…As House of Reps members engage in fisticuffs on the floor

…Fail to resolve electronic transmission of election results, abort recess

...Senate passes Electoral Act Bill, empowers NCC, NASS to determine the electronic voting process

…PDP says APC Senators in haste to murder democracy in Nigeria

 

IT was a free-for-all on the floor of the House of Representatives as members engaged each other in fisticuffs following a disagreement on whether electronic transmission of election results should be retained or not in the Electoral Act being amended. Trouble began when, during the consideration of clause by clause of the Electoral Act being amended as the Deputy Speaker, Hon. Idris Wase who presided over the House Committee of Whole read out clause 50 which has to do with electronic transmission of election results during elections in Nigeria. The clause read in part “that election results shall be transmitted electronically during elections in Nigeria.” When he sought the opinion of members at plenary via voice vote, it was obvious that those in favour were in majority but he ruled otherwise and hit the gavel. The Deputy Speaker’s ruling sparked protests especially from members of the opposition political parties who rose in unison shouting on top of their voices in disagreement.

Efforts by some other principal officers, including the Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila to calm the protesting members yielded no results as they continued their protest. Others were seen consulting with members from the ruling political All Progressives Congress, APC. In trying to salvage the situation, Hon. Wase cautioned members over their conduct saying, “we should conduct ourselves in a befitting manner; what happened has not gotten to the point of insults. For integrity sake, we should be careful the way we conduct ourselves.” He explained that the main reason why the issue of electronic transmission of election results was being avoided was because of those who live in parts of the country where there are no masts or existing ones are down. At this juncture, a member from Lagos State, Hon. James Faleke, moved a motion that in order to resolve the impasse, the clause should be amended to read that both electronic transmission of election results and manual transmission should be allowed in the Act. Majority of members did not buy the idea as they shouted “no, no, no”, on top of their voices.

The deputy speaker signaled to a member to second the motion and when that was done and the motion was put to vote, he ruled that nays had it when it was obvious that ‘I’s had it. This again sparked off another round of protests that saw members throwing punches at each other as personnel of the Sergeant-at-arms quickly removed the mace and kept it in a safe place. After over one hour of shouting without making any progress, the House reconvened into plenary and the Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila announced that the House should abort its planned recess and resume plenary today (Friday) to complete the clause by clause consideration of the report and possibly pass the Bill. He also announced that the House should invite management of the Nigeria Communications Commission, NCC to throw more light on network coverage in Nigeria to guide its decisions. In a related development, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP said it was shocked alongside the majority of Nigerians over the decision of the All Progressives Congress, APC-led Senate to undermine Nigeria’s electoral process by refusing to approve the demand by Nigerians across board for electronic transmission of election results without conditionality. In a statement signed by the party’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, the party said the action of the APC Senators “is an atrocious assault on the sensibilities of Nigerians, who looked up to the Senate for improvement in our electoral process in a manner that will engender 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 in the Nigeria Communication Commission, NCC; an agency under executive control in addition to an extra endorsement of the legislature before conducting elections. “This action of the APC Senators is a direct affront, novel in its recklessness and a defilement of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), which clearly conferred operational independence to INEC to conduct elections, free from interferences and regulations from any other agency of government,” the statement added. Meanwhile, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Aminu Tambuwa has condemned the decision of the Senate to subject INECs constitutional power to conduct elections to the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, and National Assembly describing it as unconstitutional. “For the avoidance of doubt, S.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.

“In Third Schedule, Part 1, F, S.15: INEC has power to ORGANISE, UNDERTAKE and SUPERVISE all elections. The Constitution further provides that INEC OPERATIONS SHALL NOT be subject to the direction OF ANYBODY or AUTHORITY,” he added. On its part, the Senate has passed the much discussed Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021 following clause by clause consideration and adoption of recommendations of report of the Joint Committee on INEC at plenary. It amended clause 52(3) of the Bill to empower the NCC to determine suitability of networks for electronic voting procedures with approval of the National Assembly. Clause 52 (3) of the Bill had prescribed that INEC may adopt electronic voting and electronic processes where practicable. The clause which had provided for INEC to determine electronic voting process where practicable was, however, amended to empower NCC to determine suitability of network to conduct electronic election processes with approval of National Assembly. The amendment was sought by Sen. Sabi Abdullahi (APCNiger) while President of Senate, Ahmad Lawan hit the gravel in support of the amendment after a voice vote. Sen. Bassey Akpan, (PDP Akwa-Ibom) however, called for an amendment to retain the initial recommendation of clause 52(3) on the Bill that was amended.

Akpan’s call however resulted in a round of hearted verbal arguments amongst senators. The approval of Senator Sabi’s amendment proposal however did not go down well with some senators, who were against the amendment to the clause. This resulted in a rowdy session, as senators engaged in heated exchange of words. Senate President, Ahmad Lawan then called for a close session, which lasted for almost 10 minutes given the reverberating exchange of words amongst senators. Senator Enyinaya Abaribe (PDPAbia, after the end of the closed clause called for division, having cited order 73, which allowed senators to contest the ruling of the president of the Senate. Senators then took turns to vote “Yes or No” on the retention of the clause for electronic voting process as earlier recommended on the bill. At the end of the voting process, Senators who voted for the amendment to the clause carried the day given the highest number. The senators who voted for Sen. Sabi’s amendment were 52 while that of Sen.

Akpan were 28 while 28 Senators were absent. Earlier, while presenting the report, Chairman of the committee Sen. Kabiru Gaya (APC- Kano said the bill was designed to holistically address all issues affecting the conduct of free, fair and credible elections in the country. He said the National Assembly had made several attempts at amending the Electoral Act No. 6, 2010, but the bill was not given assent by President Muhammadu Buhari. He, however, said the National Assembly was poised to give Nigerians a new electoral act, thus forming a legislative agenda for the ninth Senate. “Owing to the challenges experienced in the 8th National Assembly as it relates to the Amendment of the Electoral Act, the ninth National Assembly decided to adopt an allen compassing approach in the 2021 Amendment process.” He said the Bill with 158 clauses seeks to regulate conduct of Federal, State and Area Council elections, to make provisions for restriction of qualification for elective offices to the relevant provisions of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999.

“The Bill also provides for use of card readers and other technological devices in elections, political party primaries as it relates to a timeline for the submission of a list of candidates. “It also provides for criteria for substitution of candidates, limit of campaign expenses among others.” He also said that the bill also addresses the omission of names or candidates or logos of political parties in an election and its resultant consequences. “There are also provisions on guidelines on replacement of lost or destroyed permanent voters cards; dates for conducting primary elections shall not be earlier than 180 days before the date of election,” Gaya said. President of Senate Ahmad Lawan after the passage of the bill said: “We have gone through probably the most rigorous process we ever had.

“We had at one point had to go through a division, but that is democracy. “No hard feelings and I am 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 believe 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. “I, in any case, we have even if it’s a single difference between our version and theirs, there will be a committee to harmonize, 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. “We pray that this bill will guide the 2023 general elections so well. “And we hope to have a better and more improved election process in 2023”, he added.


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