Nigeria’s House of Representatives Friday passed the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, amid a walkout staged by opposition members, with the controversial Clause 52(2) intact, adding that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) “may transmit results of the election through electronic means where and when practicable”.
The Senate passed same bill on Thursday but added that the “Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) must certify that national coverage is adequate and secure, while the national assembly must approve,” before INEC can adopt E-transmission of results.
Yesterday, when the clause-by-clause consideration of the bill was being done, the deputy speaker, Idris Wase, who presided over the sitting, skipped clause 52, and said it would be revisited after all other clauses had been considered.
After the clauses of the bill were considered, Ndudi Elumelu, Minority Leader of the house, raised a point of order that clause 52 of the bill which stipulates the method of transmission of result be considered.
But Wase, said the clause could only be reconsidered, if a motion of rescission on it was moved.
Elumelu argued that there was no need for rescission, since the clause had not been ruled on.
However, Wase said the decision on clause 52 had already been taken.
At this point, the minority caucus protested and walked out of the chamber.
The bill should have been passed on Thursday but for the rowdy session which later led to some lawmakers engaging in physical combat.
Addressing journalists, alongside other opposition lawmakers after staging a walkout, Elumelu stated categorically that the man that spoke on behalf of the NCC told lies.
He stated: “I am happy that you are asking this question and that informs why I stood up to ask him whether this is his usual person because, in our opinion, he was telling lies. And because he was telling lies, I brought up an Act that gives room for funds to be made available for places not served by the USPF. And he agreed 100 per cent that I was correct.
Adding his voice, Deputy Minority Leader, Toby Okechuckwu said statistically, according to NCC reports, NCC had coverage for 109,000 polling units out of 119,000 polling units in 2018.
He said that means NCC did not have coverage for only 8,000 polling units.
He added, “That for me presupposes over 90 per cent coverage. Two, the reference that he made about 2G and 3G, each of these frequencies can transfer data. It is very clear. So what we are doing essentially is the rule of men and not the rule of our rules.”
Elumelu pointed out that the walkout staged by the opposition lawmakers showed that they were disappointed in the action of Wase.
He further clarified that the issue of electronic transmission of results has nothing to do with opposition lawmakers because Hon. James Faleke of the APC also brought an amendment in agreement that results should be manually and electronically transmitted.
He said, “The Nigerian people voted us to represent their interest. And in this electoral Act, we started very well, when it got to clause 52 (2), which talks about the electronic transmission of results, we could not agree as to the mode of accepting, whether to go for electronic transmission or not. In that process, the Deputy Minority Leader moved for an amendment. In his amendment, he posited that amendment should read that the next election should be by electronic transmission of results and eventually the chairman sitting (Deputy Speaker Wase) refused to listen to the amendment.
“The Speaker tried to intervene and when we could not reach an agreement we had to adjourn and a decision was reached by the House that we should invite the INEC and NCC to talk about their ability to ensure that our results are transmitted electronically all over the country.
“But to our greatest surprise, upon resumption this morning we found out that INEC was asked to stay back. We tried to inquire why, and they told us that it’s because they do not want INEC to be seen to be biased and that was why they deprived INEC of coming. In the NCC itself also, they asked the Executive Vice Chairman not to show up and thereby he resulted in asking somebody in the capacity of a director to show up. Even the Director himself couldn’t even substantiate issues.”
Elumelu said it was because Wase refused to allow them to move for recission on Clause 52(2) that forced them to walkout.
“We have no other choice than to say that we cannot be part of that fake process where they’re depriving Nigerians of their right for their results to be counted accurately. Because e-transmission will guard against rigging and votes can count. But what they’ve done is to discountenance our agitations that let there be transparency in the next conduct of our elections,” he said.
Elumeku said whatever they did was a nullity, while insisting that they would continue their agitation when they resume from their annual recess.
Also, the Chairman of the House Committee on INEC, Hon. Aisha Dukku, while briefing journalists said the House in its wisdom accepted the recommendation of the committee without alteration.
She stated: “What happened yesterday led to the adjournment of the House to today and by the ruling of yesterday. NCC was invited because they have the technical knowledge to inform us so that we make decisions with an informed mind. The experts came and enlightened us. What NCC confirmed is that we have 50 per cent coverage and we have 2G/3G and that’s not enough to transmit results. This is from NCC. We cannot afford to disenfranchise an eligible voter because each vote must count.”
On his part, Hon. Mark Gbillah said that, as an expert in the industry, transmission of results does not have to be by broadband.
He stated: “Let me, first of all, clarify that point further as a professional in the industry. First and foremost, when you talk about 3G and 2G and LTE, which he failed to mention, these are technologies that have to do with transmission by the Internet or broadband. Now transmission of results does not have to be by broadband. I am surprised that somebody who is supposed to be a professional in the NCC does not know that difference.
“This USSD function just uses the GSM network. That is all that we need. Like text messages that is all that is required to transmit results. We do not need internet service and we have more than 90 per cent coverage of that.
“And what the leader was saying about the USPF is something that this House has to investigate. In 2006, the Universal Service Provision Fund (USFP) started to collect 2.5 per cent of the profit after tax of the telecoms operators to date. And their function is to be able to provide coverage in underserved and unserved areas of this country.
“Nigerians need to know what has the USPF been doing? If in 2018, only 8,000 per cent units were not covered, by now obviously the telecoms operators on their own have covered it and if they say the operators have not covered it, USPF has enough funds. Six months is all it takes to cover 8,000 polling units. So there is no excuse for them to say that we cannot deploy or transmit results electronically. And I challenge the EVC of NCC to a public debate. I will personally be there to provide technical explanation and proof of what I am saying.”
At the resumed sitting on Friday, the NCC honoured the summons of the House to explain the practicability of electronic transmission of results.
Speaking on behalf of the NCC team, the Executive Commissioner, Technical Services, Engr. Ubale Maska said Nigeria does not have an adequate network covering the 119,000 polling units across the country to enable the seamless electronic transmission of election results.
He added that in all the polling units studied in 2018, only about 50% have 2G and 3G networks, stressing that the 4G network only exists where there is the 3G network, therefore making the coverage inadequate.