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Election rescheduling: beyond all doubts

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Nigeria Elections

Some of the decision-making methods generally employed by parliaments all over the world include voice voting, rising voting, show of hands, roll call, e-voting.

All except for voice voting, provides a means to directly measure the voting pattern of individual members of parliament.

Since inception of the 4th Assembly in 1999, the Senate has largely employed voice voting for practically all of its decisions with the notable exception of constitution amendment bills and rare cases of call for division.

Majorly, “Say Aye” and “Say Nay” have been the voting habit which sometime gets challenged and a call for division demanded by members who feel strongly that the Senate President, based on his discretionary interpretation of the relative decibel level of response has not dispensed his judgement fairly.

In his epochal and widely publicized legislative agenda, Senate President Bukola Saraki identified legislative best practices as one of the pillars of a comprehensive agenda at reforming the legislative business of government.

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Under this pillar, he promised an E-Parliament “using ICT in the regular conduct of legislative activities of the Senate, such that modern information communication tools will be used across the activities of the National Assembly” He went further to specifically declare that “the Senate will make e-voting a regular feature of Senate legislative business.

The adoption of E-Voting is to clear any iota of doubt on the credibility of the voting process in the Senate. The method will ensure transparency and accountability thereby restoring the credibility of the voting activities in the system.”

These are laudable initiatives and Dr. Bukola Saraki should be commended for offering these radial steps at reforming the way the business of the Senate is conducted.

The recent passage of the harmonization report on the order of elections which led to a walk out by 10 Senators brings to the fore the issue of transparency and public accountability in National assembly voting process.

One wonders why despite the promised voting reforms of Senator President Bukola Saraki, some of the recent sensitive decisions of the Senate have been dogged with controversy and protests by aggrieved Senators that the Presiding Officer is undemocratic and nursing a hidden agenda.

This is a serious allegation that could have been addressed if the proposed e-parliament envisaged by Senator Saraki had been implemented.

Parliamentary vote by roll call to enumerate those that say “yea” or “nay”, on specific issues provides verifiable and empirical record on how parliament voted.

It enables the general public, constituents and political parties to know how their representatives voted on issues of interest and concern to them.

This form of transparent and open balloting system is considered the best for any deliberative and parliamentary assembly that is accountable and responsible to a constituency.

Although Rule 73 of the Senate Proceedings provides for dissenting members to call for division to call for recorded votes, but under the proposed e-voting reform of Senate President Saraki, this should have been the rule of voting rather than the exception.

I believe this is the anomaly that the laudable declaration of Senator Saraki intended to address and reverse at the onset of his Senate Presidency in June 2015. Unfortunately, this is yet to happen in the eighth assembly.

There were many instances during the 7th Senate where I served, that I wished my choices on major issues were placed on record beyond the untraceable “Yeas or Nays have it” that characterized most of the decisions of that era.

Only during constitution amendments and a call for division by Senator Babajide Omoworare of Osun State did I recall the use of recorded voting during my four-year tenure of 2011-2015.

Calling for voting history of representatives to know their positions on important parliamentary debates is impossible as a result of this casual style of voting.

This makes it practically impossible to assess the quality of representation and how much parliamentarians toe party lines on policies and electoral promises. Voice voting, in my view, should be limited to simple decisions such as adoption of record of proceedings and the likes.

Other serious business of the parliament such as resolution of motions, passage of bills should be resolved through recorded voting

For a parliamentarian, the duty of representation, in my view, is superior to that of law making because you have to be elected first as a representative before being law maker, in other words, without being a representative you cannot be a law maker.

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Therefore, as representative of constituencies, Senators have the primary and sacred duty of advocating the priorities of their constituents and constantly balancing local and national interests, and providing the constituents feedback on the choices he or she makes on their behalf.

This is the soft underbelly of democracy and can only be measured if voting records of representatives are recorded and open for scrutiny and compliance trail by those whose mandate he or she carries and the party that gave it expression.

Part of the reasons for the current poor public perception of the National Assembly is largely due to poor understanding of their roles and the value attached to it.

The e-voting reform initiative proposed by Senator Bukola Saraki, if implemented, will give the media more work to do by creating a wider agenda of issue-based discussion on the deliberations of parliament and specific roles of individual parliamentarians and clusters of partisan and multiparty interest groups.

This way, we can further build public confidence in the institution and further demonstrate its value to our democracy as well as justify the cost of running parliament in a democracy.

This is why Senator Saraki’s e-voting reform must be revisited to address a critical need for transparency in our legislative practice, boost the peoples’ confidence in the parliament and deepen our democratic culture.

The public needs to be provided with relevant information to measure the quality of representation in the legislative chambers through transparent and responsible accounting of parliamentary votes.

This is why, as much as practicable, voice voting should never be allowed to become the popular method for serious decision making in the legislative chambers.

To the extent that it veils the voting identity of elected representatives, voice voting is fundamentally flawed and is a form of political corruption that should be discouraged in taking important decisions in the National Assembly.

As it has played out in the current issue of the bill on the amendment of the timetable for the 2019 elections, e-voting would have established attendance, whether or not quorum was formed and how members wish to vote.

Adoption of a voice call in such a sensitive issue is susceptible to controversies of the interpretational judgement of the Presiding Officer with the undesirable potential of promoting over time, the erosion of trust and confidence in the quality of decision emanating from leader of the deliberative assembly.

Worse still, it helps to mask the face, muffle the voice and veil the choice made by each representative, this can promote indolence and non-transparent representation. It reduces public accountability on parliamentary decision to unacceptable minimum and provides undesirable cover for truancy on the part of some representatives.

On the other hand, any other form of decision-making that maintains the record of individual choices provides transparent measure of the representative’s quality of decision making.

It becomes easy to know how the choices made by each representative hurt or promote the interest of their constituents, supports or undermines the policy preferences of their political parties.


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