Senators, Reps explain positions on Electoral Bill

JULY 19, 2021

By Tony Akowe, Grace Obike, Gbenga Omokhunu, Abuja; Nwanosike Onu, Awka; Bisi Olaniyi, Benin; Bisi Oladele, Ibadan; Bassey Anthony, Uyo; Nsa Gill, Calabar and Rosemary Nwisi, Port Harcourt

Some senators and House of Representatives members on Sunday explained their decision to vote for or against electronic transmission of election results in the amended Electoral Bill.

The lawmakers who voted “No” have come under fire, with Nigerians accusing them of working against credible elections.

Senate President Ahmad Lawan said the senators attached conditions to the electronic transmission of election results because only 50 per cent of the country’s polling units could use technology to transmit results.

He said the Senate’s stance was based on information provided by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).

In passing the Electoral Act Amendment Bill last Thursday, the Senate provided that the NCC must certify that national coverage is adequate and secure, while the National Assembly must give approval before the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) can transmit election results electronically.

Some Nigerians have criticised the Senate’s position, arguing that it was contrary to the constitutionally guaranteed independence of INEC.

Lawan told reporters in Yobe State that Nigeria, to him, has not reached the stage where it can deploy technology in every polling unit, but agreed that it will make the process credible.

He said: “All of us in the Senate, 109 of us, believe that at one point, our electoral process must deploy electronic transmission so that it eases and enhances the electoral process and gives it more credibility and integrity.

“No matter what anybody may say, you cannot have about 50 per cent of Nigerian voters not participating or not getting their votes counted in elections and say it doesn’t matter, that we have to start the electronic transmission.

“We know the evils of not transmitting results electronically, but compare the evils of electronically transmitting just half of the electoral votes from Nigerians and say you have elected a president with 50 per cent only.

“What I mean here is that you have senators from the northern part of Nigeria who voted for electronic transmission. Maybe that is their belief or their environment is ready for electronic transmission.

“And you have Senators from the southern part of Nigeria who voted against the immediate deployment of electronic transmission but they support that the electronic transmission of results should be allowed after certain conditions are met and the conditions are simple.

“The NCC had provided the technical information that only NCC could give – that only about 50 per cent of the Nigerian environment, the polling units, in the country could possibly have their results electronically transmitted.”

Lawan said senators who voted against the immediate use of electronic transmission are not against the use of technology.

Spokesman of the House of Representatives, Benjamin Kalu said the Electoral Act Amendment Bill and the Petroleum Industry Bill were still open to further amendment as no legislation is perfect.

He said: “On the electoral bill, one thing you must take home is that the turning point was clause 52 (2) which was on whether or not electronic transmission should be used or left at the discretion of the umpire, INEC.

“What brought the delay was the issue of teledensity. Do we have the right coverage to be able to capture all and not disenfranchised the hinterland? Some argued for and others against. Emotions flew from left, right and centre.

“Some argued for the manual option, some for fully electronic options. Others preferred semi-manual, semi-electronic which was a middle approach to it. That was where we stopped…

“The current position is that it will be at the discretion of the umpire to decide when it is necessary to use an electronic or manual transmission.”

The three Senators representing Cross River State are all of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) but one of them, Senator Steven Odey, took a different position on electronic transmission of results.

Odey told our correspondent: “I voted no to the electronic transfer of results because, even in my own village, there is no telephone network.

“If my people cast their votes and it is not transmitted electronically, then, I have disenfranchised them. I am in the rural area of Cross River North.

“If you go to parts of Ukele in Yala, Local Government Area, there is no network there. If you go to a part of Mbube community, there is no network there, etc. so, I voted for what is right for my people.”

Senator Ifeanyi Ubah said he was in favour of the electronic transmission of results.

He said he walked out of the Senate chamber because he was stopped by the leadership from airing his view during plenary.

Minority Leader of the House, Ndudi Elumelu, urged Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to accelerate the use of technology to enhance the credibility of voting and electronic transmission of declared results.

Speaking at the fifth Biennial Convention of the class of 84 of St. Pius Grammar School, Onicha Ugbo, Elumelu decried poor electoral awareness and participation.

The senator representing Oyo South, Dr Kola Balogun, said he voted for electronic transmission of results because he believes credible elections will deepen democracy in the country.

He said: “Free, fair and credible elections are preconditions for the right leadership mix and for deepening our democracy.

“I voted yes to e-transmission because I am bound by the spirit and letter of my social contract with the electorate whose mandate I am holding in trust.”

The Senator representing Rivers South-East, Dr. Bari Mpigi, said he voted in favour of electronic transmission in order to further strengthen INEC’s independence.

“Anybody that wants to usurp the power of INEC by bringing it back to the National Assembly and NCC is trying to create confusion.

“If anybody goes to court to challenge the amendment and the way we passed the Electoral Act, that person will win constitutionally.

“Also, I don’t want the National Assembly to take over the power of INEC. Anything that will conflict with the Constitution will not stand.”

The representative of the Ovia Federal Constituency in Edo State, Dennis Idahosa, believes electronic transmission of results should be the way to go.

“In the 21st century, who still does things in an analogue way?”

The member representing Nnewi North, Nnewi South and Ekwusigo Federal Constituency, Chris Azubogu, said he voted for the electronic transmission of results.

He said: “I support and have at all material times, supported the proposed amendment of the Electoral Act to allow for the electronic transmission of results by INEC.”

The Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP) urged President Muhammadu Buhari not to sign the amended Electoral Act into law when transmitted to him by the National Assembly.

Its Secretary-General, Chief Willy Ezugwu, said in a statement: “Withholding assent will be the only proof that Mr President is not part of the conspiracy to undermine the country’s electoral process.

“Members of the National Assembly have remained the number one enemy of Nigeria’s democracy and a major hindrance to conscious efforts to progressively deepen Nigerian democracy to enhance good governance…

“Clearly, the plot to subject INEC’ constitutional power to conduct elections to the Nigerian Communications Commission and National Assembly will be contested in court if Mr President decides to go with the enemies of democracy and sign the amendment into law.

“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.

“We urge President Buhari not to legalise this unconstitutional amendment. If Mr President does so, we shall meet in court as the amendment won’t be allowed to stand.”

SOURCE: THE NATION

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