Fresh controversy is beginning to trail the provisions of the Senate and that of the House of Representatives ahead of conference committees to harmonise the contentious versions of the Electoral Act Amendment Bills passed by both chambers in July, 2021.
While the electoral act is one of the key legislative agenda of the 9th Assembly, there has been disagreement over the mode of transmission of the election results by both Chambers, Civil Society Organisations and the umbrella body of all political parties in Nigeria, Inter-party Party Advisory Council (IPAC).
The Senate passed the electoral act amendment bill providing that INEC must seek clearance from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and the National Assembly before conducting elections electronically and transmitting the results electronically.
The House of Representatives version only gave INEC the discretion to decide where and when electronic voting and electronic transmission of election results should be done.
While the CSOs, IPAC and other Nigerians seem to have lost out in their quest for total use of technology in election conduct, they are now calling that the version of the House of Representatives should be adopted by both Chambers of the National Assembly.
Unfortunately, the Senate and the House of Representatives are yet to set up a conference committee for the harmonisation of the contentious bill they passed.
At the resumption of their sitting last week, both chambers failed to set up a harmonisation committee that would pave the way for a conference. Even though the Senate president, during his welcome speech, said they will take the issue of the electoral act seriously, leading CSOs including Yiaga Africa; Centre for Democracy Development (CDD); Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) among others have said that time is running out even though they insisted on electronic voting and electronic transmission of elections results.
Senate spokesman Ajibola Basiru hinted that the Senate is in disagreement with the provision of the version of the House of Representatives.
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 including the version of the House of Representatives.
“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 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 were brought by the Kabiru Gaya-led committee, which was approved by the House of Representatives, reads that the commission will 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.
But stakeholders are expressing 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.
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.
The CSOs agreed that the Senate version of Clause 43 that recognizes “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.
It is believed that if the National Assembly can finish their work on time for the president’s assent, it will help the nation to deploy technology and test run it in off-cycle elections before the 2023 general election.