The Senate on Thursday gave a condition under which the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) may transmit election results through electronic means.
According to the Red Chamber, INEC must get clearance from the National Communications Commission (NCC), which must also be approved by the National Assembly, before the electronic transmission of election results.
The Bill was read for the third time and passed by the Senate, amid an uproar.
However, its passage was stalled in the House of Representatives, following the failure of members to agree on the mode of transmission of election results.
Consequently, the Green Chamber, which was expected to proceed on vacation on Thursday, decided to convene today for final deliberation on the amendment.
Electronic transmission of election results has been the nucleus of agitations for electoral reforms in the last 18 years.
Civil Society groups and other Nigerians believe that it is the antidote to election rigging. Therefore, its rejection is perceived as a setback to the struggle for the sanctity of the ballot box.
The resolutions of the Senate followed its consideration of the recommendations in the report of its Committee on INEC on the Electoral Act No. 6, 2010 (Amendment) Bill, 2021.
Chairman of the Senate Committee on INEC, Senator Kabiru Gaya, presented the report after which the Upper Chamber resolved into a Committee of the Whole to consider it clause by clause.
The consideration progressed with minor amendments proposed by lawmakers until it got to Clause 52(3), which provided for transmission of election results by electronic means by INEC “when and where practicable.”
Deputy Senate Chief Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, at that point, proposed an amendment to the clause.
He said the clause as contained in the Bill, which provided that: “The Commission may transmit results of elections by electronic means where and when practicable” should be amended to read: “The Commission may transmit results of elections by electronic means, provided that the network has been adjudged secured by the NCC and approved by the National Assembly.”
The amendment sought by Senator Abdullahi was upheld by the Senate when it was put to a voice vote by Senate President Ahmad Lawan.
The approval of the proposal threw the Senate into disagreement, prolonged uproar and rowdiness.
It was the first division witnessed in the Senate of the ninth Assembly.
Senator Bassey Albert Akpan had proposed a counter-amendment to the proposal by Senator Abdullahi.
Akpan proposed that Section 52(3) of the Bill as contained in the Bill, which reads: “The Commission may transmit results of elections by electronic means where and when practicable” be upheld.
The proposal was defeated when it was put to voice vote.
The uproar and rowdiness in the chamber intensified, following the rejection of the provision for electronic transmission of results in the Bill.
Almost all the senators were on their feet. Proceedings stopped temporarily and the Senate was divided along partisan lines of All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The lack of consensus forced Senator Lawan to order a closed-door session at about 1.55 pm.
The Senate resumed its clause by clause consideration of the Electoral Act Bill at 14:10 pm after the closed-door session.
At that point, Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe raised ‘A point of Order’.
He cited Order 73 of the Senate Standing Orders and called for a division of the Senate to enable Nigerians to know those lawmakers that opposed or supported electronic transmission.
After hesitating for a while, Lawan agreed that the Senate be divided to determine the stand of the Senate on the amendment.
At the end of voting, senators who supported electronic transmission, subject to clearance from NCC and National Assembly, polled 52, while those who opposed the idea that INEC should seek any form of clearance from the NCC with approval of the National Assembly polled 28.
Of the 108 senators that were supposed to vote, 28 were absent. The total vote cast was 80. The Senate President can only cast a vote when there is a tie according to Senate Rules.
Before the division, the voting pattern in the Senate was across party lines. But, during the division, the voting was strictly along party lines with only two PDP senators voting in support of the position of APC senators.
Party loyalty came to the fore as the Chairman of the Senate Committee on INEC, Kabiru Gaya, voted against a provision proposed in the panel’s report.
In the House of Representatives, clause by clause consideration of the bill was stalled as members failed to agree on the mode of transmission of election results.
The House rejected the electronic transmission against what appeared to be a majority vote that results be transmitted electronically.
Tempers rose as members cutting across party lines shouted at each other in the chambers.
The consideration of the report had gone smoothly with a minimal amendment to the clauses until it got to clause 52(2), which deals with the conduct of the poll and the mode of transmission of results from polling units.
The lawmakers had rejected a proposal by the Speaker in Section 52 (1) that elections be conducted only through the open ballot system rather than the open secret ballot system proposed by the House Committee on Electoral Matters.
The Committee also proposed that “voting at an election and transmission of result under this Bill shall be in accordance with the procedure determined by the Commission”.
Deputy Minority Leader Toby Okechukwu, however, proposed an amendment that the transmission of results should be done through electronic transfer. It was seconded by Deputy Chief Whip Nkiruka Onyejeocha.
However, when the proposal was put to vote by Deputy Speaker Idris Wase, there was an overwhelming “Is”. But, the Deputy Speaker ruled in favour of the “nays”, leading to an uproar on the floor.
When the rowdiness died down, Chairman of the House Committee on Finance, James Abiodun Faleke, also proposed an amendment to the same Section 52 (2), saying the transmission of results should be done both manually and electronically.
But, his amendment did not go down well with some members who felt that the earlier ruling should be rescinded.
Also, Kingsley Chinda called for a clear division of the House, but, the request was turned down.
Before putting Faleke’s motion to vote, the Deputy Speaker urged members to behave like true legislators and uphold national interest.
He said: “Assuming we make for electronic transmission of results, what will happen to people in places like Yobe, Maiduguri and other parts of the country where the mast is down?.
“I don’t know what the broadband coverage of the country is at the moment. We must consider those whose communities have not been covered by broadband penetration.”
The lawmakers also rejected the proposal that election results be transmitted both through electronic means and manually.
However, while members were still waiting for him to rescind the earlier decision and other members raised their hand to propose more amendments to the section as suggested by Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila, the Deputy Speaker called for a voice vote on Section 52 as proposed by the Electoral Committee.
Wase brought down the gavel and continued with the consideration of other sections.
But, members revolted again, forcing the Deputy Speaker, who said some members came to his seat to insult him, to ask the House Leader, Alhassan Ado Doguwa, to move a motion for the House to revert to plenary since the consideration cannot continue under such atmosphere.
While reporting what had transpired, Wase informed his colleagues that the House had considered Clauses 1 to 54, but members protested again, forcing the Speaker to adjourn the House till today.
Gbajabimaila said: “Honourable members, this House will adjourn till 10 am tomorrow (today) to continue consideration of the report starting from clause 52.”