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High drama in NASS over electronic transmission of election result

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Lawan. Photo; TWITTER/DRAHMADLAWAN

The passage of the 2021 electoral amendment bill, especially clause 52(3) by the National Assembly has continued to generate controversy among Nigerians seeking electronic transmission of election results by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), as one of the ways of ensuring free, fair and credible elections.

Specifically, Clause 52(3) stated that the electoral body may transmit results of elections by electronic means where and when practicable at its discretion became the bone of contention.

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But Senator Sabi Abdullahi representing Niger had sought for the amendment to the clause to read, “The commission may consider electronics collation of results provided the national network coverage is adjudged to be adequate and secured by the National Communication Commission (NCC), and approved by the National Assembly”. 

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 that said the Commission may transmit results of elections by electronic means where and when practicable at its discretion.

But the Senator Abdulahi’s amendment ceding some INEC jobs to NCC and National Assembly scaled through the Senate.

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While the Senate was boiling, the House of Representatives almost became a boxing ring as disagreements over the clause.

However, the lower chamber was appeared more circumspect in dealing with clause 52(3) as they passed the 2021 electoral act amendment leaving electronic transmission of results in the hands of INEC. 

The electoral act with 158 clauses was however reduced to one issue, which has to do with clause 52(3) as the senators threw caution to the wind to amend Clause 52(3) of the 2021 electoral amendment bill to bring NCC into the loop by determining whether there would be satisfactory network to deploy the electronic means of transmitting results. 

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They did not stop there; they also arrogated to themselves the power to approve what NCC will certify thereby, becoming the judge in their own matter.

Section 78 of the Constitution gives INEC power over the procedure of elections, not NCC or the National Assembly.

Clause 52(3) in the act, which provided that electronics collation of results can be deployed where and when possible by INEC was amended during the consideration of the report by the Senate Committee on INEC chaired by Senator Kabiru Gaya. 

The outrage and outright rejection that have trailed the passage of the 2021 Amended Electoral act by Nigerians is a pointer to the fact that the Lawmakers did not feel the pulse of Nigerians on the matter.

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Order 73 invocation by Senator Eyinaya Abaribe 
DURING voice vote at the Senate on the clause, the nays had it as the minority leader challenged the ruling by the President of the Senate, Ahmed Lawan, 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 before the upper legislative chamber”. 

Order 73 invocation had always rattled the 9th Senate leadership each time Lawan is being challenged. 

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The Senate leader and Lawan resorted to pleading with Abaribe to drop the order but he did not bulge as he said he was not dropping his invocation, adding that it was not for him to win but to expose senators’ lack of commitment to their representatives over electronic voting.

The Minority leader had also opened up to say that most of his colleagues betrayed him after he lobbied them on the importance of electronic voting provision in the electoral act, hence he called for a division, to expose them to the world.

A close ally of the minority leader who spoke to newsmen gave details of how Abaribe lobbied but was betrayed. 

It was gathered that Abaribe had a special section with PDP senators on the electoral amendment bill, over the clauses, especially on electronic transmission of results, to stop the menace of election rigging in Nigeria.

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The senator’s confidant said: “They all agreed to support electronic transmission as he also lobbied most APC senators, who saw reasons with him, for election accountability, and the need to have a free and fair election in Nigeria.

“Many agreed and gave him their word, to support the use of electronic transmission of results, when the clauses are deliberated upon on the floor.

“When Sen Kabiru Gaya got information that Sen Abaribe was flowing well with most senators, APC/PDP inclusive, and had got their support on electronic transmission of results, he allegedly ran to the Presidency to scuttle the plan.

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“He activated Aso Rock connection on senators. Secret financial promises were allegedly made to senators in PDP and APC. Some PDP senators were promised soft landing if they will decamp to APC, and support non-use of electronic transmission of results, which they said will make their election seamless and easy to win in the future.

“To assure Senators of their promises, the promoters arranged an emergency dinner session with President Buhari, at the villa, where all 109 senators came face to face with Mr President. Cash was allegedly disbursed to those Senators willing to take, in dollars, but they all kept denying it.

“The Senate president who was ready to do the bidding of the President’s men agreed to a voice vote of ayes and nays, but that the nays should have it. Having known the kind of person Senator Abaribe is, and fearing the worst, some Judas in PDP, decided to abscond.

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“They were at the Villa to honour President Buhari’s emergency dinner section with senators, but couldn’t attend the senate sitting on the most important day of our nation’s electoral history.

“Those APC Senators who gave Abaribe their words started acting strangely after the dinner. So when it got to the electronic transmission of results clause in the electoral amendment bill, as usual, the rubber stamp Senate president called for those in support to say Aye, and those against to say Nay.

“And he was quick to say, the nays have it, and it was obvious they had it. But Senator Abaribe wanted history to vindicate every one of them, and posterity to judge those who betrayed and robbed the nation of her only chance to have credible, free, and fair elections. 

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“So Lawan called for a division of the Senate where everyone will vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’, according to their conscience, and the results will be made public for history to judge.

“He wanted to expose all those that voted against the people’s wish, and for the world to see those that betrayed by absenteeism.” 

CURIOUSLY, many of the senators that stayed away from voting have started defending their actions. They said they stayed away because the report presented, which they were part of the committee that recommended INEC to be the umpire to determine when and where to deploy electronic collation differed from the amendment that brought NCC and NASS into the loop.

Result after voting showed that 52 senators voted for Senator Sabi Abdullahi’s amendment while 28 voted for Senator Bassey Akpan’s amendment, 28 were absent, a total number of votes, 80 out of 109 senators. 

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Senator Kabiru Gaya, who is the chairman of the Senate Committee on INEC, which recommended the clause also voted against his own report, so also Senator Opeyemi Bamidele.

The voting pattern showed commitment to party decisions to the detriment of a clause many believed would guarantee free and fair elections.

Speaking on the issue, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Barrister Jivrin Okutepa said, “there is no way the majority of the present crop of members of the National Assembly will pass any law or legislation that will ensure electronic transmission of results of elections. 

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“I am not surprised and nobody is upset that the Senate has subjected the power of INEC to do its constitutional duties to NCC and even the National Assembly when it comes to transmission of election results electronically. 

“First majority of Nigerian politicians cannot win free, fair and credible election in this country. While the Nigerian government pretends to be practicing democracy, what we have is a system of government cannot be a democracy. It is an assemblage of a system that has all the attributes of Apartheid. 

“In Nigeria, sovereignty does not belong to the people. So any laudable system that can guarantee that sovereignty returns to people will be scuttled and resisted by those who have forced themselves on us as our lawmakers when in actual definition they are daily breaking our laws. 

“My learned friend Abdul Mahmud made the point that no one with knowledge in constitutional construction can fault. 

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“This is what he wrote: ‘Before INEC can transmit electronically, NCC must adjudge national coverage is adequate and secure, and National Assembly must approve”. 

“The above proviso of Section 52(3) of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021 is in conflict with Section 78 of the Constitution 1999, Section 78 of the Constitution 1999 provides: 

“The registration of voters and conduct of elections shall be subject to the direction and supervision of INEC. Direction here simply means ‘The act of governing; management; superintendence’ of elections, while supervision means the state of being in charge of elections; “regulating and monitoring elections”. 

The powers granted to NCC and NASS under S.52(3) of the Electoral Act are thus in conflict with Section 78 of the constitution.  Section 52(3) is void by virtue of Section 1(3) of the 1999 Constitution as amended. 

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“Abdul has made a very valid point. Honestly, I see primordial partisan, selfish interest in the whole process. Our political class does not want free, fair, and credible elections in Nigeria. 

“The reasons are not too far-fetched. They don’t want accountability at the next elections because the majority of them have nothing to show for being in the National Assembly and even at the executive levels for these years.

“So there is what I see as a legislative conspiracy against free, fair, and credible elections in Nigeria. There are plans for elections in Nigeria to remain perpetually not free, fair, and credible. 

“Furthermore those who parade and masquerading around as democrats are true, despots and not democrats. That also accounts for the reason why you cannot see internal democracy in any of the existing Nigerian political parties. 

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“Clearly the Nigerian judiciary must come to the aid of Nigerian democracy. The outright rejection of card reader machines and the results generated therefore by the judiciary in Nigeria is one of the greatest disservices the judiciary has done to Nigerian democracy. 

“Those decisions have not only emboldened the political class to impose themselves on us using thugs and thuggish approaches, but it has led to what I called gunshots and helicopter democracy in which those who lost elections imposed themselves on us and were declared and imposed on the people. 

“For me I did not see how the National Assembly can make law for free, fair, and credible elections in Nigeria when law making in Nigeria in most cases is based on selfish interests of those in power instead of the nationalistic interest of Nigeria as a country. It is a pity.

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“Many of the senators have been doing rejoinders in the media to say they are not against electronics transmission of results when they voted and the proceeding was a live broadcast for the entire world to see. Party politics has messed up everything, as many of them never thought of the consequences of their action. 

“They have been blaming the media for misrepresenting the facts but failed to blame themselves for playing to the gallery. As the name implies Independent National Electoral Commission as an electoral umpire does not need NCC, or National Assembly to know how to go about its own mandate. Based on the amendment to clause 52(3), INEC would no longer be independent. 

“Recent elections in Edo and Ondo States proved that INEC that recommended the electronics voting knows how to go about it. To this end, the Center for Rehabilitation and Social Integration in Africa (CReSIA) a nongovernmental organization said,

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“The use of ZPAD to transmit results electronically in the Edo and Ondo elections helped in no small measure to give credibility to our elections and was applauded by all. 

“We want to recognise the effort of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), headed by Professor Mahmood Yakubu and his credible team of commissioners amongst the likes of commissioner Mike Igini of Akwa Ibom State, Prof Sam Egwu, (Niger State) and others for bringing innovative technology into our electoral system in other to make it more credible.

“The Senators have also succeeded in giving President Muhammadu Buhari reason to refuse to sign the electoral act into law as it happened just before the 2019 election. 

“The lawmakers argued blindly, saying they have no network in their communities hence the new technology should not be deployed.“One will wonder, are they saying Nigeria should continue to take the back seat in the committee of nations who have since gone beyond this level?

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“So they are not thinking in the direction of working on the same page with the executive to see how such infrastructure as the masts can be deployed for investors to provide the network all over the country?
“They forgot so quickly how the then President Goodluck Jonathan allowed card readers to be deployed in 2015 which paved way for APC to win the election by defeating an incumbent who willingly conceded defeat without litigations. 

“No doubt, some gains were recorded in the 2015 general elections when the fear of the card reader was the beginning of electoral wisdom, as the then ruling PDP that introduced it was curtailed from rigging the election.

“The 2015 election was adjudged by both international and local observers to be fair, credible, and free in the history of the country. However, in the other rerun elections and the 2019 general elections, the card reader was demystified and rigging became more blatant and brazen. 

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“This was owing to the fact that President Buhari refused to sign the amended electoral act in 2019, saying it was too close to the election”.

“The end result was a sham election that was dogged by ballot box snatching, use of AK47 and Helicopter to thwart the will of the people for which many Nigerians lost their lives.

FORMER Corps Marshal and Chief Executive of Federal Road Safety Corps and former Minister of Aviation, Osita Benjamin Chidoka said: “I couldn’t imagine the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria voting against the electronic transmission of results. I am not only disappointed, it is a disgrace, all those who stayed away from voting are a disgrace to their constituencies. 

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“All those who voted ‘no’ to electronic transmission, in a country where we do JAMB through CBT, the Passport is electronic, the driver’s license is biometric and electronics you can renew it online. So I don’t think the government of the day in all honesty can say that there is any part of Nigeria today where you don’t have POS, people dispense money across Nigeria, where there is no ATM machine dispensing money. 

“The Senate has disgraced the National Assembly, has whittled the hope of Nigerians and I hope that they will reverse themselves.  I don’t know how that would happen but the House of Representatives should not go the way of the Senate. I don’t think this is good for Nigeria, it is an embarrassment in a country where foreigners are putting money people are coming to invest in Technology. Nigeria is one of the biggest recipients of technology funding”. 

Senator Alex Kadiri, who represented Kogi East between 1999 and 2003 said, “It is my prayer that nobody turns up to change the government by force. They are doing so many things that are driving us in that direction. What the National Assembly did was nothing but self-preservation. As a senator, I used to be chairman of the Senators Forum, but I do not agree with the decision of the National Assembly. Both chambers are dragging their feet.”

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