The issue of Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018 once again led to discontentment and fireworks among some members of the House of Representatives over a provision in the new amendment on a possible use of “any other technological device” in an election where the card reader fails or malfunctions. TUNDE OGUNTOLA writes
Political uncertainty may yet claim the latest efforts aimed at amending the electoral reform act which is seemingly becoming a high profile victim ahead of the 2019 general elections. The political hurdles that the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018 still needs to scale may be significant considering the current tension among members of the House of Representatives. The new provisions need to be passed in the exact form by the House of Representatives before presidential assent which will confirm them as law hitherto the refusal to assent the bill. After years of unsuccessful attempts, the current amendments are aimed at instituting more reforms in the electoral process and make it freer, fairer and credible. It would be recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari for the third time declined his assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2018, alleging irregularities following contentious issues such as the election sequence, announcement of election results, submission of fake voters card, voting process, among others as pointed out by Mr. President. It is evident that all hands must be on deck to ensure that the new amendment to the 2018 Electoral Act is passed without hitches, considering the significant roles that free, fair and credible elections play in the nation’s nascent democracy and as the firm foundation on which to build a solid and stable house for it. While some observers are of the view that President Buhari’s earlier rejection of the amendments to the Electoral Act will definitely undermine the 2019 elections; for example, the issue of the card reader, which dominated the last elections in the courts, others opine would not adversely affect the credibility of the elections if the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) provides a level playing field and other stakeholders, such as the political parties, party supporters, voters and our security officials maintain neutrality. The national coordinator of the Atiku Global Support Group (AGSG) Alhaji Gambo Jagindi, insisted that the passage of the Electoral Act remains sacrosanct, premised on the fact that getting a practical document and guideline to moderate elections remains one particular way through which politicians wage secret battles against credible polls in Nigeria. Jagindi, however, seeks quick passage of the act by the National Assembly. He added that if President Buhari eventually rejects the amendment, then the credibility of the 2019 elections would be in doubt. Last Wednesday’s amendments are the most ambitious and wide ranging attempt at further enhancing the provenance of electoral conduct in Nigeria. But, the reservation of some members of the House of Representatives who expressed displeasure over a provision in the new amendment to the 2018 Electoral Act, on a possible use of “any other technological device” in an election where the card reader fails or malfunctions. Recall that the National Assembly’s joint committee on electoral matters had in its recommendation, began consideration in clause 16 (2) which gave a provision to the effect that where the electronic smart card reader repeatedly fail, or malfunction, an alternative technological device “as may be prescribed” by the INEC may be deployed for purpose of voter’s accreditation.
Kicking against the suggestion however, chairman of the House Committee on Ethics and Privileges, Hon. Nicholas Osai, said the suggestion mght be open to any form of manipulation, and thus should be “completely deleted to prevent the use of something that is not known to us”.Ossai’s further suggested that the phrase, “any other technological device” be expunged as stated in clause 16 of the act attracted the division. His argument was based on clause 16 which states that a smart card reader or any other technological device that may be prescribed by the commission, for the accreditation of voters, to verify, confirm or authenticate the particulars of the voter in the manner prescribed by the commission. His submission was countered by Majority Leader, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, who argued that laws had to be made with some level of flexibility, adding that the card reader of today might be phased out for another device tomorrow. Several other members yet expressed discomfort with the provision, citing inconsistency with Clause 16 (1), which had recommended the use of card reader, with a condition that election in any polling unit shall be cancelled where the reader fails up to three hours to the end of election, and a repeat slated within 24 hours. An uproar ensued that led to a staged walk out of some lawmakers. But, Gbajabiamila insisted that the provision should be retained, for whether if it is there or not, INEC has been given the constitutional power to organize elections, “and so there is nothing we can do, even if it introduces another device”. This was greeted with a thunderous shout of “no” by some members. Deputy Speaker, Hon. Yusuf Lasun, who presided over the report consideration in a committee of the whole, appeared to be in a fix, and subjected the matter to voice votes, but could not determine whether it was the “ayes” or the “nays” that had the majority. Lasun, after more contributions from mostly lawyer-members on the floor, appealed to his colleagues to be very careful, “because this is a serious matter that shape our lives’’, as he was yet to put a question when calm returned and ruled in favour of the “ayes”, a development that momentarily put proceeding on hold over members’ protests. However, clause 16 sub section 3 of the proposed amendment act states that In a case where the smart card reader malfunctions, another fresh election shall be conducted within 24hrs was argued but scaled through second reading. On paper, Nigeria has some of the most robust electoral rules of any emerging democracy. Unfortunately, most of them are primarily observed in the breach. A prime illustration of this trend is the campaign financing rules under the current Electoral Act 2010. The Act provides spending curbs for all electoral contests in the country. However, there is anecdotal evidence from the 2010 and 2015 elections that the primary political parties all breached their upper spending limits Any form of political antics, gimmicks and acts antithetical to achieving that is anti-people must not be allowed to hold sway. In spite of several misgivings against our brand of democracy here in Nigeria, with the rich and powerful hijacking of the political space, its benefits skewed in favour of the political class, policies and programmes not emanating from the collective wishes of the vast majority of the largely illiterate electorate, it still remains the hope of the people, Nigerians inclusive. For now, the National Assembly stood down the Electoral Act Amendment Bill till Tuesday next week. This decision followed the tension the new amendment generated and apparently to avoid a repeat of it.