Electronic Transmission Of Election Results : Despite the fact that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has complete independence over the conduct of elections under the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the Senate enacted the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Act yesterday.
Before deploying electronic transmission of election results in any area, the commission must obtain authorization from the Nigerian National Communication Commission (NCC) and the National Assembly, according to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill.
The decision tries to provide the National Assembly, which is statutorily designated as a law-making body, the right to ratify a decision that is solely the responsibility of the executive branch of government.
Senators caved and employed their majority in the Senate to weaken the demand for electronic transmission of poll results in the 2023 election cycle, as ordered by their party, the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Senators from the ruling party, along with two opposition lawmakers who broke ranks with their party, voted 52 to 28 to amend clause 52 of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, which would have allowed the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to electronically transmit election results during the 2023 general election.
Twenty-eight senators were unable to vote because they were not present. However, according to THISDAY, several of them were in the chambers before the vote began.
Senators’ tactical rejection of electronic transmission of election results drew criticism from a Sokoto State governor, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal; the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); the Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere; the pan-Igbo socio-political organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo; and some senior lawyers yesterday.
But the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) endorsed the senators’ action.
If the House of Representatives joins the Senate in enacting the section, INEC will need the approval of the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) and the National Assembly before it may electronically transmit election results.
Due to a squabble over allegations that the presiding officer, House Deputy Speaker, Hon. Ahmed Wase, was attempting to rig the voice votes in favour of opponents of electronic transmission of results, the House was unable to complete the legislative process of passing the bill yesterday.
The Senate’s proceedings yesterday corroborated THISDAY’s exclusive allegation on Monday that APC senators were plotting to delegitimize future elections and undermine the country’s democracy by refusing to allow electronic transmission of results.
While some of them were willing to change ground on Wednesday to vote for electronic transmission of election results yesterday, sources informed THISDAY last night that they were forced to comply when the party instructed them to tone down section 52.
A few hours before the start of plenary, the APC leadership directed the Senate Leader, Senator Yahaya Abdullahi (APC Kebbi North), to inform the party’s members that clause 52 of the bill would be amended to require INEC to seek the NCC’s approval before transmitting election results electronically in a particular area.
The Electoral Act Amendment Law 2021, which contains 154 sections, appeared to be on track for a smooth passage until the senators reached clause 52(3) of the bill, which called for electronic transmission of election results.
Senator Abdullahi Sabi (APC, Niger North) proposed a modification to article 52 (3), which said, among other things, “The Commission may communicate results by electronic means where and when practicable.” This set the ground for partisan wrangling among senators.
However, he requested that the Senate change the part to say, “that the Commission may contemplate electronic transmission of election results provided that network coverage in the area concerned is assessed by the National Communication Commission (NCC) to be conducive to transmission of results.”
Senator Albert Bassey (PDP Akwa Ibom North East) replied with a motion that the amendment should reflect INEC’s ability to provide for electronic transmission of results where and when possible.
Senate Minority Leader, Senator Senator Eyinnaya Abaribe (PDP Abia South), rejected attempts by the Senate President, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, to rule in favour of Sabi’s motion, calling for a division of the senators to vote on clause 52 (3) of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill.
Abaribe withstood attempts by APC senators and Lawan to withdraw his move for division, aided by other like-minded colleagues.
To douse tension, Lawan called for an executive session.
However, following a 40-minute closed-door session, Abaribe insisted on Order 73, which called for the upper chamber to be divided so that each senator could vote on any difficult topic.
Senator Ali Ndume (APC Borno South) warned that lawmakers must be mindful of anything that would harm Senate cohesiveness if Abaribe did not recant his views.
Senator Orji Uzor Kalu (APC, Abia), the Senate Chief Whip, warned Abaribe against requests for electronic transmission of election results.
He said that the Southeast lacked both reliable electricity and adequate telecommunication connectivity to ensure efficient data transmission.
Others who opposed Bassey’s motion claimed that Nigeria was not ready for electronic voting and result transmission.
Despite efforts by the Senate leader and Senator Opeyemi Bamidele (APC Ekiti Central) to persuade Abaribe to withdraw his motion on division, the minority leader stayed firm.
After that, Lawan advised the senators that those in favour of Abdullahi’s proposal should vote no, while those in favour of Bassey’s counter-amendment should vote yes.
A total of 80 senators participated in the voting, which lasted roughly 40 minutes, with 52 voting in favour of Abdullahi’s modification and 28 voting in favour of the clause’s original wording.
During the division and voting session, 28 senators were missing, according to the Clerk.
However, sources told THISDAY that several of the absentee senators arrived in the chambers before voting began and afterwards excused themselves.
Senators Theodore Orji (PDP, Abia), Gabriel Suswam (PDP, Benue North East), Ifeanyi Ubah (YPP, Anambra South), and Stella Oduah (PDP, Anambra North) were among those who did not vote. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is investigating and prosecuting them for alleged corruption.
Furthermore, all three senators from Ogun State were absent at the start of the voting, just as two of the three senators from Oyo State had left the chamber before to the start of voting.
Lawan explained the 28 absentees in his post-voting statements saying they were doing official oversight tasks in the national interest.
“We went through perhaps the most rigorous procedure we’ve ever had,” he said. We had to go through a division at one point, but that is the nature of democracy. There will be no bitter feelings, and I am confident that Nigerians will recognise the debt of care owed to them by all of us here. Those who voted in favour of the amendments and those who voted against it did so because we feel it will be better for the country.
“In this situation, the Senate has passed the Electoral Amendment Bill, and we anticipate that our counterparts in the House of Representatives will do the same. If there is even a minor disagreement between our version and theirs, a harmonisation committee, the conference committee, will be formed. If there is no difference between what we’ve passed here and what they’d pass in the House, the bill will now be forwarded to Mr. President for his signature.
“However, I want to reassure all Nigerians that what the Senate did was to express real concern and care about Nigerians’ differing perspectives on the country’s electoral process. We all want to see an electoral process that is all-inclusive, fair, equal, and just for everyone, whether they live in the city, the towns, or the hamlets.
“I wish INEC the best, and I urge Nigerians to stand with INEC at all times to ensure that our elections are held on time and without postponement for whatever cause. We hope that this bill will provide excellent guidance for the general elections in 2023. And in 2023, we expect for a stronger and more enhanced election process.”
Senator Ajibola Basiru, the Senate’s spokesman, told reporters after the session that legislators sought to persuade Abaribe to reconsider his decision.
According to him, MPs approve electronic transmission of election results, but only if the network is adequate, as determined by the NCC, and subject to National Assembly approval.
He went on to say that there is no place on the planet where the network is completely covered.
Meanwhile, many of the Southern senators who voted against electronic transmission of election results breached their promise to Southern governors to support the system, according to THISDAY.
The Southern governors, following a meeting in Lagos on July 5, urged for the Electoral Act Amendment Bill to include electronic transmission of election results, among other things.
Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu, Chairman of the Southern Governors’ Forum and Governor of Ondo State, met with senators from the region later, according to sources, to extract a pledge from them to support the forum’s position.
Afenifere, Ohanaeze, Tambuwal, PDP, SANs Knock Lawmakers
In response to the Senate’s decision, the PDP yesterday expressed outrage at the Senate’s decision to subvert the democratic process by refusing to grant Nigerians’ demand for conditionless electronic transmission of election results.
The behaviour of the APC senators, according to the PDP’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, was an assault on the sensibilities of Nigerians who looked to the Senate for improvements in the election process that would result in a free, fair, and credible process.
“It is outrageous that the APC and its senators, in their desperate bid to annex the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), seek to route a statutorily independent commission to the approval of an individual masquerading as the Nigeria Communication Commission (NCC); an agency under executive control, in addition to an additional legislative endorsement, before conducting elections,” the party said.
“The APC senators’ move is a flagrant affront to the 1999 Constitution (as amended), which explicitly conferred operational independence on INEC to conduct elections free of interference and regulations from any other government agency.”
Afenifere’s National Publicity Secretary, Jare Ajayi, also termed the Senate’s decision as unsatisfactory.
“By voting against electronic transmission of election results, the majority of senators in the Federal Republic of Nigeria have demonstrated that they are only democratic when it is convenient for them.
“A startling 28 of the 109 members were absent when such a crucial decision had to be made. It was a complete embarrassment.
The fact that the voting pattern, both for and against, went across party lines was more indication that when it comes to making critical national decisions, most politicians are motivated by ‘self’ rather than what is best for the people,” he said.
The Ohanaeze Ndigbo also mocked the Senate for refusing to transmit findings electronically.
The move, according to the organization’s National Publicity Secretary, Chiedozie Alex Ogbonnia, “placed doubt on both the image and quality of the parliamentarians in the upper chamber.”
“The goal of electronic results transmission is to eliminate things like result manipulation, thuggery, vote box stuffing, and other sorts of election malfeasance.
“Any country’s Senate should always be forward-thinking, statesmanlike, and accountable to the public conscience and posterity,” it continued.
Mr. Ahmed Raji, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), said: “A credible election is critical to the survival of democracy.” The election’s credibility will be boosted by electronic results transmission, which will invariably lead to excellent governance.”
In accordance with constitutional provisions, he stated that INEC is supposed to be independent. “Any law that attempts to jeopardise the independence of the United States will be declared unlawful.
“Any law mandating INEC to communicate with a body such as the National Electoral Commission and the National Assembly will look to be unlawful since such a law directly interferes with INEC’s independence,” he added.
Professor Konyinsola AJayi (SAN) said lawmakers’ justifications for voting against electronic transmission were unsustainable because Nigeria currently has the highest penetration rate and internet reach.
“Because the NCC is a regulator rather than an operator, it is difficult to understand why anyone would argue that the NCC should be the one to decide how election results are broadcast.
“First and foremost, thanks to technological advancements and telecommunications deployment in Nigeria, we have one of the highest internet penetration rates in the world.
“To believe that there would be no election transmission of election results from polling stations will be fair is a pity,” he remarked.
In a statement, the Governor of Sokoto State, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, criticised the Senate’s decision on electronic voting, calling it unconstitutional.
The governor, who was also the speaker of the House of Representatives, said in a statement that the Senate’s decision to delegate INEC’s constitutional competence to conduct elections to the NCC and National Assembly was unconstitutional.
“For the avoidance of dispute, Section 78 of the Constitution states that “voter registration and election conduct shall be under to the direction and supervision of the Independent National Electoral Commission.”
“In the Third Schedule, Part 1,F, S.15, INEC is given the authority to plan, conduct, and supervise all elections. The constitution further states that INEC operations are not to be directed by anyone or any authority.”
According to him, election method and transmission are key components of election conduct, supervision, execution, and organisation in Nigeria.
“Of course, the National Assembly has the authority to flesh out the legal framework,” he said, “but this must be done in accordance with the constitution.”
The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), on the other hand, stated it supported the Senate’s decision to reject electronic transmission of election results because it could “shortchange” certain voters.
Mr. Emmanuel Yawe, the forum’s spokesman, expressed concern about INEC’s ability to cover the entire country.
“If the electronic broadcast will function throughout Nigeria, fine – that is our preference,” Yawe stated in an interview with THISDAY.
“However, if using it means shortchanging some Nigerian voters, we support the Senate’s decision.
“Electronic transmission is not a problem for us. However, we are more concerned about INEC’s ability to cover the entire country.”
Commotion Forces House to Adjourn Decision Till Today
The Electoral Act Amendment Bill’s clause-by-clause debate in the House devolved into a ruckus among legislators.
Plenary activities were halted four times due to the disagreement.
During the tumultuous session, politicians threw caution to the wind and got into physical fights, particularly between Hon. Hon. Ifeanyi Momah (APGA/Anambra) and Hon. Ifeanyi Momah (APGA/Anambra) Sheu Koko, APC/Yusuf Plateau’s Gagdi, and Hon. Gbillah, Mark.
The clause-by-clause debate in the House was nearly painless until they reached Section 52(2) of the draught legislation, which provides the INEC option to utilise electronic voting or any other form of voting in any election as it sees right.
To make a change to the section, Hon. Sheu Koko proposed that accreditation and voting be done electronically under Section 52(2), while collation be done manually, but parliamentarians rejected the motion.
The House’s Deputy Minority Leader, Hon. Tobi Okechukwu, on the other hand, proposed that voting, accreditation, and the transmission of results be done online.
The House’s Deputy Speaker, Hon. Idris Wase, who presided over the bill’s consideration, put Okechukwu’s motion to a vote, but despite the fact that the ‘Ayes’ had it, Wase ruled in favour of the ‘Nays.’
The chamber grew raucous at this point, and politicians who voted in favour of electronic transmission of results rose from their seats and marched up to Wase’s seat to protest the injustice.
Wase cautioned that he would not take offence if lawmakers approached his seat to disrespect him once normalcy resumed approximately 40 minutes later.
He stressed that they should conduct themselves as MPs, emphasising the importance of linguistic conduct.
“I dare to ask, those who insist on transmitting electronically, what about our brothers in Borno and Yobe?” Wase said. ”
However, the Speaker, Hon. Interjected Femi Gbajabiamila, who urged that the lawmakers vote separately to fully decide the subject.
In his submission, Hon. XXXXXXXXXXXX Onofiok Luke (PDP Akwa Ibom) stated that MPs should vote in the best interests of Nigerians who elected them to serve them.
However, the Speaker of the House, Hon. Ado Doguwa cited House rules stating that once a topic has been decided, it cannot be reconsidered.
The Minority Leader in the House of Representatives, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu (PDP Delta) agreed with Gbajabiamila’s suggestion and said it was appropriate.
Wase, on the other hand, disregarded Elumelu’s advice and opted for a voice vote on Hon. The suggestion of James Faleke.
Despite the fact that the “Ayes” had the majority vote, he ruled in favour of the “Nays” for the second time.
The plenary grew raucous again after Wase’s verdict, as proponents of electronic transmission exited their seats and marched towards Wase to protest.
It was during the heated debates among legislators that physical fights broke out.
As a result, Doguwa proposed that the House reconvene, but his motion was defeated by the members.
When it appeared that things were getting out of hand, Gbajabiamila ordered that the meeting be deferred till today so that the controversial Section 52(2) of the draught legislation could be considered.
Source : This Day Live