Ahead of the setting up of the harmonisation committee of the National Assembly which will unify the separate versions of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives, the Senate has hinted that it will stick to its version of the bill which seeks to limit the powers of INEC to transmit election results electronically.
In July, the Senate passed the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, one of whose provisions is that INEC must seek clearance from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and the National Assembly before conducting elections electronically and transmitting the results electronically.
However, the House of Representatives version of the bill gaves INEC the discretion to decide where and when to apply electronic voting and electronic transmission of election results.
On its part, the election management body, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has been insisting that it has the capacity to conduct election electronically and transmit the election results electronically in every part of the country.
INEC has also expressed worry that out of 98 proposed amendments to the electoral act it forwarded to the National Assembly which, it believes, will enhance electoral integrity, only few were considered by the federal lawmakers.
These positions came to light at the Yiaga Africa and EU-SDGN stakeholders’ roundtable on electoral reform which sought to assess the extent to which the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, as passed by both chambers of the National Assembly, reflects citizens’ aspirations and the prospects for citizens confidence in the electoral process.
LEADERSHIP Weekend reports that even though most Nigerians and leading civil society organisations (CSOs) in the country, including Yiaga Africa, Centre for Democracy Development (CDD), Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) and the Inter-party Advisory Council (IPAC) – the umbrella body of all political parties in Nigeria – have insisted on electronic voting and electronic transmission of elections results, curiously, the Nigerian Senate seems to be holding tenaciously to its opposition to their counterparts in the House of Representatives, INEC, CSOs and the general clamour by Nigerians who want INEC to retain the discretion to conduct the election electronically and transmit the results electronically.
Senate spokesman Ajibola Basiru hinted that when the Senate goes for the upcoming harmonisation of the electoral bill with the House of Representatives, it will not yield its position on electronic transmission of election results.
But the Senate, in a swift reaction, disagreed with its counterparts in the House of Representatives, INEC and the CSOs over the version of the electoral act that should be adopted.
Senate spokesman, Ajibola Basiru while addressing the concerns of INEC, said Section 68 (1) gave the commission the power to review election results declared under duress.
On the electronic transmission of results, Ajibola said the provision of the Senate had constitutional support, as he opposed the position being canvassed by most Nigerians.
“On the electronic transmission of results, I want to disagree with INEC, with Yiaga Africa and also with our colleagues in the House of Representatives.
“The provision of section 52 (3) as provided in the Senate version is not without constitutional support.
“The commission is to consider the electronic transmission of results provided the national coverage is adequate and secure by the NCC as approved by the National Assembly.
“The argument that INEC is independent in section 78 of the constitution stands out. But paragraph 22 of the exclusive legislative list, which is in section four of the constitution, gives the National
Assembly power to make laws and it includes the power to decide the mode of election. That is why section 52 states that there should be an open/secret ballot.
“INEC can now use its procedure to conduct the election to include electronic voting. But the argument on the electronic transmission of results which was brought by the Kabiru Gaya-led committee, which was approved by the House of Representatives, reads that the commissionwill transmit the election results by electronic means where and when practicable.
“With respect, I am a scholar in law and I have a PhD in Law – where and when practicable is nebulous, vague and gives evil discretion. In a local government, the mode for transmission of election results can vary.
“We feel: ‘why should we leave this important aspect to the discretion of the commission’. In fact, by article 52 we are meant to make laws. If INEC is totally Independent, there will be no need for us to make the electoral law. But the conference is coming and we won’t do what will bring injury to the electoral process,” Basiru added.
Meanwhile, stakeholders have expressed grave concern over the delay in transmitting the bill to the president for assent. They have called for a speedy setting up of a harmonisation committee of the electoral bill passed by both chambers.
Speaking at the Yiaga Africa and EU-SDGN stakeholders’ roundtable on electoral reform, the CSOs resolved that time was running out, just as they called on the National Assembly to expedite action in order to avoid a repeat of what happened in 2018 when President Muhammadu Buhari declined assent to the bill for coming late.
The director of programmes, Yiaga Africa, Cynthia Mbamalu said the leadership of the National Assembly should immediately constitute a harmonisation committee and ensure clause 52 (3) reflects electronic transmission of election results, adding that INEC is ready, and willing, to transmit the election results electronically.
According to Yiaga Africa, the version of the act passed by the House of Representatives should be adopted to enable INEC to do its work in the best possible manner.
“If you give power to the NCC to decide for INEC to transmit the election results electronically, it is unconstitutional because the constitution says INEC is independent.
“The version that should be adopted should allow INEC to use any electronic device to conduct elections.
“We don’t have time. We don’t want the incident of 2018 to be repeated where the president declined assent to the bill,” Cynthia said.
The CSOs at the Yiaga Africa programme agreed that the Senate version of Clause 43 that recognises “voting devices” alongside election materials, and Clause 49 that recognises “other technological devices” alongside Smart Card Readers for voter accreditation, and Clauses 63 and 76 which increase the penalty for sanctioning a presiding officer who contravenes the Electoral Act with respect to counting of and accounting for votes, announcement of results should be adopted.”
In the House of Representatives’ version, the CSOs said Clause 52 that gives INEC the power to determine the procedure for voting and transmission of election results should be adopted, adding that the Senate proposal is problematic and unconstitutional.
Yiaga Africa advised the executive to, as a matter of urgency, assent to the bill as soon as it is transmitted by the legislature.
“This will help the nation to deploy it (technology) and test run it in off-cycle elections before the 2023 general election. This will help towards identifying gray areas that may require further legislative actions,” the CSOs said.
On its part, INEC said as the main regulatory body, it recognised some lacuna in the electoral law and recommended 98 amendments but that a good number of them were not included in the Act.
INEC director of legal department, Oluwa Tosin Babalola, who represented the commission at the event, said the main motive of making the recommendations for amendments to the electoral act was to strengthen the electoral process and help Nigerians to have confidence in the process.
“The present bill gives us legal backing for the use of card readers; it is not giving us the right to transmit election results electronically,” she said.
According to her, the inability of INEC to take firm control of the electoral process because of the lacunas has led it to issue 111 certificates of return as a result of court orders.
INEC said it wanted the electoral amendment bill to be assented on time to enable it get early disbursement of funds to procure election materials and improve the timeline for voter registration in order to have enough time for objections and claims.