The controversial clause on the electronic transmission of election results as contained in the 2010 Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2021, may sail through without much furore as the National Assembly considers today the draft legislation, THISDAY gathered Wednesday.
The committees of both the Senate and the House of Representatives in charge of the bill yesterday submitted their reports during the plenary of each chamber, setting the stage for the passage of the bill.
THISDAY had on Monday exclusively reported of plots by All Progressives Congress (APC) senators to delegitimise future elections and undermine the nation’s democracy with their insistence on prohibiting electronic transmission of results.
Their moves had raised mounting concerns over what social critics called attempts by federal legislators to rig the 2023 general election ahead of time through the manipulation of the amendment bill.
But to counter their moves, opposition senators, especially from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), had mobilised to ensure not only the return of the controversial clause to the bill but that there would be no subterfuge in deciding on electronic transmission of election results when the bill is up for debate in the Senate.
However, THISDAY learnt that with the mounting clamour by the public for electronic transmission of election results, the opposition to it has begun to fizzle out as the federal lawmakers were said to have ended their weeks of partisan bickering to endorse the electronic transmission of results.
Ahead of the consideration of the bill today, THISDAY gathered that caucuses of the Senate met yesterday to agree on what their position should be.
The report on the bill was submitted at yesterday’s plenary by the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Senator Kabiru Gaya.
Shortly after the upper chamber rose from plenary, a meeting of the South-south caucus was held at Senate Committee Room 001 where senators across party divide agreed that the clause for the electronic transmission of election results as stipulated in the report should be sustained.
THISDAY learnt that the caucus resolved to push for the retention of Clause 52(1-3), which makes provision for electronic transmission of election results as contained in the report submitted to the Senate.
The South-east, North-central and North-east caucuses were said to be meeting at different venues to also take a position on the amendment bill.
Feelers from their meetings, however, showed that senators from the areas were not planning to upset the applecart on the endorsement of electronic transmission of results, despite the initial opposition of some of them.
Clause 52 of the bill, which was submitted to Senate and sighted by THISDAY, states: “52(1) Voting at an election under this bill shall be by open secret ballot.
“(2) Voting at an election under this bill shall be in accordance with the procedure determined by the commission, which may include electronic voting.
(3) The commission may transmit results of elections by electronic means where and when practicable.”
At the submission of the report to the Senate yesterday by Gaya, President of the Senate, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, accused Nigerians of embarking on ‘calculated blackmail’ against the leadership of the National Assembly over the bill.
He said he received in one day 900 text messages accusing him of manipulating the report of the committee.
He, however, advised Nigerians to lobby their senators on whatever input they have on the bill, which is to be considered and possibly passed today.
Lawan accused those he called mischief-makers bent on blackmailing the leadership of the National Assembly of sponsoring the allegation that the leadership of the National Assembly manipulated the contents of the bill.
He said: “On the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, there are various accusations, insinuations that the leadership of the Senate, some time, the leadership of the National Assembly had tampered with the report of the committee on INEC of both chambers.
“Some of those accusing the leadership of the National Assembly and misinforming innocent people are simply mischievous and rabble-rousers.”
Lawan urged Nigerians to lobby lawmakers on any aspect of the bill they feel strongly about, insisting that the National Assembly would do only what is right when it eventually considers the bill.
He said: “If anybody feels very strongly about anything, lobby distinguished senators to canvass your position, rather than blackmail our leadership.”
He stated that the attempts by some people to blackmail the leadership of the Senate and House of Representatives resulted in the publication of his phone number and that of the House Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, on various online platforms.
This, he added, resulted in the invasion of his privacy with him receiving over 900 messages accusing him of manipulating the contents of the amendment bill.
“My telephone line and that of the honourable speaker were published. In one day, I received over 900 messages saying we have manipulated this, we didn’t. We will do what is right, we have our procedures and lobbying is part of democracy,” he said.
He added that the National Assembly can only consider aspects of the amendment bill contained in the committee’s report.
“This is the first time this report is laid here. This is the decision of the Committee on INEC and, therefore, whatever will be discussed or considered about the Electoral Act Amendment Bill will be on the basis of what has been presented to the Senate here,” Lawan said.
The House of Representatives also received the report on the electoral bill.
The report was laid by the Chairman of the Committee on Electoral Matters, Hon. Aisha Dukku (APC Gombe).
Presenting the report, she said: “That the House do receive the report of the Committee on Electoral Matters on a Bill for an Act to Repeal the Electoral Act No. 6, 2010 and Enact the Electoral Act 2021, to regulate the conduct of federal, state and area councils in the Federal Capital Territory elections; and for Related Matters.”
The House is expected to consider the clauses of the bill today for possible passage, before lawmakers vacate for their summer holiday.
Gbajabiamila had promised during the consideration of the report on the Petroleum Industry Bill, the penultimate week that the lawmakers would pass the electoral bill into law before proceeding on their annual vacation.
Meanwhile, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) yesterday called on senators and members of the House of Representatives to shun partisanship and vote in the national interest on Section 50 (2) of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, to legalise electronic transmission of results.
The party said it had learnt of plots by certain interests to reject the electronic transfer of results by both chambers of the National Assembly today.
The PDP, in a statement yesterday by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, said every Nigerian, particularly the federal lawmakers, should work on improving the electoral process in order to engender free, fair, transparent and credible elections.
According to it, there is no part of Nigeria or any local government headquarters that communication network does not exist and function, to warrant the exclusion of electronic transmission of election results from the law.
It said: “It is imperative to add that with the technology proposed by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), even where the network is slow, it does not stop the transmission process from arriving at the collation centre.”
The PDP urged the lawmakers not to allow themselves to be swayed by anyone or any interest bent on conducting the election in the manipulative manner as desired by undemocratic elements.
The party called on all Nigerians to remain at alert and be ready to use every legitimate means to resist the plot to strangulate the electoral process.
Deji Elumoye, Chuks Okocha and Udora Orizu in Abuja