Nigerians yesterday lost their cool and descended verbally on the National Assembly over the passage of the contentious Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021 with provisions that failed to specify electronic transmission of results as the mode of sending election results in the country’s electoral process.
Unlike the Senate version of the bill passed on Thursday which whittled the power of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to decide on the mode of transmission, the copy of the billed passed by the House of Representatives yesterday threw open the transmission of election results to be determined by the electoral body.
When the Senate voted on the bill on Thursday, clause 52 (3) was amended to allow the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to decide on where and when electronic voting and electronic transmission of results should take place.
Also in the House of Representatives, the lawmakers passed clause 52 allowing INEC the discretion to decide whether to transmit election results electronically or not.
Dissatisfied with the development, the minority caucus of the House yesterday staged a walkout from the Green Chamber.
Shortly after the walkout was staged, members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) proceeded to pass the amendment bill, including the controversial clause 52 (2) of the bill.
The clause states: “The Commission may adopt electronic voting or any other method of voting in any election it conducts as it may deem fit.”
The APC members also explored the opportunity of representing and adopting the report of the National Assembly conference committee on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) which was stepped down on Thursday.
The PIB report was on Thursday stepped down after about an executive session of the House, following protests from lawmakers, especially those from the Niger Delta region who insisted that the House must maintain the five per cent of operating cost earmarked for host communities in the bill as against three per cent passed by the Senate, which was adopted by the conference committee.
Earlier yesterday, the House admitted into the chamber the team from the Nigerian Commissions Commission (NCC) to brief lawmakers on the status of the broadband network in other to guide the decision of the House on electronic transfer of results.
The team was led by the executive commissioner, Stakeholder Management, Mr Adeleke Adewolu.
Although the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, had on Thursday invited NCC and INEC to brief the House, at the resumption of plenary yesterday, he said the briefing from the electoral body would not be necessary to avoid bias.
Responding to questions from the lawmakers, the NCC team noted that only about 50 per cent of polling units in the country has a 3G network that can transmit elections results electronically.
The executive commissioner, Technical Services, Mr Ubale Maska, told the House that in 2018, the commission conducted an analysis of the 119,000 polling units in the country.
According to him, about 50.3 per cent of the polling units have 3G and 2G network coverage, while parts of the remaining 46.7 have only 2G and the rest do not have coverage at all.
He further explained that only polling units with 3G network coverage could transmit election results electronically.
He, however, noted that results could be uploaded in areas covered by 2G and later be moved to an area with 3G for the transmission to be completed.
On possibility of hacking the process, Maska said that no system could be 100 per cent free from activities of hackers.
He was responding to a question from a lawmaker bordering on the ability of the agency to prevent hackers from tempering with the process.
Maska recalled that the 2016 presidential elections in the United States were widely believed to be hacked, saying that activities of hackers were reported daily.
The House was again thrown into a rowdy session when the deputy speaker, Idris Wase, continued the clause-by-clause consideration of the electoral act amendment bill from clause 55.
When the deputy minority leader, Toby Okechukwu, raised a point of order, Wase insisted a question cannot be put on the same clause going by the rule of the House.
Normalcy was, however, restored as Wase agreed that clause 52 would be revisited.
After other clauses in the bill were considered, Wase noted that the only reason why a vote on clause 52 could be taken against was if a member moved for rescission.
Consequently, minority leader, Ndidi Elumelu, raised objections and thereafter staged a walkout.
He was immediately followed by members of the minority political parties.
Elumelu, who later led other members of the minority caucus to a press briefing, said they would not be part of a fake process.
“We have no other choice than to say that we cannot be part of that fake process where they’re depriving Nigerians of their right for their results to be counted accurately because e-transmission will guard against rigging and votes can count. But what they’ve done is to discountenance our agitations that let there be transparency in the next conduct of our elections,” he said.
On PIB, Elumelu said, “The issue of PIB the House could not conclude whether it’s 3 per cent or five per cent; the Speaker ruled yesterday directing the conference committee to go back and review it and ensure that they stand by the House position and the House position is 5 per cent. Now we are hearing, even when it’s not in the order paper, that they want to smuggle it in and passed it this is the unfortunate situation that we have found ourselves, it has never been this bad.”
Angered by the passage of the bill with the contentious clause 52, Nigerians yesterday asked President Muhammadu Buhari not to sign the bill.
The Inter-party Advisory Council (IPAC), an umbrella body of all political parties in Nigeria, said the action of the lawmakers has taken the country back to the dark days.
Speaking with LEADERSHIP Weekend, IPAC spokesman, Major Agbo said the political parties are not happy with the voting of the members of the National Assembly on the bill.
“IPAC is not happy about what happened at the National Assembly,” Agbo said adding that the outcome did not reflect the proposal they made to the lawmakers.
“We made proposal and we were very categorical about electronic transmission of elections results. As it stands now, it is not the way we wanted it. We wanted electronic transmission of results that will guarantee a free and fair election.
“We had expected that all that should be achieve is an electoral system that is clean enough and Nigerians can believe in but as it stands now, they (lawmakers) seem to have taken us back again, creating room for manipulation,” Agbo said.
On what they are going to do, Agbo said: “We are democrats; we are still studying the situation. We are convening a meeting next week to make our position clear to Nigerians. We will try as much as possible to be civil and democratic in our approach.
“It is important that we let you know that the APC is bent on enthronement of one party system because the decision taken by lawmakers at the National Assembly shows that they simply said no to electronic voting and they had their ways. For APC Senators to vote against electronic transmission of results, they did not do that on their own volition.
“They want one political party that will continue to dominate the National Assembly. If we had different political parties, there would have been a robust voting pattern.
“Certainly, what they have done now is to create room for them to manipulate and that was not our thinking. We had wanted a better deal for Nigerians. As it stands now, we are back again to those dark days. The electoral bill will affect the integrity of the 2023 general elections.”
For the civil society organisation, Centre for Democracy Development (CDD), the voting for the bill at the National Assembly was not a reflection of what Nigerians wanted.
The Director of CDD, Idayat Hassan, said many Nigerians are not happy with the outcome of the voting, adding that they will mobilise themselves for a better engagement with the lawmakers.
She said, “For us at the CDD, we are very unhappy, especially with the exclusion of the electronic transmission of results because we feel that the process will improve the credibility of elections and take away all the human interference that is often encountered in our elections.
“I think it is high time Nigeria mobilised against it (electoral bill) because the National Assembly is actually representing Nigerians and not otherwise. In few days, the civil society will be unveiling what their plans will be in terms of this election. If it means engaging them at their Constituency level, I am sure that Nigerians will not rest until the right thing is done”.
Also, the executive director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Awwal Musa Rafsanjani, said it was surprising that the lawmakers toed that part.
“It is very surprising that some lawmakers are not in tune with modern technology. A lot of them are not in tune with election transparency; they are not also in tune with the popular wish and the aspirations of Nigerians; they are not also in tune with the fact that we need to stop fraudulent manipulation of elections results.
“They are not in tune with the fact that we need sound, credible elections in Nigeria. Their action stands to institutionalise election controversy in Nigeria,” Rafsanjani said.
According to CISLAC, the action of the lawmakers shows they don’t want to end electoral violence in Nigeria.
“Their action shows they don’t want to end electoral violence and electoral vandalisation. This is caused by their actions. Nigerians want electronic transmission of election results. Because without instant transmission of election results, delay occurs, manipulation occurs, controversy and so many election disputes occur.
“We wonder what kind of interest these lawmakers have for not allowing a more transparent results’ transmission in Nigeria. It is very worrisome that you are representing the people but instead, you impose your own self-centered interest which has nothing to do with electoral transparency. It has nothing to do with improving electoral process in Nigeria” Rafsanjani added.
“I think Nigerians should continue to condemn this action and press for transparent electoral process in Nigeria.
We will also urge Mr President to also ensure that he assents to the electoral act only when the amendment are in manner that will help improve electoral transparency, decency and ensure that electoral manipulation do not continue to happen,” he further said.
Also, elder statesman and the immediate past secretary-general of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Anthony Sani, said while everyone needs electronic transmission of results, the electoral umpire seems not to have the capacity.
“Everybody wants free and fair election. And all of us think that electronic transmission of results will help bring credible, free and fair elections. We all believe so but is it realistic? With the NCC saying that only 43 per cent of the whole country is covered by the network. 67 per cent is not covered. If that is the case, can we do electronic voting and exclude the 67 per cent? We can’t. Our wish is different from our capacity. The capacity they are telling us is just about 50 percent. Can we do it? What I am appealing to Nigerians is that we should be more realistic because the problem is the capacity,” he stated.
But the Northern Youths Council of Nigeria said it received with rude shock the attempt by the Senate to share the powers of the Independent INEC with the National Assembly and Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) in the ongoing amendment of the Electoral Act.
A statement issued by the president of the Northern Youths Council of Nigeria, Isah Abubakar, noted that the decision of the majority of members of the Senate was done in bad light.
“The Senate puts partisan interest above National Interest. Most of the Senators have failed Nigerians, hence, their only hope for political relevance rest solely on rigging the election,” the group said reminding those behind the decision to note that while they are in bed with their governors and the President today, they will likely find themselves in the opposition party, and there hope for political survival will depend purely on transparent and credible election,” the youth group stated.
On their part, frontline northern pressure groups under the aegis of Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG) described the passage of the bill as quite unfortunate, undesirable and disgraceful.
Spokesperson of the coalition, Abdul-Azeez Suleiman said,”The free for all in the House of Representatives was the peak of disgrace and letdown of the entire democratic process and has certainly eroded voter confidence in the overall credibility of the people they elected.
“The most ridiculous of all is when the federal legislators would find it more important to engage in such a heated process for electronic voting bill while finding it convenient to ignore issues that potentially affect the overall unity of the country and the personal security of citizens.
“This has exposed the way the mind of our representatives is working; bothered more with how to cling to power at the greater expense of national security and public safety that are now clearly threatened”.
The CNG further said it was absolutely disgusting that despite the global technical advances in elections, notably an electronic National Register of Electors, the All Progressives Congress (APC) representatives in the Senate would rather vote for continuance of the act of voting on paper.
“Activities such as voter disqualification at the polls, changes to poll books, the casting of ballots and ballot tabulation should not be expected to continue to be done manually unless the APC has an agenda that supports electoral manipulation.
“CNG is of the view that the increasing adoption of digital technology in society and other areas of government to improve efficiency, transparency and accountability ought to have been enough ground to settle any question as to whether technology can deliver the same benefits for elections in Nigeria”, Suleiman added.
Also, a human rights activist in Osun State, Comrade Waheed Lawal yesterday stated that the development portends grave danger for the nation’s democracy, saying one day Nigerians will rise up and chase out politicians who are the enemies of the masses.
Waheed Lawal who is the leader, Coalition of Civil Societies in Osun, while reacting to the rejection in a telephone interview with LEADERSHIP Weekend in Osogbo, lamented the Senate’s decision, wondering how progressive minded people will reject international best practices for selfish reasons.
He submitted that he was sure that the decision was a clear indication that those who championed the move have diabolical, ulterior motives.
Also speaking, another human rights activist in Osun, Comrade Waheed Saka, aka MAO, expressed surprise that those who were calling for the introduction of the progressive idea not long ago were the ones presently opposing it.
We’ll Explore Legal Option – PDP
National chairman of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Prince Uche Secondus, has said the party will explore legal action to ensure that Nigeria gets the best electoral system.
Secondus who stated this yesterday at a press conference over the passage of the electoral amendment Bill at the National Assembly.
He added that the party condemned and rejected the amendment of the Electoral Act as passed by the National Assembly and urged President Muhammadu Buhari to fulfil his anti-corruption crusade and see this as corruption and a big scam.
He said, “We have mandated our members. We are in consultation with our members to take every necessary legal action to make sure that Nigerian will have the best of the electoral law in terms of amendment. It must be very transparent, and we must ensure that it is carried out by the public and INEC. It happened in Edo and Ondo where election results were transmitted, it was seamless. There was no confusion there, there was no burning down of houses, people didn’t gather at a spot.”
Refuting claims that PDP didn’t do enough over the matter, Secondus said the “party has done so much and in fact even to get the amendment to this level was done by the PDP at the committee stage and public hearing. Everybody agreed that this should not be partisan, it should be about national interest.
“We are talking about transparency, we are also talking about free, fair and credible elections, is it not for all? Is it for one party against the other? We have played our roles, our members there both in the Senate and House of Representatives have played their roles and I believe that they have done the best for the country and that was why you witnessed yesterday the House of Reps staged a walkout,” he said.
He added that INEC was aware of the turn of events “because they had always been there from the public hearing and they had made their input and you know that they are the umpire; they don’t make laws.”