By Anayo Okoli, Regional Editor, South-East, Henry Umoru, Peter Duru, Levinus Nwabughiogu & Davies Iheamnachor
The House of Representatives clarified yesterday that the passage of the electoral bill into law cannot hinder the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, from adopting electronic voting and transmission of election results in 2023.
It explained further that it had in the controversial Section 52(2) of the electoral bill given adequate discretionary powers to the electoral umpire on whether or not to transmit election results electronically.
The clarification came as opposition lawmakers urged President Muhammadu Buhari to insist on the mandatory inclusion of electronic transmission of results in the laws.
They asked the President to simply withhold his assent when presented with the bill, reject and return it to the National Assembly for due diligence to be done.
The reactions, however, came on the heels of the widely-publicised testimony by INEC that it has capacity for real-time transmission of election results from the polling units to the central server, countering the Executive Commissioner, Technical Services, Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, Professor Ubale Maska, that the nation lacks capacity on electronic transmission of election results.
This is even as the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, advanced reasons to justify the position taken by the Senate. His defence came as the passage of the passage on Thursday continues to generate reactions against the development.
The Pan-Igbo group, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Pan-Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, Middle Belt Forum, MBF, among others, yesterday kicked against the position of the National Assembly on electronic transmission of election results.
Reps not against INEC in any way — House spokesman
Giving the clarifications yesterday, spokesman of the House, Benjamin Kalu, said the position of the House was not against INEC in any way.
He added that the disagreement was between NCC, which testified on lack of capacity and INEC which countered the commission; and not with parliament.
He said: “I will like to place it on record that INEC did not counter the House of Representatives’ position on Section 52 (2) of the Electoral Bill because we allowed INEC discretion to decide when it suits them as an independent, unbiased umpire. There is no interference whatsoever.
“We did not take any position that is against the INEC position. If at all there is any countering that was done, it was between the INEC now and the report of the NCC. NCC is saying they don’t have the capacity and INEC is saying they have the capacity.
“It has nothing to do with the National Assembly. The National Assembly, as long as the House of Representatives is concerned, has given INEC full discretionary powers to do so. May be, they should go to the Senate and clear with Senate on the capacity or otherwise.
“We adopted in full what was proposed to us by that report on the bill and that was what the CSOs asked for. That was what the Nigerian people asked for during the public hearing and we did not change it against all the accusations that we were influenced to sneak it out of the bill and we kept clearing that report. Now, it had been presented and we have seen where the position of Nigerians lies — discretionary powers for an independent organizations such as INEC. We did not whittle those powers down. Those powers were not reduced. We agreed with that proposition.
“So, most people who are raising this propaganda around have not really sat down to interpret the position of this particular Section 52 (2). And I am sure that by tomorrow or so, the House will be coming out with a press release that will clear the real position of the House of Representatives.
“So, we are not being countered by INEC. INEC simply countered NCC and they should sort it out. For us, we have given them the powers. If they have the capacity, let them transmit. If they don’t have capacity, let them not transmit.
“The only thing we did was to reject a motion that says “shall” should be used to replace “may”. And you know if you do “shall”, it means it’s compulsory; whether or not they are able to do it, they must do it.
“But here, we are saying, you are independent, look at the various polling units, look at where you have the technological capacity to transmit, you transmit. If you don’t have, you are also open to manual, you should do that.
“That’s what we passed and the public needs to know that was what we passed. There will be a press release by tomorrow (today) on this, hopefully.”
Try NCC’s director for perjury — Rivers Rep
Relying on the disclosure by INEC, some lawmakers from the main opposition, People Democratic Party, PDP, who also spoke exclusively to Vanguard yesterday, said NCC Director should be prosecuted for perjury.
A member of the House of Representatives, Kingsley Chinda, representing Obio/Akpor federal constituency of Rivers State, alleged that the leadership of the House invited the NCC to lie and deceive Nigerians on the issue.
He said: “Nothing new can be added. It is either the House version or the Senate version that will be adopted. We have always known that electronic transmission is possible and those agitating against it know the truth.
“We as parliamentarians cannot put the country in reverse gear. The world is going nuclear and we spend so much on NigComSat, yet we shamelessly lie that we have only 50 per cent network coverage when in 2018, we had about 70% to 80%.
“Who is fooling who? What about Nigerian satellite that I asked the Prof? He avoided the question. I am personally unimpressed with the leadership of the House for conniving with their party, APC, to deceive Nigerians. That’s very disappointing.
“You can tell the truth and still hold an opinion, in such revered position of trust. You need not perjure just to toe party position. Most members of South West switched position over night and NCC was invited to lie and provide a false justification for them.
“I will call for prosecution of the NCC professor who lied on oath. Let him face trial and get a court decision if 2G and 3G have only 50% coverage in Nigeria and that data transmission cannot be done from more than 50% of polling units.
“Simply put, APC is out of favour and knows that their only solution is to rig 2023 election by writing fake election results. Electronic transmission will hinder them. That was why they made it a party policy from a regional agenda to stand against electronic transmission.
“I tell my colleagues that this time the President won’t return the bill because of misspelling of “is” in the bill. He will sign it but I am still confident that Nigerians will be victorious at last.
“That will not save them. Their only saviour is to be responsive, transparent, evolve sound economic policies that will revive the economy, create employment, improve on basic amenities like road, electricity, water, health etc and create employment. They cannot fool everybody all the time.”
Buhari should reject bill — Edo Rep
Speaking in a similar vein, Sergius Ogun, representing Uromi federal constituency of Edo State, as President Buhari to reject the bill for it to be re-presented in September.
He said: “I think the APC members made up their mind long ago to write the results of 2023 elections. The repeal and enactment of the electoral bill is one of the vehicles to achieve this. INEC admitted during the public hearing that they have the capacity to deliver on electronic transmission of result in 2023.
“What the APC didn’t allow to happen in committee of the whole house will not happen in the conference. The whole world should prevail on the President to return the bill to the NASS as he can’t even assent to this bill as passed by the NASS because of the contradictions/conflict with the constitution.
“When the attorney general and his team go through it with fine tooth comb and the President is returning it to the NASS, he can use the opportunity to suggest to his party to allow for electronic transmission.
“He promised to lead from the front, he is not even leading from anywhere right now. He is the leader of his party, let him prove to Nigerians for once that he truly believes in free, fair and credible elections.
“If this is the legacy he leaves when he departs in 2023, God sparing his life, he will not only be on the side of the righteous but posterity will judge him fairly. He returned the electoral amendment bill in the 8th Assembly three times and eventually said it was too late to implement it, citing ECOWAS protocols.
“He can return this bill in September before the budget and we will return it with the budget or even before the budget in December, so he can assent to it before the end of the year.”
We’ve means to transmit — Kogi Rep
On his part, Tajudeen Yusuf, representing Kabba-Bunu/Ijumu federal constituency of Kogi State, reminded Nigerians that INEC employed electronic transmission of results in last Edo, Ondo, Imo elections without any problem.
He said: “No. The conference committee can’t go outside what what passed by the two chambers. The conference can only choose which of the reports to adopt, either the House or Senate, though the House version is still okay.
“The House passed the recommendation of the electoral committee that election and transmission under this act shall be by means determined by the commission. So INEC is at liberty to choose what to do.
“Meanwhile, INEC came before the electoral committee and the public hearing where the commission stated clearly their readiness and preparedness to do electronic transmission of results.
“It was used in Edo and Ondo governorship elections and the Imo senatorial bye election. So, we have the infrastructure to carry out electronic transmission.”
Minority Reps’ll continue the fight — Delta Rep
Also reacting yesterday, Ossai Nicholas Ossai, repreenting Ndokwa/Ukwuani federal constituency, said the Minority Caucus would continue to push for electronic transmission of results.
He said: “The minority caucus will continue to push for electronic transmission of results.”
Recall that the minority caucus of the House had staged a walk-out from plenary amid rancorous consideration of the bill last Friday to protest the non-inclusion of the provision.
Minority Leader, Ndudi Elumelu, had while briefing journalists after passage of the bill, said the Caucus will continue to agitate for the provision of the item in the law.
“By walking out, it clearly shows that we are disappointed in the action of the chairman of the Committee of the Whole which in effect is the Deputy Speaker, Idris Wase.
“When we return, we will continue our agitation and ensure that the right thing is done,” Elumelu had said.
It’s bid to rig 2023 polls — PANDEF
Reacting to the development yesterday, the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, said the new twist taken by the National Assembly on the controversial electoral bill amendment was aimed at perfecting moves to ensure that the 2023 elections were rigged.
National Publicity Secretary of PANDEF, Ken Robinson, described the passage as shameful and ridiculous.
Robinson said passage of the bill had ridiculed the nation before the world, adding that those who voted in favour of the new bill have disappointed the trust reposed in them.
He said: “It ridiculous and shameful. That is just a way of being irresponsible with words. It is shameful. We are ridiculing the country before the world and the global community.
“All those who supported that clause should bury their faces in shame and it is purely an agenda to perpetuate the forced majority that the Southern part of the country has suffered over the years.
“What they want to achieve is to continue to have a situation where Boko Haram-infested state churn out more votes in elections than peaceful states like, Lagos, Bauchi, Delta, Edo and others.
“We will have more votes in Sambisa forest than in peaceful Rivers State like we had in 2019. That is the platform they are setting to rig 2023 election. It is a shame. But they should know that Nigerians are ready for them and it is going to be a showdown come 2023.”
Ohanaeze blasts NASS
Also reacting, OHANAEZE Ndigbo lashed out at members of the National Assembly who rejected electronic transmission of result by the Independent Electoral Commission, INEC, in its elections, saying it was shocked that ethnicity, religion and partisanship, instead of transcendental values among the law makers, had played a key role in their decision.
National publicity of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Alex Chidozie Ogbonnia, said: “It is regrettable that the voting pattern in the National Assembly at this level of global sophistication is still defined by ethnicity, religion and partisanship instead of transcendental values.
“The electronic transmission of election results is expected to reduce manipulations of various kinds. For instance, during the 2019 Presidential election, some persons in authority were struggling to allocate 25 per cent of the votes to certain candidates.
“They tried to achieve it by re-writing election results. With electronic transmission of results, such electoral malfeasance cannot be contemplated. Therefore, the electronic model reduces thuggery and other forms of electoral manipulation to the barest minimum.
“It is painful that the Senate could not redeem itself with the sanctity of the electronic model. The Senate, in ideal situation, should reason above the base sentiments of ethnicity, party, religion and political immediacies. A Senator should be statesman and answerable to the good of the nation and posterity.
“With what happened in the Senate, Nigeria has backpedalled by about fifty years. “
Also reacting, Igbo elite body, Alaigbo Development Foundation, ADF, said the action of the National Assembly was meant to whittle down the powers of INEC, dismissing their action as null and void.
“The amendments made by the National Assembly in respect of the Electoral Act is null and void. The amendment was an attempt to whittle down INEC powers by subjecting the transmission of results through electronic means to the will of the National Communications Commission, NCC, and the approval of the National Assembly.”The amendment is dead on arrival because of its retrogressive implications. The Constitutional powers of INEC are such that the electoral management body is independent and autonomous. This implies that in the discharge of its electoral functions, INEC cannot take orders from any other body or institution.”So INEC has already admitted that it has capacity to transmit election results electronically and cannot be directed otherwise by any other institution, including the NCC and the National Assembly. So, the insincere amendment proposed by the National Assembly is a nullity; it has failed woefully,” ADF spokesman, Abia Onyike, said.”
Shameful development — MBF
In its reaction, the Middle Belt Forum, MBF, described as shameful the rejection of electronic transfer of election results by some members of the National Assembly, saying those behind the act won elections through rigging and were protecting their personal interest.
National President of MBF, Dr. Bitrus Pogu, said: “It is a shameful thing, and the argument they are putting forward is unfounded. I am even disappointed that the Senate President would say that they are trying to save 50 per cent of Nigerians whose results may not be transmitted. I think that is funny.
“In this time and age, apart from the GSM which we have, and which everybody uses in this country, including children who are not even up to voting age and we know the coverage level, we also have the satellite phones all over the place and you can use that to communicate anywhere as long as you are in the open.
“Now, INEC has also come out to say they have the capacity to transmit results everywhere around the country. Now all I can say is that members of the National Assembly who ensured that they stifled this recommendation of transmitting results are only protecting themselves. That means that they came in through rigging and they know that they cannot win if they do not rig.”
Lawan explains Senate’s position
Meanwhile, President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, yesterday advanced reasons to justify the position taken by the Senate on the electronic transmission of election results.
The Senate on Thursday, while considering the Electoral Act 2010 Amendment Bill, voted that “The INEC may consider electronic transmission of results, provided the national coverage is adjudged to be adequate and secure by the National Communications Commission, NCC, and approved by the National Assembly.”
Lawan explained that the Upper Chamber voted the way it did in defence of about half of the Nigerian voters whose votes might not be counted with immediate deployment or application of electronic transmission of election results.
The Senate President spoke to journalists at the weekend while on a constituency visit to his Yobe North Senatorial District.
Asked to comment on the passage of the Electoral Act 2010 Amendment Bill, Lawan said: “I’m happy that we have been able to pass the amendment even though some people are complaining of what we have passed in the Senate and probably what the House of Representatives has also passed.
“When the majority of senators voted against immediate application or deployment of electronic transmission of results from the polling units, to the ward, to the local government, states and federal, they didn’t say they do not believe in electronic transmission (of election results).
“All of us in the Senate, 109 of us, believe that at one point, our electoral process must deploy electronic transmission so that it eases and enhances the electoral process and give it more credibility and integrity.
“But you see, when you have not reached that stage where you could deploy the electronic transmission from every part of the country, then you have to be very careful. And no matter what anybody may say, you cannot have about 50 per cent of Nigerian voters not participating or not getting their votes counted in elections and say it doesn’t matter, that we have to start the electronic transmission.
“We know the evils of not transmitting results electronically but compare the evils of electronically transmitting just half of the electoral votes from Nigerians and say you have elected a President with 50 percent only.
“Others have voted but their votes could not be electronically transmitted. This is disenfranchising Nigerians and we are not going to support this kind of thing because essentially, we are supposed to be fair to every part of Nigeria and when we voted, every part of Nigeria voted for and against (the amendment).
“What I mean here is that, you have Senators from northern part of Nigeria who voted for electronic transmission. Maybe that is their belief or their environment is ready for electronic transmission.
“You have senators from southern part of Nigeria who voted against immediate deployment of electronic transmission but they support that the electronic transmission of results should be allowed after certain conditions are met and the conditions are simple: The National Communication Commission, NCC, had provided the technical information that only NCC could give – that only about 50 per cent of the Nigerian environment, the polling units, in the country could possibly have their results electronically transmitted.
“So what happens to the other 50 percent. So we believe that all of us in the Senate were aiming at the same target but chose to go through different routes and that is why in my concluded remarks in the Senate after the debate and voting, I said there was no Victor, no Vanquish because we all meant well.
“For those Nigerians who still feel that the electronic transmission should have just been allowed to take effect, I said well, this is how democracy works. Democracy is to allow those minority views to be expressed and democracy provides that the majority views will always prevail.”
Lawan faulted some media reports that insinuated that only the APC senators voted against immediate application of the electronic transmission of results, explaining that the votes cast on either sides of the subject matter cut across party lines and regional divides.
“In this respect, it was not just APC. I have seen it reported in the media that only APC Senators voted against the immediate deployment of electronic transmission.
“There are PDP Senators who voted against that but it appears that some people want to target at APC Senators. There were PDP Senators who voted against immediate deployment. I’m using the word ‘immediate’ with an emphasis.
“Nobody said don’t use electronic transmission at all. You use it when we reach there and only NCC can give you information. That is the main reason why, in the Senate version, clause 52(3), there is that provision to contact the NCC because INEC will not know until they go to NCC.
“So NCC will be the only institution to give that information because they are competent and it’s within their jurisdiction. And we say the National Assembly should approve of it.
“It is not when they want to do transmission that they will have to go to National Assembly that we want to do transmission. No. That once NCC has told INEC is now ready. INEC should come to the National Assembly with the NCC and say we are now ready.
“There is no way any National Assembly, not even this 9th National Assembly will deny INEC the use of electronic transmission as part of our electoral process when we are ready for it,” Lawan said.
He said it was wrong to conclude that Senators who voted for electronic transmission with conditions did not like the results transmitted electronically.
“I want to take this opportunity to debunk that insinuation or outright castigation of Senators that voted against immediate deployment of electronic transmission that they don’t like electronic transmission. It is not true.
“Even though I didn’t vote. But I believe that what my colleagues did is binding on all of us in the Senate. 28 against 52…l believe that what we have done requires that the Senate and the House will each constitute a conference committee, what we call harmonisation for the two sides. When we harmonise, then we will send it to Mr President,” Lawan said.