Last week, members of the All Progressive Congress in the Senate and House of Representatives, contrary to the wish of millions of Nigerians, voted against electronic transmission of results in the Electoral act amendment Bill, Deji Elumoye and Udora Orizu report
Despite protests, outcries and clamours over the years by millions of Nigerians and stakeholders for a transparent electoral process, members of the Ninth National Assembly, last Thursday, shattered hopes by whittling down the provision on electronic transmission of results.
The lawmakers had penultimate week faced backlash over reported plan to remove electronic transmission of results from the Electoral Act amendment Bill. This caused outrage with several Civil Society Organisations and other stakeholders protesting against the alleged removal of Section 52 (2) of the Bill, which makes no provision for INEC to transmit results of any election electronically. It is believed that the electronic transmission of results would go a long way in curbing rigging and manipulation of electoral outcomes.
Principal Officers’ Reaction to Allegations
President of the Senate, Dr Ahmad Lawan, last week accused some Nigerians of embarking on ‘calculated blackmail’ against the leadership of the National Assembly over the bill. He said he received in one day 900 text messages accusing him of manipulating the report of the committee. Lawan, however, advised Nigerians to lobby their Senators on whatever input they have on the bill.
On his part, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, said he didn’t want to make it a habit to speak to a report that has not been submitted to the House.
According to him, “We have procedures, which are time tested. The Committee has been given an assignment, they will do their work and they will present their report to the floor and the House as a whole will vote on that report clause by clause. I will not comment on things we read on the pages of newspapers but because of the cacophony of voices and because you have raised that matter and just to allay fears, let me say that I do not believe there is any alteration.
“Only the authentic report of the Committee, as has always been, will be tabled before the House. Nothing more, nothing less. I have asked the Chairman of the Committee and she is not aware of such and so, it remains in the realm of speculation. We will wait till the Committee submits its report and like I said, that will be done before we close on the 14th.”
Rejection by the Senate
At Senate plenary last Thursday before the lawmakers adjourned for summer holidays, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) senators in a move to delegitimise future elections and undermine the nation’s democracy prohibited electronic transmission of results. The chamber of the Senate became charged as Senators debated the report of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021 especially, the clause that provided for electronic transmission of election results
Clause 52(3) of the Electoral Act ( Amendment ) Bill 202 tore Senators apart across party lines in the course of considering the entire report containing 154 clauses. The contentious clause saw the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) Senators rejecting the calls for electronic transmission of election results by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) while the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Senators voted for electronic transmission of poll results.
Presenting the report of the committee, Chairman of INEC Committee, Senator Kabiru Gaya said their mandate was to holistically address all issues affecting the conduct of free, fair and credible elections in the country.
He said: “The 8th National Assembly made several attempts at amending the Electoral Act No. 6, 2010 but the Bill was not assented to by President Muhammadu Buhari, which was hinged on the fact that the amendment was done close to the 2019 General Election. The National Assembly was poised to give Nigerians a new electoral act thus forming a legislative agenda for the 9th Senate in which contentious issues observed in the 2019 general election and previous amendments would be addressed in the new amendment.
“Owing to the challenges experienced in the 8th National Assembly as it relates to the Amendment of the Electoral Act, the 9th National Assembly decided to adopt all-encompassing approach in the 2021 Amendment process, by having the Senate and House of Representatives Committees on Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and Electoral Matters work together as a joint committee.”
Senate Minority Leader, Senator Senator Eyinnaya Abaribe (PDP Abia South), during the clause by clause consideration of the report, called for a division of plenary to enable Senators vote on Clause 52 (3) of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021.
Abaribe’s move was sequel to calls for amendment of the section by Senators Abdullahi Sabi (APC, Niger North) and Albert Bassey (PDP Akwa Ibom North East).
Senator Sabi had sought an amendment to Section 52 (3) which read inter alia “The Commission may transmit results by electronic means where and when practicable.”
The ranking Senator had prayed the Upper Chamber to amend the section to read, “that the Commission may consider electronic transmission of election results provided the network coverage in the area concerned is adjudged to be conducive for transmission of results, by the National Communication Commission (NCC).
Senator Bassey, on the other hand, had sought an amendment to reflect that INEC may allow for Electronic Transmission of results where and when practicable.
Attempt by the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, to rule in favour of Senator Sabi’s clamour was rejected by the Minority Leader, Senator Abaribe and some Senators, who rose from their seats despite repeated calls by the leadership of the Senate for calm.
Flowing from this, and to douse tension, the Senate President called for an executive session.
Soon after the closed-door session that lasted about 40 minutes, the Senate Minority Leader, insisted on Order 73, which called for division of the upper chamber to enable single voting on the issue by individual Senators on whether the Senate would adopt either of the amendments by Senator Bassey or Senator Sabi.
Following Senator Abaribe’s call for division, Ali Ndume (APC Borno South) called for caution, warning that lawmakers must be wary of anything that would affect cohesion in the Red Chamber.
He said: “It is not a good sign after two years of the Ninth Assembly to go into division. We must guard against this, and understand that today’s debate on the Electoral Act is in the interest of the nation”.
Opposing Senator Bassey’s amendment, Senate Chief Whip, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu cautioned Abaribe over demands for electronic transmission of election results. He disclosed that the South East state had neither stable electricity nor sufficient telecommunication coverage to guarantee efficient transmission of results.
Others who voted against Bassey’ move argued that Nigeria was not ripe for electronic voting and transmission of result.
Though the Leader of the Senate, Senator Yahaya Abdullahi (APC Kebbi North) and Senator Opeyemi Bamidele ( APC Ekiti Central), separately made spirited efforts to make Abaribe withdraw his motion on division, Abaribe stood his ground for the division and physical counting of votes.
Before the physical voting done by calling the Senators one after the other per state, the President of the Senate explained to them that those in favour of amendment made by Senator Sabi Abdullahi should say No, while those for the counter amendment made by Senator Albert Bassey should say yes.
After the explanation, the Clerk of the Senate, Ibrahim El-Ladan presided over the election by calling the Senators one after the other on the basis of State by state.
At the end of the physical voting which lasted about 40 minutes, a total of 80 Senators voted, out of which 52 voted for the amendment made by Senator Sabi Abdullahi and 28 voted for original provision of the clause. As announced by the Clerk, 28 Senators were absent during the division and voting session. While all the 52 Senators who voted for the amendment belonged to the ruling All Progressives Congress ( APC) , 26 out of the 28 Senators who voted against the amendment belonged to the Peoples Democratic Party ( PDP), indicating party line of voting.
Ironically , the Chairman of Senate Committee on INEC, Gaya, who presented the report with original provision of clause 52(3) , voted against it by saying no to Senator Albert Bassey’s call for its retention.
All the three Senators from Anambra and Ogun States, were not at the start of the physical voting, the same way two out of the three Senators from Oyo State left the chamber before the commencement of voting.
On the basis of Yes and No voting for the original provision of the clause, those who voted No were Senators Orji Uzor Kalu (Abia North), Ishaku Elisha (Adamawa North), Dahiru Aishatu Binani (Adamawa Central), Jika Daudu Haliru (Bauchi Central), Bukachuwa Adamu Muhammad (Bauchi North) and Degi Eremienyo (Bayelsa East).
Others were Senators Abubakar Kyari (Borno North), Shettima Kashim (Borno Central), Ali Ndume (Borno South), Stephen Odey (Cross River North), Ovie Omo – Agege (Delta Central ), Peter Nwaoboshi (Delta North ), Francis Alimikhena ( Edo North) and Opeyemi Bamidele (Ekiti Central).
Also voted No were Danjuma Goje (Gombe Central), Amos Bulus (Gombe South), Alkali Saidu (Gombe North), Frank Ibezim (Imo North), Hadeija Hassan Ibrahim (Jigawa North East), Abdul – Kwari Suleiman (Kaduna North), Uba Sani (Kaduna Central), Kabiru Gaya (Kano South), Ahmad Babba Kaita (Katsina North), Mundiya Bello (Katsina South) and Abdullahi Barkiya (Katsina Central).
Others were Senators Yahaya Abdullahi (Kebbi North), Abdullahi Adamu Aliero (Kebbi Central), Oseni Yakubu (Kogi Central), Smart Adeyemi (Kogi West), Isah Jibrin (Kogi East), Lola Ashiru (Kwara South), Yahaya Oloriegbe (Kwara Central).
Highly surprising within the No category were the Lagos Senators Remi Tinubu (Lagos Central) and Olamilekan Adeola (Lagos West) excluding Senator Tokunbo Abiru, who was absent.
Other Senators who voted No were Adamu Abdullahi (Nasarawa West), Tanko Al-Makura (Nasarawa North), Akwashiki Godiya (Nasarawa South), Mohammed Sani (Niger East), Abdullahi Aliyu Sabi (Niger North), Bima Enagi (Niger South), Robert Boroffice (Ondo North) Basiru Ajibola (Osun Central), Adelere Oriolowo (Osun West ), Dimka Ayuba (Plateau Central), Ibrahim Gobir (Sokoto Eas), Yusuf Yusuf (Taraba Central), Isa Shuaibu Lau (Taraba North), Bomai Ibrahim Mohammed (Yobe South), Sahabi Ya’u (Zamfara North) and Lawali Hassan Anka ( Zamfara West).
Those who voted Yes were Senators Adenugba Fadahunsi, Clifford Ordia Matthew Urhoghide, Kola Balogun, Gyang Istifanus, George Sekibo, Biodun Olujimi, Mpigi Barinada, Betty Apiafi, Abdullahi Danbaba and Philip Aduda.
Others were Chukwuka Utazi, Abdullahi Ibrahim Danbaba, Francis Onyewuchi, Danjuma La’ah, Patrick Akinyelure, Enyinnaya Abaribe.
In his remarks after election, the Senate President explained that the 28 absentees were on official oversight functions in national interest.
He said: “We have gone through probably the most rigorous process we ever had. We had at a point had to go through a division, but that is democracy. No hard feelings and I’m sure that Nigerians will appreciate the debt of concern by all of us here. Those who voted for amendments and those who voted against, each one of us did so out of conviction for what we believed will be better for this country.
“In this case the Electoral Amendment Bill has now been passed by the Senate and we expect that the House of Representatives, our counterparts will do the same. If in any case we have even if it’s a single difference between our version and theirs, there will be a committee to harmonise, the conference committee. If however, there is no difference between what we have passed here and what they would have passed in the House, this Bill will now be sent to Mr. President for his Presidential assent.
“But I want to assure all Nigerians that what the Senate did was to show serious concern and care about the divergent views of Nigerians on the election process in this country. All of us want to see an election process that is all-inclusive, that is fair, that is equitable and just to everyone, whether someone is in the city or in the villages or in the hamlets.
“I wish INEC the best and Nigerians to support INEC at all times to ensure that our elections are done quite in time without postponment due to one reason or the other. We pray that this bill will guide the 2023 general election so well. And we hope to have a better and more improved election process in 2023”.
At the House, Things Got Physical
As expected, the clause-by-clause consideration of the Electoral Act amendment Bill in the House of Representatives led to physical combat among lawmakers in the House of Representatives during the consideration of the controversial Section 52(2), which deals with the electronic transmission of results.
Following the heated argument that ensued among the lawmakers, especially, from proponents of electric transmission of results and those against, the plenary activities were halted for about four times.
It was during the stormy session that lawmakers threw caution to the wind and engaged in physical combat especially, between Hon. Ifeanyi Momah (APGA/Anambra) and Hon. Shehu Koko; Yusuf Gagdi (APC/Plateau) and Hon.Mark Gbillah.
The clause-by-clause consideration was almost enjoying a smooth sail in the House until they got to Section 52(2) of the proposed legislation, which gives discretion to INEC to adopt electronic voting or any other method of voting in any election it conducts as it may deem fit.
To amend the section, Hon. Shehu Koko moved a motion that under Section 52(2), accreditation and voting should be done electronically, while collation and violation should be done manually, but lawmakers shouted No! to the motion.
The Deputy Minority Leader in the House, Hon. Tobi Okechukwu, however, moved a different motion that says voting, accreditation and transmission of results shall be done electronically.
House Deputy Speaker, Hon. Idris Wase, who presided over the consideration of the bill put the motion moved by Okechukwu to vote, but while the ‘Ayes’ had it, Wase ruled in favour of the ‘Nays’.
It was at this point that the hallow chamber became rowdy and the lawmakers who voted in favour of electronic transmission of results left their seats and moved towards Wase’s seat to protest against the injustice.
After normalcy returned after about 40 minutes, the Deputy Speaker said as legislators, they can lobby other members, canvass their positions and also vote. But he warned that he would not take exception to people approaching his seat to insult him saying “I take exception to that.”
He stressed that as parliamentarians, they should conduct themselves adding that language conduct is very important.
“I make bold to ask, those who are insisting that you must transmit electronically, what about our brothers in Borno and Yobe?”, Wase asked.
However, Hon. Kingsely Chinda moved a motion that since Wase had ruled in Okechukwu’s motion they should divide the House. This is to ensure those in support electronic transmission of results on one side and those against on the other. As he repeatedly hit the gavel, urging his colleagues to calm down, another lawmaker, Hon. James Faleke (APC Lagos) moved a motion that voting should be done electronically and manually.
But Gbajabiamila interjected, and suggested that the lawmakers should vote individually to properly settle the matter.
Gbajabiamila said: “The amendment by Toby is electronic transmission, the amendment by Faleke is electronic and manual transmission. This is a moment in history and whatever we decide should be in the best interest of Nigerians, whether it’s manual or electronic. Those who want manual cannot impose that on those who want electronic, those who want electronic cannot impose that on those who want manual. What we need to do is vote.”
In his submission, Hon. Onofiok Luke (PDP Akwa Ibom) said the lawmakers should vote, bearing in conscience the interest of Nigerians, who gave them the mandate to represent them.
However, the House Leader, Hon. Ado Doguwa cited the rules of the House that when a matter has been ruled on, it can’t be revisited.
On his part, the Minority Leader, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu (PDP Delta) supported Gbajabiamila’s suggestion saying it was in order.
The Deputy Speaker, however, ignored Elumelu’s suggestion and opted for a voice vote on Falake’s suggestion.
For the second time, he again ruled in favour of the “Nays” despite “Ayes” having the majority vote.
After Wase’s ruling, the plenary again became rowdy as the proponents of electronic transmission again left their seats and moved towards Wase to protest.
It was during the heated arguments among lawmakers that it resorted to physical fight.
Doguwa therefore moved that the House return to plenary but his motion was voted against by the members.
When it appeared that the situation was getting out of hand, Gbajabiamila ruled that they adjourn till Friday for the consideration of the controversial Section 52(2) of the proposed legislation. The House also resolved to invite the Independent National Electoral Commission and Nigeria Communication Commission (NCC) to brief them on the possibility of e-transmission of election results.
However, addressing lawmakers last Friday, in the chambers, the Nigeria Communication Commission (NCC) disclosed that only 50.3 per cent of the 119,000 polling units in the country are covered by 2G and 3G network.
The Director of Technical Services of the Commission, Obale Maska, who made the disclosure, said the remaining 49.7 per cent was without network coverage. He added that only 3G network can adequately transmit the results.
Shortly after the presentations by NCC, the House reverted to plenary with the Gbajabiamila, now in charge, announced that the House would revert to the Committee of the Whole to continue the consideration of the clause-by-clause report of the electoral bill from item 1 to 52. However, the continuation was met with another commotion.
Wase is by the rules of the House in charge of the session as the Chairman. Wase, while assuming his seat stirred the hornet nest when he said that the House had already considered items 1 to 54.
Meanwhile, the controversial clause is captured in section 52(2) of the report. Members disagreed with Wase and said that they stopped at section 52 on Thursday. The development brewed some commotion. After calm was restored, the lawmakers agreed to carry the remaining clauses of the Bill and retake the contentious clause 52 (2) later.
The consideration took a different turn when the Minority caucus staged a walkout, following refusal by the presiding chairman, Ahmed Idris Wase to retake the amendment to clause 52.
The Minority Caucus briefing journalists while consideration is still ongoing in the chambers, said they are totally disappointed in the Deputy Speaker, as well as the NCC team, who they said told blatant lies about not having adequate network coverage to enable electronic transmission of election results
The caucus leader, Hon Elumelu, who spoke on behalf of the caucus said, “Nigerians sent us here for a purpose. We are here for a purpose and the purpose is to represent their interest. The Nigerian people voted us to represent their interest. And in this electoral Act we started very well, when it got to clause 52 sub 2, which talks about electronically transmission of results and we could not agree as to the mood of accepting whether to go for electronic transmission or not in that process the deputy minority Leader moved for an amendment, in his amendment he posited that amendment should read that the next election should be by electronic transmission of results and eventually the chairman seating (Deputy Speaker Wase) refused to listen to the amendment.
“The Speaker tried to intervene and when we could not reach an agreement we had to adjourn and decision was reached by the House that we should invite the INEC and NCC to talk about the their ability to ensure that our results are transmitted electronically all over the country. But to our greatest surprise upon resumption this morning we found out that INEC was asked to stay back. We tried to inquire why, they told us that it’s because they do no want inec to be seen to be biased and that was why they deprived inec from coming in.”
While the PDP members were busy protesting, APC lawmakers Friday went ahead to pass both the Electoral Act Amendment Bill and the Petroleum Industry Bill before proceeding on their annual vacation like the Senators and are expected to resume plenary on September 14, 2021.