public Petition, told reporters after the session that the decentralisation of powers in a parliamentary system would douse ethnic and religious tensions in Nigeria.
According to him, "The overcentralisation of government decisions that are prevalent in the presidential system obstructs economic development when compared to the parliamentary or hybrid system.
"The point has also been made that the too powerful nature of the presidential system often leads to greater fluctuations in the economy with a change of office. This was witnessed in Nigeria in 2015 and is currently being experienced as we prepare for the 2019 elections."
Some members of the House also backed the decision by President Muhammadu Buhari to decline assent to the Electoral Act amendment Bill.
House Leader Femi Gbajabiamila who spoke the mind of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Caucus, following an emergency meeting, said the bill was flawed. He maintained that the caucus would not be part of any move to override the president's veto. He urged the National Assembly to make adjustments to the document and resend it to the president for assent.
"This bill that was sent to the president says t hat you can only accredit voters through electronic system. It forecloses manual accreditation. We're all witnesses to what happened in the last election where even the sitting president couldn't be accredited.
"What Buhari has done is to protect everybody in Nigeria. Yes, do your electronic accreditation but make room for the possibility for manual accreditation in the event the electronic system fails," Gbajabiamila said.
He added: "If they are able to muster the required two-thirds (needed to override the veto) and they can push it, there is nothing we can do. But, as a party, we're not going to be part of the two-thirds."
The contentious bill however threw the leadership of the Senate into an argument over numerical strength, a pointer to the undercurrents of a brewing override. It had Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu and Majority Leader Ahmad Lawan disagreeing openly on which political party has the highest number of lawmakers.
Trouble started when Lawan raised a point of order to protest against some "misleading" media reports.
"The media reported that APC has 57 senators, while PDP has 58. For the records, APC senators are 56, while PDP senators are 46," he said.
Ekweremadu replied: "As regards party configuration, I want to say there is no any particular statistics for now. We cannot talk about the figures that each political party has because there is no such statistics. So, let it be on record that we have no such record now."
This came as the PDP condemned an alleged plot by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the presidency to rig next year's general elections by creating illegal polling centres in Chad and the Niger Republic.
But INEC, in a statement by its Chairman on Information and Voter Education Committee Festus Okoye, said: "There will be no diaspora or out-of-country voting for any Nigerian."
According to the PDP, "President Buhari, INEC and all Nigerians know that there are no provisions for diaspora voting under our system. By the extant laws guiding elections in Nigeria, it is very clear who is eligible to vote, as well as the centers statutorily designated for elections. There is no provision for any special arrangement whatsoever."
In its statement by National Publicity Secretary Kola Ologbondiyan, the PDP added: "It is reprehensible that President Buhari, in his desperation to rig the elections, is now trying to hide under the guise of making special provision for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) outside the country, to illegally create rigging centres outside our country and import contrived figures into the election results."
Also criticising the idea, Chief Goddy Uwazurike, a lawyer, said: "This is clearly unconstitutional. Voting is done in Nigeria. This is why the campaign of diaspora voting has failed repeatedly."
Uwazurike, a former president of Igbo think tank Aka Ikenga, added: "The country is divided into constituencies. You reside in the constituency where you are registered and you vote there. There is no room for offshore voting, including our embassies.
"Sections 73, 74, 77, 78 etc. profusely gave directions on the constituency delineation and matters pertaining thereto. None authorises voting outside Nigeria."