Senators voted along party lines yesterday while considering the contentious Clause 53 in the Electoral Act Amendment bill that seeks to provide for electronic transmission of election results.
Fifty-two senators, all of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), voted against the obligatory transmission of election results, while 28 voted for it during the clause-by-clause consideration of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021. Twenty-eight others were absent, with the Senate president, Ahmad Lawan, saying they were away on national duty.
LEADERSHIP reports that there has been a contention over clause 52 (3) which seeks to provide for electronic transmission of election results with earlier reports raising concerns that it might have been struck off the bill.
But during the consideration of the electoral bill yesterday, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was given the discretion to decide where and when it should conduct election electronically, the same manner with the transmission of results.
During the voting in which 28 senators were absent, the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) was empowered to determine where and when electronic transmission of results should be done.
Senator Eyinnaya Abaribe (PDP Abia South), during the clause-by-clause consideration of the report of the Senate Committee on INEC chaired by Senator Kabiru Gaya (Kano South), called for a house division to enable lawmakers vote on Clause 52 (3) of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021, because the Senate failed to reach a compromise.
Abaribe’s move was sequel to calls for the amendment of the section by Senators Abdullahi Sabi (APC, Niger North) and Albert Bassey (PDP, Akwa Ibom North East).
Senator Sabi had sought an amendment to Section 52 (3) which read: “The Commission may transmit results by electronic means where and when practicable.”
The Niger North lawmaker had prayed the Upper Chamber to amend the section to read, “that the Commission may consider electronic transmission of election results provided the network coverage in the area concerned is adjudged to be conducive for transmission of results, by the National Communication Commission (NCC).
Senator Bassey on the other hand had sought an amendment to reflect that INEC may allow for Electronic Transmission of results where and when practicable.
Attempt by the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, to rule in favour of Senator Sabi’s clamour was strongly rejected by the Minority Leader, Eyinnaya Abaribe (PDP, Abia South) and some lawmakers who rose from their seats despite repeated calls by the leadership of the Senate for calm.
Arising from this, and to douse tension, the Senate President called for an executive session.
Soon after the closed-door session, the Senate Minority Leader Abaribe insisted on Order 73, which called for division of the upper chamber to enable single voting on the issue by each senators on whether the House would adopt either of the amendments by Senator Bassey or Senator Sabi.
Following Senator Abaribe’s call for a division, Ali Ndume (APC Borno South) called for caution, warning that lawmakers must be wary of the relationship in the last two years.
“It is not a good sign after two years of the Ninth Assembly to go into division. We must guard against this, and understand that today’s debate on the Electoral Act is in the interest of the nation,” he added.
Ndume’s submission was closely followed by remarks by Senator Opeyemi Bamidele whose remarks were however opposed by other lawmakers.
According to him, no lawmaker here is opposed to INEC handling electronic results transmission. “But we must consider the constitutional provisions on INEC’s role so we don’t buckle things.”
Opposing Senator Bassey’s amendment, the lawmaker representing Abia North, Orji Uzor Kalu cautioned Abaribe (Abia South) over demands for electronic transmission of election results.
He disclosed that the South East state had neither stable electricity or sufficient telecommunication coverage to guarantee efficient transmission of results.
Others who voted against Bassey’ move argued that Nigeria was not ripe for electronic voting and transmission of results.
During the division, the Senate President urged the Clerk to alphabetically call out names of lawmakers for an ‘Aye’ and ‘Nay’ vote.
Accordingly, of 109 Senators, 28 voted “Aye” to Senator Albert Bassey’s call that “INEC may allow for Electronic Transmission of results where and when practicable while 52 voted against the move, bringing the total vote to 80.. However, 28 senators were absent.
The section which was amended now empowers NCC and National Assembly to determine application of electronic voting and transmission of result during elections, as against the earlier provision which empowered INEC to decide on electronic voting and transmission of election result.
In his remarks, the Senate President explained that the 28 absentees were on official oversight functions in national interest.
Lawan further said: “We have gone through probably the most rigorous process we ever had. We at one point had to go through a division, but that is democracy – no hard feelings, and I’m sure that Nigerians will appreciate the depth of concern by all of us here.
“Those who voted for amendments and those who voted against, each one of us did so out of conviction for what we believe will be better for this country.
“In this case the Electoral Amendment Bill has now been passed by the Senate and we expect that the House of Representatives, our counterparts will do the same.
“If in any case we have even if it’s a single difference between our version and theirs, there will be a committee to harmonise, the conference committee.
“If however, there is no difference between what we have passed here and what they would have passed in the House, this Bill will now be sent to Mr President for his Presidential assent.
“But I want to assure all Nigerians that what the Senate did was to show serious concern and care about the divergent views of Nigerians on the election process in this country.
“All of us want to see an election process that is all inclusive, that is fair, that is equitable and just to everyone, whether someone is in the city or in the villages or in the hamlets.
“I wish INEC the best and Nigerians to support INEC at all times to ensure that our elections are done quite in time without postponement due to one reason or the other.
“We pray that this bill will guide the 2023 general elections so well. And we hope to have a better and more improved election process in 2023.”
While presenting the report of the committee earlier, the chairman of Senate Committee on INEC, Gaya said that their mandate was to holistically address all issues affecting the conduct of free, fair and credible elections in the country.
He said: “Owing to the challenges experienced in the 8th National Assembly as it relates to the Amendment of the Electoral Act, the 9th National Assembly decided to adopt all-encompassing approach in the 2021 Amendment process, by having the Senate and House of Representatives Committees on INEC and Electoral Matters work together as a joint committee.”
Addressing newsmen after the plenary, Senate spokesman, Senator Ajibola Basiru explained that the lawmakers tried to persuade the Minority Leader, Abaribe, to have a change of mind.
He said that the lawmakers supported electronic transmission of election results, but provided the network is adequate as adjudged by NCC, and subject to the approval of the National Assembly.
He further explained that all over the world, there is nowhere there is total network coverage, adding, “do we lie to look good in the eyes, people?”
He added that if the Senate had left the provision of where and when practicable, it would leave room for abuse.
He explained that NCC was not an arm of the APC, adding that even if electronic voting will be used in 2021 or 2023 elections, it is not compulsory.
Section 52(3) of the recommendation provides:
“The commission may transmit results of elections by electronic means where and when practicable.”
The amendment to Section 52(3) agreed on after voting is:
“The commission may consider electronic transmission of results provided the national network coverage is adjudged to be adequate and secure by the National Communication Commission.”
The Senate, after the passage of the bill, adopted the Votes and Proceedings and adjourned till 14th of September, 2021 for its annual recess.
We Did Not Reject Electronic Transmission of Results – Senate
The Senate has pointed out that the reports by some sections of the media that the Senate has rejected electronic transmission of election results is misleading, as well that APC Senators rejected electronic transmission of results.
Making the clarification in Abuja yesterday, Senate spokesman, Senator Surajudeen Ajibola Basiru said what was in contention over which the Senate called for a division was the wording of Section 52 (3) of the proposed Electoral Act and not that results would not be transmitted electronically.
Dr. Basiru, reacting to some publications, said “Your report is misleading, Nobody rejected electronic transmission of results. What was voted against was the nebulous wordings of Section 52(3) as initially proposed.
The Senate spokesman said that Section 52 (3) as originally recommended provides that “The Commission may transmit results of elections by electronic means where and when practicable.”
He said the amendment agreed on eventually is ” The Commission may consider electronic transmission of results provided the National Network Coverage is adjudged to be adequate and secure by the National Communications Commission and approved by the National Assembly.”
APC Senators In Haste To Murder Our Democracy – PDP
Expectedly, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has accused the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC)-led Senate of plotting to undermine the nation’s electoral process by refusing to approve the demand by Nigerians across board for the electronic transmission of election results without conditionalities.
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 the country’s electoral process in a manner that will engender free, fair and credible process.
The PDP said it noted the efforts being made in the House of Representatives and urged lawmakers to return to the chamber today and save the nation from the machinations of the APC as being shown in the Senate.
The national publicity secretary of PDP, Kola Ologbondiyan said It is outrageous that the APC and its Senators, in their desperate bid to annex the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), sought to route a statutorily independent commission to the approval of an individual masquerading in the Nigeria Communication Commission (NCC), an agency under executive control, in addition to an extra endorsement of the legislature, before conducting elections.
He said, “This 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 on INEC to conduct elections, free from interferences and regulations from any other agency of government.”
Senate’s Position Unconstitutional – Tambuwal
In his reaction, Sokoto State governor, Aminu Tambuwal, said the decision of the Senate to subject the power of INEC to conduct elections to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), and National Assembly was unconstitutional.
Tambuwal who was former speaker of the House of Representatives said 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 the Independent National Electoral Commission”.
He added that in the third schedule, part 1,F, S.15, INEC has power to organise, undertake and supervise all elections, adding that the constitution further provides that INEC’s operation shall not be subjected to the direction of anybody or authority.
Tambuwal in a statement said, “Unquestionably, 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 power to flesh out the legal framework but that has to be consistent with the Constitution.
“These constitutional powers have been solely and ‘Exclusively Prescribed by the Constitution to INEC, and Cannot Be Shared With the NCC’, or any other Authority, and certainly not a body unknown to the Constitution. The Senate decision to subject INEC’s constitutional power to conduct elections to NCC is consequently patently VOID, unconstitutional and unlawful.”
Northern Youths Back e-Transmission Of Results
Meanwhile, rising from a three-day stakeholders consultative tour of the North-East Zone, the Northern Youth Leaders Forum (NYLF) has urged INEC to transmit results of subsequent elections electronically.
In a statement signed by its national president, Comrade Eliot Afiyo, yesterday and made available to our correspondent, the group also viewed the Lagos declaration by the Southern Governors demanding a Southern President in 2023 as a deliberate and intentional scheming to project the political interest of a few individuals against the collective national interest.
Reps In Free-for-all Over Electoral Act Amendment, PIB
The House of Representatives abruptly adjourned plenary till today (Friday) amidst crisis arising from the clause-by-clause consideration of legislative items on the ongoing amendment to the Electoral Act.
The House had planned to proceed on annual recess yesterday but was forced to abruptly adjourn the plenary as lawmakers were engaged in a shouting match that threatened to degenerate into a free-for-all.
The House also stepped down consideration of the report of the conference committee of the National Assembly on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB).
Before the House resumed plenary, information from the proceedings of the Senate revealed that the conference committee adopted 3 per cent operation costs of oil companies for the host communities. This angered some lawmakers from the South-South who shouted “5 per cent or nothing” on the floor of the House.
With this, the atmosphere was tense and the House was set for a stormy session.
When the plenary resumed, the House went into an executive session for about an hour after which the speaker asked the chairman of the special ad-hoc committee on PIB, Tahir Monguno, to step down the report.
It is however not clear whether the report will be considered today.
The proceedings of the House were eventually disrupted for several hours three consecutive times as lawmakers, mostly from the south, complained about the ruling of the deputy speaker regarding votes on whether the electronic transfer of election results should be allowed.
The House, however, invited the chairman of the INEC, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, and the executive vice-chairman of the NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, to advise on the situation.
Wase who is, by the rules of the House, chairman of the committee of the whole, had conducted voting on the clause-by-clause consideration of the report without a hitch until it was time to consider clause 52 which borders on the mode of transmission of the election result.
Deputy minority leader, Hon Toby Okechukwu moved for an amendment to the clause to accommodate changing the keyword from “may” to “ shall” in “The Commission may adopt electronic voting or any other method of voting in any election it conducts as it may deem fit” to “shall”.
Okechukwu’s motion was seconded by the deputy minority whip, Nkeiruka Onyejeocha.
When the motion was put to a vote, the voices of those in support outweighed those against, but the deputy speaker decided otherwise. This threw the House into the first rowdy session.
During the crisis, some lawmakers, such as Hon. Boma Goodhead from Rivers, were seen approaching the chairman and pointing fingers whilst uttering words the deputy Speaker considered insulting.
When normalcy was restored, Wase in his reaction said: “As legislators, we are at liberty to lobby ourselves on issues. But I take exception to people coming here to insult me on an issue. Yes, it happened! It happened!”
Wase, while explaining the reason behind his position, noted that there were parts of Nigeria without the needed technology to support electronic voting.
“Today, in Nigeria I don’t know the coverage of broadband. Have we been able to cover all parts of the federation that we now want to put it in. I don’t know. But I am bold to say, you can go and verify. In my Constituency, we don’t have more than 20 per cent coverage.
“We are all saying this clause should go, and let me say it here that when we make laws, we don’t just make them for ourselves in this room. I am for electronic voting and everything that comes with it. But I am bold to ask those who are saying we should transmit election results via electronic means, what about our brothers and sisters in Maiduguri, Yobe, and the rest?”
At this point, the member representing Ikeja federal constituency, Hon James Faleke moved for another amendment to the clause to accommodate both electronic and manual modes of election transmission.
Hon Kingsley Chinda, from Rivers, raised a point of Order 9(6) noting that any matter that had been decided cannot be revisited. He said the only option was to ask the chairman to divide the House so that the votes could be taken via headcount.
The Speaker, Femi Gbajabimila, however, corrected Chinda, saying the voting on Hon Okechukwu’s motion cannot be reversed but motions on similar issues can be entertained many times over.
“We have to explore all possibilities. Hon Chinda got it wrong when he said you have ruled on this matter. Let me say it clearly that you have not ruled on this matter. The amendment by Hon Faleke is for electronic and manual. Which is a different issue. By our procedure the question must be put, ” Gbajabiamila said.
House leader, Ado Doguwa countered the Speaker for trying to cover the issue with semantics. He insisted that as far as the rule book of the House was concerned, the gavel had dropped on the clause and as such cannot be revisited through the back door.
The member representing Epe federal constituency, Hon Wale Raji, then went ahead to second Faleke’s motion and it was put to vote. Again, when the voice vote was conducted, it went the same pattern in favour of the “Ayes” but the deputy speaker maintained his stand and ruled in favour of the “Nays”.
This threw the House into the second rowdy session and forced the House to revert to the plenary without concluding the business of electoral act amendment at the committee of the whole.
Wase asked the House leader, Alhassan Doguwa to move a motion returning the House to plenary following the unresolved crisis.
“House leader, please move a motion to revert to plenary, we cannot continue with this situation, let us go and adopt what we have done,” Wase said.
But when the deputy speaker, Idris Wase was reading the report of the committee of the whole, he mentioned the controversial clause 52
This led to another round of protest and altercations on the floor with Hon. Bem Mzundu from Benue, Kpam Sokpo from Benue, Mark Terse Gbillah also from Benue and Hon. Ifeanyi Momah from Anambra, all quarreling and shouting, just as Hon. Yusuf Adamu Gagdi had to be physically restrained to prevent him from attacking the opposing colleagues.
The speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, after taking the gavel announced that continuation of work on the report would be today from 10am.
PIB: 3% For Host Communities Stand As Senate Passes Committee Report
Meanwhile, the Senate has passed the conference committee report of the Senate and House of Representatives on the Petroleum Industry Bill, 2021, retaining three percent of actual operating expenditure in the preceding calendar year in respect of all petroleum operations for host communities development.
The passage followed the approval of the recommendations contained in its conference committee report on a Bill for an Act to Provide Legal, Governance, Regulatory and Fiscal Framework for the Nigerian Petroleum Industry, the Development of Host Communities and for Related Matters, 2021.
The upper chamber adopted three percent as contribution to the Host Communities Development Fund recommended by the conference committee.
While the Senate passed three percent for host communities in the PIB, the House of Representatives jerked the figure up to five percent in its version.
Some PDP Senators from the South-South such as Seriake Dickson and George Thompson Sekibo protested the retention of three percent for host communities in the conference committee report.
Sekibo intimated the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, and other Senators of his decision to abstain from voting, as doing so, he said, “will put my neck on the line.”
The conference committee report was, thereafter, passed after its consideration by the upper chamber.