Nine months after they resigned, the seats of the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Abdullahi Adamu, Deputy National Chairman (North) of the party, Senator Abubakar Kyari and the Zamfara State Deputy Governor, Senator Muhammad Hassan Nasiha are still vacant at the Senate, Daily Trust reports.
The trio, Daily Trust reports, represented Nasarawa West, Borno North and Zamfara Central Senatorial districts, respectively before they resigned to take their new positions.
Reports from our correspondents in the affected senatorial districts showed that there was apprehension among the constituents who feel they are being side-lined in the parliament.
On March 26, Senator Adamu and Senator Kyari emerged as the national chairman and deputy national chairman (North) of the APC, respectively. They tendered their resignation on April 12.
On his part, Senator Nasiha on March 1, last year resigned from the parliament after he was named as the deputy governor of Zamfara State sequel to the impeachment of Mahdi Aliyu-Gusau.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has not fixed a date for the conduct of by-elections to fill the vacuums in the upper chamber.
However, ahead of the February 25, 2023, Presidential and National Assembly elections, political parties have fielded candidates for parliamentary seats including for the vacant senatorial districts.
What constitution says about vacant seats
Section 68 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution spelt out the processes for the filling of vacant parliamentary seats. Section 68 (1) said a member of the Senate or of the House of Representatives shall vacate his seat in the House of which he is a member if:
(e) Save as otherwise prescribed by this Constitution, he becomes a member of a commission or other body established by this constitution or by any other law.
Sub-section (h) provides that “The President of the Senate or, as the case may be, the Speaker of the House of Representatives receives a certificate under the hand of the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission stating that the provisions of section 69 of this Constitution have been complied with in respect of the recall of that member.”
Constituents lament, tackle INEC
Constituents in the affected senatorial districts have lamented the delay, urging the electoral body to immediately conduct by-elections to fill the vacuum.
In Borno North, one of the constituents, Gwamna Mshelia, said the delay in filling the vacant seat is affecting the stake of Borno State in representation at the National Assembly.
“Because, where votes are to take place on any matter before the Senate, Borno will be one-third represented since Kashim Shettima (Borno Central), the APC vice presidential candidate too is not attending the sitting,” he said.
Also, the Chairman of the Network of Civil Society in Borno State, Bulama Abiso, urged INEC to be conscious of time and organise the by-election.
“If the time within which the by-election should be held is passed, it will affect the constituents and the entire Borno State. It’s now that our people need representation more than ever before.
“So, let the vacant positions be filled to have the right people at the right place to articulate their problems,” he said.
In Zamfara Central, the constituents have also expressed displeasure over the delay in conducting the by-election in the zone.
Sani Abubakar, in Gusau LGA, said that months after Senator Hassan Nasiha was appointed and sworn in as the state deputy governor of the state, the zone has no representation.
“The reason why I said so is that those constituencies with representations are still benefiting a lot, especially in terms of constituency projects but we are missing out.
“Everything has stopped, we are not being represented. If you want anything from the senate, those of us that are from Zamfara Central, who do you go to?” he asked.
Another resident, Kabir Aliyu, said he cannot understand why INEC was delaying the conduct of the by-election.
However, the chairman of the Coalition of Civil Society Organisations, Alhaji Ibrahim Tudu, blamed INEC, saying it is the institution with the sole responsibility of conducting the election but has failed to do so.
“We have been calling INEC to conduct the election but we were ignored. The insecurity they gave as reason does not hold water here because a by-election was conducted in Bakura Local Government despite the security challenges there,” he said.
APC, PDP differ
However, the spokesperson for the APC in Zamfara State, Yusuf Idris Gusau said they have no problem with INEC not conducting the by-election in the zone.
“Whenever they are ready, I believe political parties will be notified and they will participate in the exercise. Now that the general elections are drawing closer, what is the logic behind conducting an election and then carrying out another one months after? I think the development is good for political parties given the meagre resources they have,” he said.
The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Zamfara State could not be reached for comment at the time of filing this report.
But the Borno State Chairman of PDP, Zannah Gaddama, alleged that the by-election was being delayed by INEC.
“There is nothing like a by-election for now because we have only a few days to go for the general elections, so it seems that INEC and the presidency are deliberately delaying it because of the general elections,” he said.
He alleged that it’s the Senate president that was supposed to inform INEC of the three vacant seats and was yet to do so.
“We have been expecting this since April when they resigned. However, I raised this issue three weeks ago but a source told me that the Senate president is yet to communicate to INEC on the vacant seats. And, by law, INEC can’t go ahead to conduct the by-election unless they were informed officially by the Senate president,” he said.
Vacancies being treated as APC’s internal affair – Lawyers
Dayo Akinlaja (SAN) said the APC could be treating the issue as an internal affair of the political party to activate the process for a bye-election, especially in the area of interfacing with INEC and sponsorship of a candidate for the position.
“But once there is nothing with an external body, and if they are not made for the constitution, it is the constitution that is made for the people,” he said.
For his part, Hameed Ajibola Jimoh blamed “negligence” on the part of the constituents and political parties for the failure to fill the vacant senate seats.
He said the delay may also be attributable to APC being the dominant party in the Senate, and as such, they were not expected to move the motion for the vacancy to be declared and for INEC to set in motion the conduct of a bye-election.
“Since the three vacancies do not affect the quorum of the Senate, they are not going to feel concerned, but it is for the constituency that is lacking representation to speak up and mount pressure on INEC to conduct fresh elections; or in the alternative, to resort to the court because it is undemocratic not to be represented,” he said.
Also, Abduhamid Mohammed (SAN), said the Constitution of the country has provided adequate remedies in such circumstances.
He said the voters in the constituency who elected the legislators concerned could take legal action in court if they were not docile
Senate, INEC mum
Contacted, the spokesperson for the Senate President, Ola Awoniyi, referred one of our correspondents to the chairman of the Senate Committee on Media and Publicity, Senator Ajibola Basiru (APC, Osun). When the lawmaker was contacted he said, “Please contact the INEC spokesperson.”
The Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee of INEC, Barrister Festus Okoye, told Daily Trust that he cannot comment on the matter until after the management meeting of the commission.
But three officials of the commission, who do not want to be named, said that the Senate President has not formally declared the affected seats vacant.