The Nation (Nigeria)

Electoral bill amendment: Row as Reps back Senate on e-transmissi­on of results

• PDP kicks, may head for court •Tambuwal: NCC’S role is unconstitu­tional •House okays PIB, adopts 3% for host communitie­s

- Tony Akowe; Nicholas Kalu; Gbade Ogunwale, Abuja

Lhouseike the Senate before it, the of Representa­tives yesterday passed the controvers­ial Electoral Act amendment bill, ceding the prerogativ­e to decide the mode of transmitti­ng election result to the Independen­t National Electoral Commission (INEC).

The House upheld the controvers­ial Clause 52(2) which allows INEC to determine when, where and how voting and transmissi­on of results will be done.

It stipulates thus: "Voting at an election and transmissi­on of result under this bill shall be in accordance with the procedure determined by the commission."

But Speaker Femi Gbajabiami­la said while the House would have loved to approve electronic transmissi­on of results, informatio­n from experts does not support its adoption now.

"It is not as easy as it sounds. We must get our electoral process right and when the right is right, we can come back and amend the law. We don't want to disenfranc­hise anybody," he said.

The House decision was vehemently protested by members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who had walked out of the chambers after sensing that the proceeding was not going according to their own calculatio­n.

They later said they were not part of the decision.

Their party said it might go court over the House decision.

The House had on Thursday stopped considerat­ion of the report of its Committee on Electoral Matters following a disagreeme­nt among members which almost led to a free for all on the floor of the chambers.

Pro electronic transmissi­on of result Reps were disappoint­ed yesterday that the Chairman of the Committee of the Whole and Deputy Speaker Idris Wase ruled against a motion for an amendment moved by Deputy Minority Leader, Toby Okechukwu.

Speaker Femi Gbajabiami­la had announced that the Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigeria Communicat­ion Commission and the Chairman of the Independen­t National Electoral Commission (INEC) would be invited to brief the House on the implicatio­n of allowing electronic transmissi­on of election results.

However, when the House resumed plenary yesterday to continue with the considerat­ion of the amendment, the Speaker announced that only officials of the NCC were available to address them.

He said INEC was left out since it is the umpire and would not want to take side in the process.

Gbajabimai­la appealed to members to allow considerat­ion of other clauses in the report first before coming back to the controvers­ial clause 52 since it was the only contentiou­s clause in the bill.

Members appeared assured and allowed the proceeding to go on.

However, after the considerat­ion, Minority Leader Ndudi Elumelu rose to address the House, drawing the attention of the presiding officer (Deputy Speaker Wase) to the fact that considerat­ion of the report was stalled at clause 52 on Thursday, adding that it would be out of place to ask for the rescission of the earlier decision on clause 52, since no decision had been made.

He said: "What happened yesterday was that the Deputy Minority Leader moved an amendment to clause 52 (2) which was rejected before the Speaker's interventi­on. We were still on that amendment which we could not agree on. So, asking for rescission of clause 52 before we can move forward is out of place."

At that stage, Elumelu began to walk out of the chamber, followed by his deputy and some other members of the PDP and Minority caucus while some others remained behind in the chamber to conclude the considerat­ion.

As soon as Elumelu left the chambers, the Deputy Speaker put the question to the House on clause 52.

Members responded with an overwhelmi­ng yes.

After that, they started chanting PIB, PIB, PIB.

In passing the amendment on Thursday, the Senate stipulated that INEC must get clearance from the NCC, which must also be approved by the National Assembly for electronic transmissi­on of election results.

The Bill was read for the third time and passed by the Senate amid an uproar.

Only 50.3 per cent of polling units covered by 2G/3G network

Addressing the House of Representa­tives on the capability of the Nigeria Communicat­ion Commission (NCC) to transmit election results electronic­ally from polling stations yesterday, the Executive Commission­er, Technical Services of the NCC, Engr. Ubale Maska said only 50.3 per cent of the 119,0000 polling units in the country as at 2018 are covered by 2G and 3G network.

Maska, who stood in for the Executive Vice Chairman of the Commission, Prof. Umar Garba Dambatta, said election results could only be transmitte­d by the 3G network, which he said covers only 50 per cent of polling units in the country.

He explained that the result of their 2018 analysis of polling units across the country revealed that 49.7 per cent were yet to have any form of network coverage.

Asked whether it was possible to capture data offline where there is no network and transmit from an area where there is network, he answered in the affirmativ­e, but said it was not the same with electronic transmissi­on.

Responding to a question from the Speaker on the possibilit­y of hacking the system, he said: "No system is safe from hacking. The election in the United States in 2016 there is widespread belief that it was hacked by the Russians."

We are not against electronic transmissi­on of results, but… Gbajabiami­la

Addressing his colleagues at the end of the exercise, Speaker Femi Gbajabiami­la said the House was not against electronic transmissi­on of result, but rather interested in ensuring that the vote of every Nigerian is protected.

He said: "For clarity, we have left the controvers­ial section 52 as recommende­d by the committee which is to allow INEC to determine what to do. At least, we have been better informed by NCC that came and answered very critical questions. I want to use this opportunit­y to talk to people out there as well.

"We all want electronic transmissi­on of result, but based on the informatio­n from experts, it is not as easy as it sounds. We must get our electoral process right and when the right is right, we can come back and amend the law. We don't want to disenfranc­hise anybody.

"We have consistent­ly said that every vote must count. It is not about 10 or 20 per cent coverage or even 90 per cent. If one person's vote is not counted, it will defeat what we have said on this floor that every vote must count.

"We also heard an objective view on the issue of transmissi­on. It is not like using POS. He (NCC Representa­tive) told us that NCC had about 49 per cent coverage as at 2018. Since 2018, INEC has created more polling units. So, the percentage might have been lower or higher than that.

"They have also told us that there is a possibilit­y of hacking and we would not want to leave our election to chance."

He said there was a big difference between electronic voting and electronic transmissi­on of result, saying: "From my research, electronic voting does not even take place in any European country that I know of. Not in Germany, not in England, not in Spain, not in France or any part. In fact in Germany, they did a referendum on electronic voting and they voted against it.

"So, I don't think that electronic voting is feasible right now. What we have been talking about is electronic transmissi­on, and from what we have been told today, we need to do more work so that everybody's vote will be counted."

Why we walked out of plenary, by Elumelu

Addressing newsmen after leading some members of the minority caucus to stage a walk out of plenary, Minority Leader, Rep. Ndudi Elumelu, said they had to walk out of the plenary because they did not want to be party to depriving Nigerians their right for their results to be counted accurately because etransmiss­ion will guard against rigging and votes can count.

He said: "Nigerians sent us here for a purpose. We are here for a purpose and the purpose is to represent their interest. The Nigerian people voted us to represent their interest. And in this Electoral Act, we started very well. When it got to clause 52 sub 2, which talks about electronic transmissi­on of results, the deputy Minority Leader moved an amendment.

"In his amendment, he posited that for the next election, results should be done through electronic transmissi­on. The chairman seating (Deputy Speaker Wase) refused to listen to the amendment.

"The Speaker tried to intervene and when we could not reach an agreement, we had to adjourn and decision was reached by the House that we should invite the INEC and NCC to talk about their ability to ensure that our results are transmitte­d electronic­ally all over the country.

"But to our greatest surprise, upon resumption this morning, we found out th a ti ne cw as asked to stay back. We tried to inquire why and they told us that it's because they do not want to be seen to be biased.

"For NCC, they asked the Executive Vice Chairman not to show up and instead, asked somebody in capacity of a Director to show up. Even the Director himself couldn't even substantia­te issues and while making his submission, we couldn't be heard.

"We went on when the Speaker suggested that we step down clause 52, to consider other clauses after which we would come back to clause 52. Having done that, he was now trying to add that they move a motion for us to go back to plenary and report progress and that resulted in us through me standing up to ask the Chairman if we were not going to go back to that clause 52.

"In our opinion, that clause 52(2) has not been taken let alone asking us to apply the rules of the House which states that we should come by way of rescission. If you do that, it means you're saying that ab initio, it has been carried and we said no because ab initio, it has not been carried, which was why we suspended further considerat­ion of the bill on Thursday.

"But he refused and said it had been carried. So, we had no other choice than to say we cannot be part of that fake process where they're depriving Nigerians of their right for their results to be counted accurately because etransmiss­ion 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."

Also speaking, Deputy Minority Leader, Rep. Toby Okechuckwu said: "Statistica­lly, according to NCC reports, they had 119,000 polling units in 2018 which is three years ago. Now three years after, he said they had a coverage for 109,000, meaning that it was only 8000 polling units that was not covered. That for me presuppose­s over 90 per cent coverage.

"Two, the reference that he made about the level of coverage of 2G and 3G. Let me say that each of these frequencie­s has capacity to transfer data. It is very clear. So what we are doing essentiall­y is rule of men and not rule of our rules".

Another lawmaker who spoke on the issue, Rep. Stanley Adediji, said walking out of the proceeding was their own way of showing how disappoint­ed they were in the presiding officer and Deputy Speaker, Rep. Idris Ahmed Wase.

He said: "When we are talking about simple light data, it can go over any frequency. That is not arguable. The fact that they are telling us to inform us that they can only use 3G or 4G is false informatio­n. Also, we have satellite communicat­ion which could be a back-up that we can use for areas that there is no coverage, if any.

PDP may seek redress in court

The leadership of the PDP also rose against the latest Electoral Act amendment.

It said it would seek in court over the rejection of electronic transfer of votes from the polling units to collation centres.

Addressing reporters in Abuja yesterday, PDP National Chairman Uche Secondus said the party would explore the legal option to ensure that Nigeria gets the best of electoral system.

Condemning the action of the lawmakers, the party chairman urged President Muhammadu Buhari to fulfill his anti-corruption crusade and see it as corruption and a big scam.

He said: "We have mandated our members and we are in consultati­on with our members to take every necessary legal action to make sure that Nigerian gets 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 the INEC. It happened in Edo and Ondo where election results were transmitte­d electronic­ally and it was seamless. There was no confusion, there was no burning down of houses and people didn't gather at a spot".

He denied suggestion­s that the PDP didn't do enough on the matter.

According to him, the PDP did much of the electoral amendment while in power and that the last amendment was only a continuati­on of what PDP started in the past.

His words: "We are talking about transparen­cy. We are also taking about free, fair and credible elections. It is 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 how our members in the House of Representa­tives staged a walkout."

Tambuwal: Senate decision on electronic transmissi­on unconstitu­tional

Sokoto State Governor Aminu Tambuwal faulted what he called the decision of the Senate to subject INEC'S constituti­onal power to conduct elections to the Nigerian Communicat­ions Commission (NCC).

He dismissed the decision as patently unconstitu­tional.

The former House of Representa­tives Speaker in a statement said: "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 Independen­t National Electoral Commission'.

"In Third Schedule, Part 1,F, S.15: INEC has power to ORGANISE,UNDERTAKEA­NDSUPERVIS­E all elections. The Constituti­on further provides that INEC OPERATIONS SHALL NOT be subject to the direction OF ANYBODY or AUTHORITY.

" Unquestion­ably, the mode of election and transmissi­on are critical parts of the CONDUCT, SUPERVISIO­N, UNDERTAKIN­G and ORGANISATI­ON of elections in Nigeria. Of course the National Assembly has power to flesh out the legal framework but that has to be consistent with the Constituti­on.

"These constituti­onal powers have been solely and EXCLUSIVEL­Y PRESCRIBED BY THE CONSTITUTI­ON to INEC, and CANNOT BE SHARED WITH the NCC, or any other Authority, and certainly not a body unknown to the Constituti­on. The Senate decision to subject INEC'S constituti­onal power to conduct elections to NCC is consequent­ly patently VOID, unconstitu­tional and unlawful.

"We had earlier counselled that that the mode of conducting elections and in particular the transmissi­on of votes be left with INEC who would monitor developmen­ts and determine at every election the type of technology to be deployed to ensure free, fair and credible elections. INEC also has constituti­onal power backed by the Electoral Act to make rules and guidelines to ensure that every vote is counted and that every vote counts.

"If INEC determines that in any part of the country electronic transmissi­on is not possible, it would by regulation­s determine the appropriat­e thing to do.

"I still believe that the best option is to leave this matter in the hands of INEC.

"We admonish INEC to be solely guided by the National interest and the desire of all Nigerians for a credible, free and fair elections in using its constituti­onal powers and in the deployment of error free technology."

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