Faced with growing criticisms over attempts to surreptitiously remove electronic transmission of results in the draft of the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2021, the Senate Committee on Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) yesterday returned the controversial clause to the bill.
THISDAY learnt the committee took the decision at an emergency meeting in Abuja.
The National Assembly has been under fire since Sunday when the news broke that the new draft bill, which provides for a total ban of electronic transmission of votes is to be introduced at the Senate today.
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The provision forms part of the 121-page document to be laid before the upper legislative chamber at plenary by the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Senator Kabir Gaya.
But the draft bill was said to be at variance with what was earlier agreed to by the committees of the two chambers of the National Assembly.
Critics on Monday had called attempts by the federal legislators to expunge the electronic transmission of results from the draft bill as a plot to rig the 2023 general election ahead of time.
The critics had argued that since President Muhammadu Buhari would not be in contention, the lawmakers were working to the answer for their own selfish purpose, calling on Nigerians to resist them.
About 22 Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) had raised the alarm over the alleged plan by the National Assembly to pass the bill without the inclusion of the electronic collation of results in the bill.
The CSOs, in a statement on Monday, said the manipulation of Section 50(2) would undermine INEC’s efforts to improve the election results management regime.
However, sources told THISDAY yesterday that faced with the growing criticisms, the committee called the meeting to take a holistic look at the draft of the bill.
It was gathered that some of the committee members, who were apparently embarrassed by the report that the bill banned the electronic transmission of election results, expressed concerns and emphasised the need for the committee to revisit the report.
Some committee members were said to have called the leadership of the Senate, saying they were not part of the decision by the committee to insert the clause banning the electronic transfer of votes.
Based on this, it was impressed upon Gaya, the need for the committee to meet again yesterday to take another look at all the clauses contained in the draft bill ahead of its being laid at today’s plenary.
THISDAY gathered that a meeting of the committee was called at one of the Senate committee rooms and was attended by 12 committee members with Gaya presiding.
It was learnt that members of the committee insisted that all the clauses in the draft bill should be taken one after the other to avoid any misrepresentation.
When the committee got to page 25 of the document and subtitled procedure at an election under Section 50(2) of the bill was reworked to read: “Voting at an election under this bill shall be in accordance with the procedure determined by the commission (INEC), which may include electronic voting provided that the commission may transmit results of elections by electronic means where and when practicable.”
The meeting lasted for over four hours with the committee members insisting that the final draft be produced for them to assent before ending the meeting about 5 pm.
The previous Section 50(2) of the bill had read: “Voting at an election under this bill shall be in accordance with the procedure determined by the Commission (INEC), which may include electronic voting provided that the commission shall not transmit results of the election by electronic means.”
THISDAY findings revealed that this clause was sneaked into the draft bill without the knowledge of the committee members.
A member of the Senate committee on INEC told THISDAY that at no time was that provision discussed at the committee level.
The senator said he now understood the delay in presenting the bill after the committee had long concluded its work.
He added: “This is not funny at all. I now know why the presentation of the report had been delayed this long after we finished our work at the committee level. They have been playing hide-and-seek on the matter.
“For all I know and other committee members can bear me witness, the issue of ban on electronic transfer of votes was not part of the report we wrote. So, that means the committee chairman is culpable and owes the committee members an explanation over the strange insertion.”
However, reacting to the allegation of a plot by the National Assembly to rig the 2023 general election ahead of time, the President of the Senate, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, said presiding officers were not tampering with the workings of committees of both chambers on the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021.
He spoke in Abuja during the inauguration of the National Commissioners of the Public Complaints Commission (PCC).
He said: “Let me seize this opportunity to react to insinuations being made against the leadership of the National Assembly as regards the 2010 Electoral Act ( Amendment) Bill 2021, which will soon be considered and passed at both chambers.
“Leadership or presiding officers of the National Assembly are not the ones to determine what and what provisions should be in the report to be presented, making the series of phone calls being made to us unnecessary.”
House, PDP Caucus, Others Flay Plan to Rig 2023 Election
The House of Representatives also flayed the allegation that the leadership of the National Assembly was attempting to rig the 2023 general election through the manipulation of the Electoral Amendment Bill 2021.
In addition, the Leader of the Peoples Democratic Party Caucus of the House, Hon. Kingsley Chinda, said if the lawmakers failed to include electronic transmission of results and compulsory use of card reader in the new draft of the bill, then they did not accomplish anything in the amendment.
Reacting to the allegation that the National Assembly was planning to rig the future elections, House spokesman, Hon. Benjamin Kalu, told THISDAY that the bill, when submitted, would be voted on by the entire House.
“The House cannot say anything on something that is not before it. The bill, when submitted, will be voted on by the entire House. If there is any manipulation as alleged by the public, which I seriously doubt, the committee members will point that out on the floor and have it debated on in line with parliamentary practice,” he said.
Chinda told THISDAY that true democrats ought not to be afraid of the decision of the people.
He said the lawmakers ought to bequeath to Nigerians the legislation they want with no salt in them.
“If we fail to include electronic transmission of results and compulsory use of card reader in the new draft of the bill, then we did not accomplish anything in the amendment,” he stated.
Another lawmaker, Hon. Bede Eke (PDP, Imo), said it was unbelievable that the National Assembly would pass the bill without the electronic transmission of results in the 21st century.
He urged his colleagues to give Nigerians an electoral law that will ensure free and fair elections.
Also reacting, a member representing Donga/Takum/Ussa and Yantu Federal Constituency of Taraba State in the House of Representatives, Hon. Rimamde Shawulu, described as worrisome the strange clauses that were allegedly inserted into the bill.
The lawmaker expressed his concern yesterday while featuring on ‘Good Morning Show’ on ARISE NEWS Channel, the broadcast arm of THISDAY.
“In this case, we have not received the report of the Committee on Electoral Matters. They have not been distributed to members of the House, the information we have is the same information that the public has,” he stated.
Also reacting, the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) lamented that the alleged insertion in the bill would jeopardize the integrity of future elections.
National Chairman of the party, Mr. Falalu Bello, in a statement yesterday, said it was sad that the National Assembly was poised to squander yet another opportunity for bringing remarkable improvement to Nigeria’s electoral legal framework.
However, the spokesperson of the Senate, Senator Ajibola Basiru (APC Osun), advised his colleagues with divergent views to keep their gun powder dry until the bill is brought up on the floor of the Senate.
Basiru told THISDAY in a telephone conversation that he was appalled that senators who are supposed to be familiar with the process of law-making were playing to the gallery and trying to conduct the affairs of the Senate on the pages of newspapers.
He said: “At best, what we have is the report of a committee, which will be brought to the floor for thorough scrutiny. It will not be passed like that. There is still a lot of room to add and subtract. It will be subjected to a clause-by-clause debate. That is what they should prepare for rather than going to the media to scandalise the institution we all belong to.”