The Senate on Thursday passed the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, 2021 during which it also stripped the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) of the exclusive powers to transmit election results electronically.
However, the House of Representatives could not pass the electoral act amendment bill because of some contentious issues.
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Even in the Senate, members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and those of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) were at each other’s throats on the practicability or otherwise of transmitting election results electronically, a development that made other important provisions in the bill less prominent during the debate. While most APC members supported legal backing for transmitting election results with a caveat, many PDP expressed reservations.
The Drama at the Senate
The Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, 2021was passed after a clause-by-clause consideration of the report of the Committee on Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The Red Chamber approved electronic transmission of results during elections provided that: “The national network coverage is adjudged to be adequate and secured by Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and approved by the National Assembly.”
The approval followed an amendment to Clause 52(3) by Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi (APC, Niger) and seconded by Senator Ali Ndume (APC, Borno South).
The committee, in its report, recommended that INEC “may transmit results of elections by electronic means where and when practicable.”
Both lawmakers argued that the recommendation by the committee for electronic transmission of results would disenfranchise some Nigerians in areas with poor or no network coverage.
However, effort to restore the earlier provision in the contentious section by Senator Albert Bassey Akpan (PDP, Akwa Ibom), through a motion was unsuccessful.
Senate President Ahmad Lawan ruled against the Akpan’s motion after voice vote, a situation that resulted in another rowdy session in the Red Chamber.
The Senate president struggled to restore order but the uproar continued, forcing the Senate into an executive session, which lasted for about 20 minutes.
After emerging from the closed session, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe invoked Order 73 of the Senate’s rule and called for division.
Attempt by the Senate Leader, Yahaya Abdullahi, to appeal to Abaribe to withdraw the order 73 was not successful.
Abaribe demanded that the contentious clause be revisited despite a couple of further appeal by the Senate president for the upper chamber to continue with the consideration of the report.
Lawan approved the request for division amidst calls for voting on the retention of the earlier provision put forward by Senator Bassey. Our correspondent observed that the vote went along party line.
Out of a total of 80 senators present, 28, who belong to the Peoples Democratic Party voted for ‘Bassey Amendment’ while 52, all from APC voted against. 28 senators were absent. Those who voted for the amendment said INEC, as an independent institution, should not be made to be dependent on another authority in carrying out its mandates.
Those who voted against argued that the rate of internet coverage in the country was still low, saying retaining the provision in the report would disenfranchise millions of Nigerians, especially those in rural areas.
‘No victor, no vanquished’
After the passage of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, the Senate president, in his remarks, said, “There was no victor, no vanquished in this affair. Everyone did what he or she did for the full commitment and realization that what we want is one and the same thing, but the paths we have taken are different.
“We want an electronic transmission system for our electoral process, however, we want to ensure that no Nigerian is disenfranchised in this process, and time will definitely come when all part of Nigeria will have the coverage that we all need to deploy our technology to ensure electronic transmission of election results.
“This has come to settle the issue of what INEC can do and what INEC cannot. We have given INEC an electoral Act amended to enhance its performance.”
Decision not sacrosanct – Senate spokesperson
Senate spokesperson, Senator Ajibola Basiru, while briefing reporters, said going by the provisions of the bill, electronic transmission of results during elections was not sacrosanct.
He said, “Electronic transmission of results it is just permissive not compulsory. Nobody has said INEC must do electronic voting, we only give permission to them if they so desire to be able to do so,” he said.
Why I voted against my panel’s report – Gaya
Chairman of the Senate Committee on INEC, Senator Kabiru Gaya (APC, Kano), also explained why he voted against the recommendation in the report.
He said, “If you prepare something and you later saw an improved version of it, you can go for it. There is nothing wrong if the chairman of a committee support the amended version of a report he presented.
“It is not possible as it is to transmit election in one part of the country and refused to do so in other part. It has to be uniform,” he said.
Reps fail to pass electoral act, PIB
The House of Representatives was thrown into commotion on Thursday as lawmakers protested and exchanged blows over contentious aspects of the electoral act amendment bill and the petroleum industry bill scheduled for consideration and passage.
The commotion and brawl that trailed the consideration of Electoral Act Amendment forced the Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila to abruptly adjourn the House to 10 am today for continuation of consideration of the report.
Daily Trust reports the contentious aspect of the Electoral Act Amendment is mainly on Clause 52 (2) which deals with electronic transmission of results while that of the PIB is on the issue of 5% accruals voted for host communities.
The lawmakers were divided over electronic transmission of results resulting in protests and brawl in the House.
The rowdy session began prior to the arrival of the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila and the disagreement continued even after he entered the chamber, forcing him to ask the House to go for an executive session.
After returning, he asked that the House divide into the “Committee of the Whole” to consider the report on the electoral act amendment clause by clause which was presided by the Deputy Speaker, Ahmed Idris Wase.
Wase took the clause by clause of the electoral act amendment from clause 1 to 51 which were adopted and voted after some amendments without many altercations.
However, trouble started when clause 52 which has to do with electronic transmission of results was called for consideration and adoption.
Daily Trust reports that Clause 52 (1) says: “Voting at an election under this bill shall be by open secret ballot; while Clause 52 (2) says: “Voting at an election and transmission of result under this bill shall be in accordance with the procedure determined by the commission.”
Prior to the consideration of Clause 52(2), many members raised objections and called for amendments of some of the clauses in the bill.
Rep. Shehu Koko (APC, Kebbi) moved for an amendment to clause 52(2) to read that voting should be done electronically while transmission of results should be done manually but was trailed by a thunderous shout of “no” from lawmakers.
On his part, Toby Okechukwu (PDP, Enugu) moved for an amendment to Clause 52 (2) to read that “Voting and transmission of results shall be by electronic transmission” and was seconded by Nkeiruka Onyejeocha (APC, Abia).
When it was put to voice vote, it received an overwhelming “ayes” but Wase ruled that the “nays” have it, a situation which threw the House into another commotion with lawmakers standing up to protest the decision.
Wase while speaking against the electronic transmission of results argued that the entire country was not yet covered by broadband and as such, there would be issues with electronic transmission of results.
He particularly wondered how electronic transmission of results would be practicable in parts of the North East where telecommunications masts have been destroyed by the Boko Haram terrorists.
However, there was confusion and shouting match among lawmakers for close to 30 minutes as they refused to return to their seats for the proceeding to continue.
While the commotion raged, Kingsley Chinda (PDP, Rivers) raised a Point of Order under Order 9, saying that members who supported electronic transmission had formed their opinion, so others should be allowed to form their opinion and the issue be decided by voting. At this point, the House was forced to revert to plenary after which the Speaker stepped in to abruptly adjourn the House.
“We are adjourning this House till tomorrow 10 am. We will have the INEC Chairman and NCC to brief us. The INEC chairman and the NCC will be here to brief us tomorrow morning on Section 52,” he said.
Action insult on INEC’s independence – Jega, CSOs
Speaking on the development, a former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega, said that the lawmakers’ action would undermine the independence of INEC and the nation’s democracy.
“This is a senseless if not crazy amendment,” he said.
“It would undermine the independence of INEC. How can you make the decision of INEC subject to confirmation, concurrence or approval of NCC, a body under the presidency? And what has the National Assembly, a legislative body got to do with an executive decision of INEC?
“Rather than grappling at the straws, the senators should just do the right thing and allow INEC the discretion to introduce electronic voting and electronic transmission of results when appropriate,” Jega said.
On her part, the Director, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Idayat Hassan, said, “I personally do not think that this is an amendment…It is a proposal to further shackles INEC from its independence. It is not liberating…It is limiting INEC’s powers and is completely unacceptable. It is basically like the Senate is now tying the INEC to the National Assembly apron strings. It is retrogression and not a progression that Nigerians desire.”
Also, the Executive Director, Yiaga Africa, Samson Itodo, said that the Senate simply voted against the Nigerian people.
“The Senate’s resolution will undermine and limit INEC’s discretionary powers. When you undermine the commission in this manner, the resultant effect is apparent vulnerability of the commission to undue interference by incumbents,” Itodo said.
The Executive Director, Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED), Dr Ibrahim Zikirullahi, said that electronic transmission of results was desirable as one way to improve the integrity of the electoral process.
“What the Senate did is to try to have a middle ground. It would also have been a problem if electronic transmission is cast in stone and challenges such as poor connectivity affects the ability of the umpire to transmit results electronically.
“The middle of the road approach could prove a prudent step to prevent disruptions in the electoral process down the line. It is therefore good that electronic transmission has not been ruled out completely. It is now up to citizens and civil society to ensure the electoral process is closely observed to ensure its integrity and credibility,” Zikirullahi said.
Reacting, the President of the Public Interest Lawyers League (PILL), Abdul Mahmud, said the provision inserted into Section 52(3) of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill is in conflict with Section 78 of the Constitution which provides that “the registration of voters and the conduct of elections shall be subject to the direction and supervision of INEC”.
According to him, “The ordinary meaning of Section 78 is plain, clear and simple: only INEC has the powers to manage, regulate and supervise elections into the offices stated in the Constitution. Thus, no inferior Act of NASS can abridge or enlarge the powers of INEC under Section 78 without an amendment of the very Section 78.
“Section 52(3) of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill is void by virtue of Section 1(3) of the Constitution 1999,” he said.
APC senators in haste to murder democracy – PDP
Responding, the PDP said it was shocked over the decision of the APC-led Senate to undermine Nigeria’s electoral process by refusing to approve Nigerians demand for electronic transmission of election results without conditions.
The party in a statement by its spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, also described the action of the APC senators as an atrocious assault on the sensibilities of Nigerians, who looked up to the Senate for improvement in electoral process in a manner that will engender free, fair and credible process.
“It is outrageous that the APC and its senators, in their desperate bid to annex INEC seek to route a statutorily independent commission to the approval of an individual masquerading in the Nigeria Communication Commission (NCC); an agency under executive control in addition to an extra endorsement of the legislature, before conducting elections.
“This action of the APC senators is a direct affront, novel in its recklessness and a defilement of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), which clearly conferred operational independence to INEC to conduct elections, free from interferences and regulations from any other agency of government,” it said.
By Abdullateef Salau, Itodo D. Sule, Balarabe Alkassim, Abbas Jimoh & John C. Azu