Apparently bowing to pressure from the public, the Senate has overturned the version of the electoral bill it passed recently.
The Red Chamber opted to allow the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to decide the mode of election conduct and transmission of election results in the country.
The Senators recommitted the bill for more legislative work yesterday and after much debate, they amended clause 52 (3) which now allows INEC to determine the mode of election conduct and transmission of election results.
Presenting a motion for re-committal of the bill and to recline some sections of the bill that was passed earlier in June this year, Senate leader, Yahaya Abdullahi, said the Electoral Act No. 6 2010 (Repeal & Re-enactment) Bill, 2021 (SB. 122) was to amend some sections.
The Senate leader said, “The Senate recalls that the Electoral Act No. 6 2010 (Repeal & Re-enactment) Bill, 2021 was passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives; observes that after critical examination of the Bill by the Senate Committee on INEC, some fundamental issues which requires fresh legislative action on the following Clauses: 43, 52, 63 and 87 were observed;
“Desirous of the need to address the observations by the Committee and make necessary amendments; and relying on order 1(b) and 53(6) of Senate Standing Order, accordingly resolves to: Rescind its decision on the affected Clauses of the Bill as passed and re-commit the same to the Committee of the Whole for consideration and passage”.
There had been disagreement over the mode of transmission of the election results by the lawmakers, Civil Society Organisations and the umbrella body of political parties in Nigeria, Inter-party Party Advisory Council (IPAC).
The Senate had passed the Electoral Act Amendment Bill in July, 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.
But the Senate yesterday empowered INEC to determine the procedure for the transmission of results during the general elections.
This is just as it also allowed political parties to determine the modality for holding primaries for aspirants to all elective positions.
Making the amendments were made to some clauses of the Electoral Act (Repeal and Re-enactment) bill 2021, the Red Chamber explained that the decision to subject the amended clauses of the bill to re-committal was reached after critical examination by the Senate Committee on INEC.
It added that some fundamental issues which required fresh legislative action were observed in the bill by the Senator Kabiru Gaya-led committee.
Accordingly, the chamber, in a motion for re-committal, re-amended certain aspects of the bill contained in Clauses 43, 52, 63 and 87, respectively.
The upper chamber in Clause 52 of the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill passed almost three months ago, had approved that “the Commission (INEC) may consider the electronic transmission of results, provided the national coverage is adjudged to be adequate and secure by the National Communications Commission (and approved by the National Assembly.”
The Senate however amended the clause yesterday when the bill was subjected to re-committal to provide thus: “Subject to section 63 of this bill, voting at an election and transmission of results under this bill shall be in accordance with the procedure determined by the Commission.”
The chamber also amended Clause 87 to allow political parties conduct direct primaries.
Members of the Conference Committee on the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2021 are expected to meet with their counterparts in the House of Representatives to harmonise the two versions passed by both chambers.
But there was a mild drama on the floor of the Red Chamber when Senator Smart Adeyemi (APC Kogi West) objected to a call from the Senate president to second a motion on whether the mode of primary by political parties should be direct or indirect.
After Adeyemi declined, Adamu Aliero (APC Kebbi) who seconded the motion said direct primary by political parties will help the electorates to vote their choice and reject money bags as politicians.
He said the move to adopt a direct primary by political parties will help good politicians to come in and contest the election.
“People with questionable character will be elected,” Aliero said of indirect primaries.
But Smart Adeyemi who deferred on the clause said direct primary should not be applicable in Nigeria.
He said a good percentage of the party members to vote in a primary will require more money, adding that direct primary was cumbersome.
Senate President Ahmad Lawan however advised the conference committee to present the view of the Senate in the joint committee.
In his contribution, Bamidele Opeyemi (APC Ekiti Central) said direct primary was necessary for political parties so that every member of the party can contribute in advancing democracy.
“Direct primary is a way of giving power to the people since every member will enjoy that right of selecting a candidate.”
He said if democracy must grow, a direct mode of primary should be adopted.
But the Senate President Ahmad Lawan who restricted members of the conference committee from contributing to the debate said they are to listen and take their submission to the joint committee.
Speaking, Abdulfatai Buhari (Oyo North) said if people are allowed to vote in the primary rather than the delegates, the candidate who emerges will know the support he has, adding that no one should be afraid of direct primary.
But the Senate minority leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe (PDP Abia), said clause 52 (3) which talks about electronic transmission of election results should be made clear for the electoral umpire to decide.
Abaribe said in the original bill, political parties were allowed to decide the mode of their primaries, noting that political parties that have the capacity to organise a direct or indirect primaries should do so.
Speaking after the plenary, Senate spokesman, Ajibola Basiru, said the re-committal of the bill was a normal legislative process which is done when necessary.
INEC, Wike, Atiku Applaud NASS
Reacting to the development, INEC said yesterday that the new position taken by the National Assembly on electronic transmission of results was a welcome development.
The electoral body said it should not be viewed as a vindication of INEC’s position but an appreciation of supreme arguments by stakeholders and all the men and women of goodwill.
Speaking exclusively with LEADERSHIP in Abuja, the chief press secretary to the INEC chairman, Rotimi Oyekanmi, said part of what emerged during talks was a number of misconceptions and conspiracy theories.
Oyekanmi said with sustained engagements and advocacy, all those who might have had some misgivings among the National Assembly members now understand that the process will be beneficial to the electoral process.
“The new position of NASS, however, should not be viewed as a vindication of INEC’s position. Not at all; rather, it should be seen as the National Assembly’s appreciation of the various arguments put forward by INEC, major stakeholders, and all the men and women of goodwill on the matter over the past three months or thereabout,” he noted.
He stressed that the subsisting law stipulating manual collation of results has neither been repealed nor changed.
“Let’s not forget that the subsisting law stipulating manual collation of results has neither been repealed nor changed at this point.
“The amendments being undertaken at the moment would still have to be transmitted to Mr President for his assent,” he added.
In his reaction, governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, commended the National Assembly on its decision to allow INEC determine the use of electronic voting and transfer of results.
The governor said the resolution of the National Assembly joint committee to allow the electoral umpire transmit election results electronically is a good development for Nigeria and democracy.
The governor, in a statement signed by his special assistant (Media), Kelvin Ebiri, said, “I think it is good news to hear that the Joint Committee of the House of Representatives and the Senate agreed for INEC to transmit results electronically. That is good news to hear. Like I have always said, what is important now is what people want. The moment you do what the people want you’ll see happiness everywhere.”
The Rivers state governor, who has been a proponent of a transparent electoral system, observed that many nations have moved beyond manual result declaration and Nigeria cannot afford in the 21st century to be left behind.
He continued: “I think it is a good development for Nigeria and democracy. And I will urge the two chambers, the House of Representatives and the Senate to abide by that recommendation by the joint committee of the two Chambers, because it is for their own interest.
“And I commend the Senate President and the Speaker, House of Representatives, all the principal officers and members who felt that they must listen to what is good for Nigeria and what is good for Nigerians.”
Speaking further on the amendment of the Electoral Act, Governor Wike stated that the issue of direct or indirect primaries should be the exclusive decision of the political parties in the country.
He maintained that it will be unfair for the National Assembly to prescribe for political parties how to conduct their primaries.
“A party could adopt a method, procedure in electing who represents them at various levels; that is not for the National Assembly to dictate that you must do it by direct or indirect method. That is not democracy. That should be an internal affair of the party.”
Governor Wike insisted that for the National Assembly to prescribe how political parties conduct their primaries is tantamount to interference in the internal politics of the parties.
“The National Assembly should realise that doing that is interfering in the internal politics of the parties and that will not augur well,” he said.
In the same vein, former vice president and presidential candidate of PDP in the 2019 election, Atiku Abubakar, commended the resolution of the disagreement between the National Assembly and the INEC on electronic transmission of election results.
A press statement by his media office quoted the former vice president as saying the harmonisation of positions between the two institutions is an indication that Nigeria’s democracy is growing and getting stronger.
The former vice president also commended individuals and groups, particularly the various pro-democracy advocacy groups that participated in the public discourse on the controversial issue, noting that “by this outcome, I am convinced that public institutions in Nigeria will continue to play their roles as guardians of public policy.”
Direct Primary: APC Is Rolling Back Our Democracy – PDP
But the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) described the passage of direct primary for the nomination of candidates for elections in all political parties as a retrogressive provision that seeks to wipe off all the gains achieved in the electoral practice since 1999.
The opposition party said the decision by the APC-controlled Senate is a humongous blow to the development of democratic norms and a plot to introduce anarchy during internal party elections as currently obtainable in the APC.
National publicity secretary of the PDP, Kola Ologbondiyan, said the provision is aimed at increasing the costs of nomination procedures thereby surrendering the processes to money bags against the wishes and aspiration of Nigerians.
He said, “Our party makes bold to state that with the exception of the APC, which intends to deploy looted funds in future elections, hardly will there be any political party that will be able to raise the cost of conducting internal elections under a direct primary process.
“This is why the decision of the Senate has elicited widespread rejection from Nigerians across board.”
The party therefore urged the Senate to immediately deploy its appropriate legislative instruments to reverse itself on the direct primary as it is not operable and does not reflect the wishes and aspiration of the majority of Nigerians.