Despite the independence conferred on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) by the 1999 Constitution (as amended), on the conduct of elections, the Senate Thursday passed the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, which requires the commission to seek clearance from the Nigerian National Communication Commission (NCC) and the National Assembly before deploying electronic transmission of election results in any area.
By the decision, the National Assembly, statutorily designed as a law-making organ of government, seeks to assume powers to approve a decision exclusively within the purview of the executive arm of government.
The senators, with marching orders from their party, All Progressives Congress (APC), buckled and deployed their majority in the Senate to weaken the quest for electronic transmission of poll results in the 2023 election cycle
Senators from the ruling party, with two opposition lawmakers who broke ranks with their party, at the consideration of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, voted 52 to 28 to amend clause 52 of the bill that would have empowered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to transmit election results electronically during the 2023 general election.
Twenty eight other senators were absent to cast their votes. But THISDAY gathered that many of them were in the chambers before voting begun.
The senators’ tactical rejection of electronic transmission of election results drew flaks yesterday from a Sokoto State Governor, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal; the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); the Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere; the pan-Igbo socio-political organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, and some senior lawyers.
But the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) endorsed the senators’ action.
If the House of Representatives concurs with the Senate in passing the clause, INEC would require the permission of the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) and the National Assembly before it could transmit election results electronically.
The House couldn’t conclude the legislative process of passing the bill yesterday due to commotion over allegation that the presiding officer, House Deputy Speaker, Hon. Ahmed Wase, was trying to rig the voice votes in favour of opponents of electronic transmission of results.
Yesterday’s proceedings at the Senate confirmed THISDAY’s exclusive report on Monday of plot by APC senators to delegitimise future elections and undermine the nation’s democracy with their insistence on prohibiting electronic transmission of results.
Sources told THISDAY last night that while some of them were ready to shift ground on Wednesday to vote for electronic transmission of election results yesterday, they had to fall in line when the party ordered them to water down clause 52.
It was gathered that the APC leadership, a few hours to the commencement of plenary, directed the Leader of the Senate, Senator Yahaya Abdullahi (APC Kebbi North), to inform the party’s members to amend clause 52 of the bill to mandate INEC to seek NCC’s nod before it could transmit election results electronically in a particular area.
During the consideration of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021, containing 154 clauses, it was looking like a smooth passage for the draft legislation until the senators got to clause 52(3) of the bill, that provided for electronic transmission of election results.
The stage for partisan bickering among senators was set when Senator Abdullahi Sabi (APC, Niger North) sought an amendment to clause 52 (3,) which read inter alia “The Commission may transmit results by electronic means where and when practicable.”
But he prayed the Senate to amend the section to read, “that the Commission may consider electronic transmission of election results provided the network coverage in the area concerned is adjudged to be conducive for transmission of results, by the National Communication Commission (NCC).”
Senator Albert Bassey (PDP Akwa Ibom North East) countered with a motion that the amendment should reflect that INEC may allow for electronic transmission of results where and when practicable.
Attempts by the President of the Senate, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, to rule in favour of Sabi’s motion was rejected by the Senate Minority Leader, Senator Senator Eyinnaya Abaribe (PDP Abia South), who called for a division of the senators to vote on clause 52 (3) of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill.
Abaribe, egged on by other like-minded colleagues, rebuffed attempts by APC senators and Lawan to withdraw his motion for division.
To douse tension, Lawan called for an executive session.
But after the closed-door session that lasted for about 40 minutes, Abaribe insisted on Order 73, which called for division of the upper chamber to enable voting on any contentious issue by each senator.
The ruling party put more pressure on Abaribe to recant his position with Senator Ali Ndume (APC Borno South) warning that lawmakers must be wary of anything that would affect cohesion in the Senate.
Senate Chief Whip, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu (APC, Abia), cautioned Abaribe over demands for electronic transmission of election results.
He claimed that the South-east had neither stable electricity nor sufficient telecommunication coverage to guarantee efficient transmission of results.
Others who voted against Bassey’s motion said Nigeria was not ripe for electronic voting and transmission of result.
Though the Senate leader and Senator Opeyemi Bamidele (APC Ekiti Central), separately made spirited efforts to make Abaribe withdraw his motion on division, the minority leader stood his ground.
Thereafter, Lawan told the senators that those in favour of amendment made by Abdullahi should say No, while those for the counter amendment made by Bassey should say yes.
At the end of the voting, which lasted for about 40 minutes, a total of 80 senators participated, out of which 52, voted for the amendment made by Abdullahi, and 28 voted for the original provision of the clause.
As announced by the Clerk, 28 senators were absent during the division and voting session.
However, sources told THISDAY that some of the absentee senators were in the chambers before the commencement of voting and excused themselves later.
Among those who didn’t vote were Senators Theodore Orji (PDP, Abia), Gabriel Suswam(PDP, Benue North East), Ifeanyi Ubah (YPP, Anambra South) and Stella Oduah (PDP, Anambra North), who are under investigation and trial by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for alleged corruption.
Also, all the three senators from Ogun State were not around at the beginning of the voting, the same way two out of the three senators from Oyo State left the chamber before the commencement of voting.
In his remarks after voting, Lawan explained that the 28 absentees were on official oversight functions in national interest.
He said: “We have gone through probably the most rigorous process we ever had. We had at a point had to go through a division, but that is democracy. No hard feelings and I’m sure that Nigerians will appreciate the debt of concern by all of us here. Those who voted for amendments and those who voted against, each one of us did so out of conviction for what we believe will be better for this country.
“In this case, the Electoral Amendment Bill has now been passed by the Senate and we expect that the House of Representatives, our counterparts, will do the same. If in any case we have even if it’s a single difference between our version and theirs, there will be a committee to harmonise, the conference committee. If, however, there is no difference between what we have passed here and what they would have passed in the House, this bill will now be sent to Mr. President for his presidential assent.
“But I want to assure all Nigerians that what the Senate did was to show serious concern and care about the divergent views of Nigerians on the election process in this country. All of us want to see an election process that is all inclusive, that is fair, that is equitable and just to everyone, whether someone is in the city or in the villages or in the hamlets.
“I wish INEC the best and Nigerians to support INEC at all times to ensure that our elections are done quite in time without postponment due to one reason or the other. We pray that this bill will guide the 2023 general elections so well. And we hope to have a better and more improved election process in 2023.”
Addressing newsmen after the plenary, Senate spokesman, Senator Ajibola Basiru, said the lawmakers tried to persuade Abaribe to have a change of mind.
According to him, the lawmakers supported electronic transmission of election results, but provided the network is adequate as adjudged by NCC, subjected to approval of the National Assembly.
He added that all over the world, there is no where there is total network coverage.
Meanwhile, THISDAY learnt that many of the Southern senators who voted against electronic transmission of election results broke their pledge to Southern governors to support the system.
The Southern governors, rising from a meeting in Lagos on July 5, had, among others, called for the inclusion of electronic transmission of election results in the Electoral Act Amendment Bill.
Sources told THISDAY that Chairman of the Southern Governors’ Forum and Ondo State Governor, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu, later met with senators from the region to extract a commitment from them to support the forum’s position.
Afenifere, Ohanaeze, Tambuwal, PDP, SANs Knock Lawmakers
Reacting to the decision of the senators, the PDP yesterday expressed shock over the decision of the Senate to undermine the electoral process by refusing to approve the demand of Nigerians for the electronic transmission of election results without conditionalities.
PDP said in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, that the action of the APC senators was an assault on the sensibilities of Nigerians, who looked up to the Senate for improvement in the electoral process in a manner that will engender free, fair and credible process.
The party said: “It is outrageous that the APC and its senators, in their desperate bid to annex the Independent National Electoral Commission (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.”
Also, National Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, Jare Ajayi, described the decision of the Senate as disappointing.
“By voting against electronic transmission of election results, most senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria have clearly shown that they are democrats only when they are favoured or when it suits them.
“Of the 109 members, whopping 28 were absent when such an important decision was going to be taken. It was disgraceful.
That the voting pattern, for and against, cut across party line was a further proof that when it comes to taking decisions on important national issues, the driving force for most politicians would be ‘self’ rather than what would best serve the people,” he stated.
The Ohanaeze Ndigbo also lampooned the Senate for rejecting electronic transmission of results.
In a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Chiedozie Alex Ogbonnia, the organisation said the action cast a doubt on both the image and quality of the lawmakers in the upper chamber.
“The essence of electronic transmission of results is to put to an end to such things as manipulation of results, thuggery, stuffing of ballot box and other forms of electoral malpractices.
“The Senate of any country should always be futuristic, statesmanly and answerable to the public conscience and posterity,” it added.
On his part, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr. Ahmed Raji said: “Credible election is very crucial to the sustenance of democracy. Electronic transmission of results will boost the credibility of the election and invariably good governance”.
He stated that INEC is supposed to be independent in line with constitutional provisions. “Any law that attempts to compromise the independence will be unconstitutional.
“Any law requiring INEC to be liaising with a body like NCC and the National Assembly will appear to be unconstitutional as such law directly interferes with the independence of INEC,” he added.
On his part, Professor Konyinsola AJayi (SAN) said the excuse given by lawmakers who voted against electronic transmission was not tenable because Nigeria currently boasts the best penetration rate and internet reach.
“NCC is a regulator and not an operator; therefore, one cannot fathom why anyone will say that NCC should be the one to decide how election results are transmitted.
“In the first place, with advancement in IT, deployment of telecommunication in Nigeria, we have one of the best penetration rate, in terms of internet reach.
“To think it will be fair that there should be no election transmission of election results from polling units is a shame,” he said.
Also reacting, the Governor of Sokoto State, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, faulted the manner the Senate decided the issue of electronic voting, describing it as unconstitutional
In a statement he signed, the governor, who was House of Representatives speaker, said the decision of the Senate to subject INEC’s constitutional power to conduct elections to the NCC and National Assembly was unconstitutional.
He said: “For the avoidance of doubt, Section 78 of the Constitution provides that ‘the registration of voters and the conduct of elections shall be subject to the direction and supervision of Independent National Electoral Commission.
“In Third Schedule, Part 1,F, S.15: INEC has power to organise, undertake and supervise all elections. The constitution further provides that INEC operation is not to be subject to the direction of anybody or authority.”
According to him, the mode of election and transmission are critical parts of the conduct, supervision, undertaking and organisation of elections in Nigeria.
“Of course the National Assembly has power to flesh out the legal framework but that has to be consistent with the constitution,” he added.
However, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) said it supported the Senate’s rejection of electronic transmission of elections results as it may it may “short change” some voters.
Spokesman of the forum, Mr. Emmanuel Yawe, also expressed concern about the capability of INEC to cover the whole country.
Yawe, in an interview with THISDAY, said: “If the electronic transmission will work throughout Nigeria, fine – that is our preference.
“But if by using it, we are going to shortchange some Nigerian voters, then we support the decision by Senate.
“We have no objection to electronic transmission. We are, however, more concerned about the capability of INEC to cover the whole country”.
At the House, the clause-by-clause consideration of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill degenerated into an uproar among lawmakers.
The disagreement forced plenary activities to be halted for about four times.
It was during the stormy session that lawmakers threw caution to the wind and engaged in physical combat, especially between Hon. Ifeanyi Momah (APGA/Anambra) and Hon. Sheu Koko; Yusuf Gagdi (APC/Plateau) and Hon. Mark Gbillah.
The clause-by-clause consideration was almost enjoying smooth sailing in the House until they got to Section 52(2) of the proposed legislation which gives discretion to the INEC to adopt electronic voting or any other method of voting in any election, as it may deem fit.
To amend the section, Hon. Sheu Koko moved a motion that under Section 52(2), accreditation and voting should be done electronically, while collation should be done manually, but lawmakers rejected the motion.
The Deputy Minority Leader in the House, Hon. Tobi Okechukwu, however, moved a different motion, suggesting that voting, accreditation and transmission of results shall be done electronically.
The Deputy Speaker of the House, Hon. Idris Wase, who presided over the consideration of the bill, put the motion moved by Okechukwu to vote, but while the ‘Ayes’ had it, Wase ruled in favour of the ‘Nays’.
It was at this point that the chamber became rowdy and the lawmakers who voted in favour of electronic transmission of results left their seats and moved towards Wase’s seat to protest against the injustice.
After normalcy returned about 40 minutes later, Wase warned that he would not take exception to lawmakers approaching his seat to insult him.
He stated that as parliamentarians, they should conduct themselves, adding that language conduct is important.
Wase said: “I make bold to ask, those who are insisting that you must transmit electronically, what about our brothers in Borno and Yobe?”
But the Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, interjected, and suggested that the lawmakers should vote individually to properly settle the matter.
In his submission, Hon. Onofiok Luke (PDP Akwa Ibom) said the lawmakers should vote, bearing in conscience the interest of Nigerians who gave them the mandate to represent them.
However, the House Leader, Hon. Ado Doguwa, cited the rules of the House that when a matter had been ruled on, it could not be revisited.
On his part, the Minority Leader, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu (PDP Delta) supported Gbajabiamila’s suggestion, saying it was in order.
Wase, however, ignored Elumelu’s suggestion and opted for a voice vote on Hon. James Faleke’s suggestion.
For the second time, he again ruled in favour of the “Nays” despite “Ayes” having the majority vote.
After Wase’s ruling, the plenary again became rowdy as the proponents of electronic transmission again left their seats and moved towards Wase to protest.
It was during the heated arguments among lawmakers that it degenerated to physical fighting.
Doguwa therefore moved that the House return to plenary but his motion was voted against by the members.
When it appeared that the situation was getting out of hand, Gbajabiamila ruled that the adjourned till today for the consideration of the controversial Section 52(2) of the proposed legislation.
Deji Elumoye, Chuks Okocha, Alex Enumah, Adedayo Akinwale, Udora Orizu in Abuja, Christopher Isiguzo in Enugu, John Shiklam in Kaduna and Kemi Olaitan in Ibadan