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2023 in jeopardy as Electoral Act amendment splits National Assembly

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[FILES] President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan (left), and Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege. Photo/facebook/DrAhamdLawan1

NCC, Lawmakers to take over INEC’s mandate on electronic transmission of results
• 52 for electronic voting, 28 against, 28 absent as Senate passes amendment bill
• Gaya votes against own report
• Abaribe, Boroffice, Ordia, Olujimi, Aduda among Yes voters
• Omo-Agege, Ndume, Tinubu, Kalu, Adeola, Bamidele voted No
• Reps exchange blows over the electronic transmission of results
• PDP, Tambuwal condemn Senate’s position on re-transmission

It was a raucous scene at both chambers of the National Assembly yesterday, over the mode of transmission of results by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on election day.

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Trouble started when the red chamber attempted to amend Clause 52(3) of the new Electoral Act. The joint National Assembly Committee on INEC and Electoral Matters had recommended that INEC should reserve the power to transmit results by electronic means where applicable on the day of the election.

However, the Senator representing Niger North, Sabi Abdullahi, said the power to determine the practicability of electronic transmission should be saddled with the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) with the approval of the National Assembly. This almost split the red chamber apart.

Abdullahi had sought for an amendment to the clause saying, “the commission may consider electronic collation of results provided the national network coverage is adjudged to be adequate and secured by the NCC. This means ceding some of the jobs of INEC to NCC and the National Assembly.

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This was against the amendment sought by Senator Bassey Akpan, which was also the same as the recommendation by the INEC Committee that presented the report, which indicated that INEC may transmit results of elections by electronic means where and when practicable at its discretion.

There was a commotion when the Senate President put the amendments sought by Abdullahi to voice vote and he ruled in favour of the Niger Senator. Lawan’s action further fueled the anger of many Senators, mostly from the Southern part of the country and this led to a stalemate that lasted over 20 minutes. The development forced the Senate President to call for a closed session.

The ruling All Progressives Congresses (APC) Senators kicked and voted against the electronic transmission of results. The Senators considered the bill, which had 158 clauses, clause after clause until all clauses were dispensed with.

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During the voice vote, the nays had it as the minority leader challenged the ruling by the President of the Senate calling for order 73, which means division. The order states that any Senator may challenge the opinion of the President or the chairman’s ruling on a voice vote by claiming a division on any matter.

Apprehensive of the consequences, the leadership of the Senate embarked on a division and swiftly resorted to pleading with the minority leader to blackout, but Senator Abaribe refused to be coerced.

In the end, the voting went ahead with members voting according to party lines. Most of the opposition Senators who never wanted to be seen to go against the Senate President took to their heels before the voting commenced.

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After the voting, results indicated that 52 Senators voted for Abdullahi’s amendment while 28 voted for Akpan’s amendment and 28 were absent, making a total number of 80 votes out of 109 Senators.

Senator Kabiru Gaya, Chairman of the Senate Committee on INEC, which recommended the clause, also voted against his own report, same for Senator Opeyemi Bamidele.

Members of the Committee on Communications had earlier informed the chamber that the NCC had declared that only 43 per cent of the country was currently under effective telecommunications coverage.

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Attempting a clarification on the proceeding, Senate spokesman, Senator Surajudeen Ajibola Basiru, said the report that the Senate rejected electronic transmission of election results was misleading. According to him, also misleading is the claim that APC Senators rejected electronic transmission of results.

Basiru said what was in contention and for which the Senate called for the division was the wording of Section 52(3) of the proposed Electoral Act and not that results would not be transmitted electronically. “Nobody rejected electronic transmission of results. What was voted against was the nebulous wording of Section 52(3) as initially proposed.

“Section 52(3) as originally recommended provides: The Commission may transmit results of elections by electronic means where and when practicable.’ The amendment agreed on eventually is: ‘The Commission may consider the electronic transmission of results provided the National Network Coverage is adjudged to be adequate and secure by the National Communication Commission and approved by the National Assembly.”

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But not many observers agree with his attempt to modify what happened in the public glare.
HOWEVER, the House of Representatives yesterday failed to reach a consensus on the propriety of deploying the electronic devices to transmit results in the 2023 general election.

The development, which pitted the lawmakers against one another irrespective of their political and regional affiliations for over three hours forced the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, to summon heads of the NCC and INEC chairman to brief the House on the feasibility of the usage of electronic transmission in 2023 poll. Gbajabiamila directed the duo to appear before the House today by 10:00 a.m.

Trouble started after the Deputy House Minority leader, Toby Okechukwu, sought an amendment to clause 52(2) of the proposed amendment to the Electoral Act, calling for the transmission of results electronically. Okechukwu’s motion was seconded by the Deputy Chief Whip, Mrs Nkeiruka Onyejeocha.

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Deputy Speaker of the House, Ahmed Wase, who presided over considerations of the report on the Electoral Act amendment bill, in controversial circumstances, ruled against the deafening voices of proponents of the proposed reform, which appeared to have eclipsed the voices of those opposed to the idea.

Wase’s decision threw the House into a rowdy session for over three hours as proponents of the proposed reform, spearheaded by Okechukwu, rejected outright the decision with a call for a head count in the spirit of openness and transparency.

Some unidentified lawmakers were overheard saying “what sort of nonsense is this?”; “We can’t continue like this”; “Students still fill JAMB and WAEC forms in Yobe and Borno, so we can’t accept this excuse.”

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Prior to the voice votes, Wase had canvassed the understanding of the House to be wary of endorsing electronic transmission of results since troubled states of Yobe and Borno are at the receiving end of activities of the Boko Haram insurgency.

Wase’s explanation was roundly rejected by proponents of the reform to the Electoral Act.
Moves by James Faleke (APC, Lagos) to douse tension with a middle course amendment to clause 52(2) seeking the usage of both manual and electronic transmission of results also met a brick wall.

Even the persuasive voice of Speaker Gbajabiamila enjoining the House to adopt Faleke’s position was not enough to sway the position of lawmakers clamouring for electronic transmission of results.

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Before the stalemate on the matter, two of the lawmakers on opposing sides, Ifeanyi Momah (APGA, Anambra) and Yusuf Gagdi (APC, Plateau) threw caution to the wind, poured invectives at each other and even exchanged blows.
MEANWHILE, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has expressed shock at the position taken by the Senate on the transmission of election results. It stated that the decision by the APC-led Senate would seriously undermine the electoral process.
 
The party said it was sad that the Senate refused to approve the demand by Nigerians across the board for electronic transmission of election results without conditionalities. 

In a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, the PDP said: “The action of APC Senators is an atrocious assault on the sensibilities of Nigerians, who looked up to the Senate for improvement in our electoral process in a manner that will engender free, fair and credible process.

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“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 NCC, an agency under executive control in addition to an extra endorsement of the legislature, before conducting elections.”    

The opposition party said the 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 yesterday, Chairman of the PDP Governors’ Forum and Governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, said “the decision of the Senate to subject INEC’s constitutional power to conduct elections to the NCC and National Assembly is patently unconstitutional.”

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In a swift reaction to the passage of the Electoral Act by the Senate, Tambuwal, who is a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, 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 INEC.”

Tambuwal further pointed out that: “In the Third Schedule, Part 1, F, S.15, INEC has the power to organise, undertake and supervise all elections. The Constitution further provides that INEC operations shall not 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 the power to flesh out the legal framework but that has to be consistent with the Constitution. The Senate decision to subject INEC’s constitutional power to conduct elections to NCC is consequently patently void, unconstitutional and unlawful,” the governor stressed.  

He, however, commended the decision of the House of Representatives to call on INEC to address the House and nation on its readiness by 2023 to deploy electronic transmission technology for our elections.
 
The statement added: “In any case, I still believe that the best option is to leave this matter in the hands of INEC. We admonish INEC to be solely guided by national interest and the desire of all Nigerians for a credible, free and fair elections in using its constitutional powers and in the deployment of error-free technology.”

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