A look at the order paper was enough for one to know it would be a busy day for the senators.
The lawmakers were preparing for their annual recess or summer break as some of them call it. And so they didn’t mind staying extra hours to deliberate on some issues of national importance before the break.
While they looked forward to a busy and fruitful day, not many of them could foresee drama and quarrels that later occurred.
Having considered four other items of the day, they moved to consider the report of its committee on INEC on the electoral amendment bill.
The bill, much anticipated, seeks to repeal and re-enact the 2010 Electoral Act as well as resolve issues concerning INEC’s introduction of modern technologies into the electoral process, particularly accreditation of voters, electronic voting and electronic transmission of results from polling units.
The Bukola Saraki-led eight assembly passed the bill three times but President Muhammadu Buhari rejected it all these times.
It was first rejected in March 2018 when Mr Buhari said the proposed law would usurp the constitutional powers of INEC to decide on election matters, including fixing dates and election order.
In 2018, Mr Buhari rejected it again citing “some drafting issues” that remain unaddressed following the prior revisions to the Bill.
And in December 2018, when the bill was rejected, Mr Buhari said passing a new bill with elections close by could ‘create some uncertainty about the legislation to govern the process.”
The legislation was, however, reintroduced in the ninth Assembly and a joint committee on INEC (of the Senate and House of Representatives) was set up to work on the legislation.
The chairman of the committee, Kabiru Gaya, presented the report.
In his presentation, he informed the Senate that Nigerians made many proposals, most of which the committee tried to input in the bill.
He also said the National Assembly constitution amendment was ongoing and issues like diaspora voting would be addressed.
Then the lawmakers started clause-by-clause consideration of the bill in the Committee of the Whole – a process which was going smoothly until they got to Section 52(3) of the bill.
This part deals with electronic transmission of results of elections, which was one of the major recommendations from Nigerians including INEC.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how the lawmakers had attempted to reject and omit proposals and key priority amendments canvassed by citizens during the public hearings – some of which include the use of electronic transmission of results of an election and expenses for presidential candidates.
Section 52(3) reads “The Commission may transmit results of elections by electronic means where and when practicable.”
It was at this point that the Senate Deputy Whip, Sabi Abdullahi, moved to amend the section.
He proposed that “the commission may consider electronic transmission provided the national network coverage is adjudged to be adequate and secure by the Nigerian Communications Commission and approved by the National Assembly.”
His proposal triggered murmuring in the chamber with many lawmakers loudly opposing and trying to shut him down.
But Senate President Ahmad Lawan, moved that they vote on the amendment and advised lawmakers against the proposed amendment to vote against it.
When put to vote, the “nays” were louder than the “ayes” but Mr Lawan ruled in favour of the amendment.
Akwa Ibom senator, Albert Bassey, thereafter, moved that the clause be re-amended to the initial section as contained in the bill.
Another vote was done and Mr Lawan again, ruled in favour of Mr Abdullahi’s amendment.
Loud arguments and chaos followed as unsatisfied senators were seen leaving their seats and shouting – making it difficult for either the chief whip or Mr Lawan to control the lawmakers.
The argument continued for over 15 minutes forcing Mr Lawan to call for an executive session.
This lasted for almost half an hour.
By the time the lawmakers returned, Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, called for a “division” citing Order 73 of the Senate Standing Rule.
Order 73 allows for individual voting on an issue if a senator or senators disagree with the ruling of the Senate President.
The Senate Leader, Abdullahi Yahaya, at this point, pleaded with Mr Abaribe to withdraw his point of Order, to no avail.
Lawmakers were, thereafter, called upon one after the order and asked to vote verbally.
After the exercise, 52 senators, mostly of the All Progressives Congress (APC) voted that Sabi Abdullahi’s proposed amendment stand – that the NCC and the National Assembly determine where electronic transmission of results will be used and subject to the approval of the National Assembly.
After that, the lawmakers continued with the clause-by-clause consideration.
Besides empowering NCC and the National Assembly to determine the use of electronic transmission of results, the new bill also empowered INEC to review results declared by an electoral officer under duress.
Section 68 of the legislation reads “the decision of the Returning Officer shall be final on any question arising from or relating to unmarked ballot paper, rejected ballot paper and declaration of scores of candidates and the return of a candidate…
“Provided that the Commission shall have the power within seven days to review the declaration and return where the Commission determines that the said declaration and return was not made voluntarily or was made contrary to the provisions of the Law, Regulations and Guidelines, and Manual for the election.”
Section 64(2) reads, “a decision of the Returning Officer or the Commission under subsection (1) may be reviewed by a Tribunal or Court in an election petition proceeding under this bill.”
The limit of election spending was increased in the new bill.
The spending limit in Section 91 of the bill now allows presidential candidates to increase their cash ‘haul’ from the current N1 billion to N5 billion while governorship candidates can rake in N1 billion from the hitherto N2 million.
For senatorial candidates, they can now legally raise N100 million from the previous N40 million, while candidates to the House of Representative can now accept N70 million from the current N30 million. And for State Assembly, candidates are now free to secure N30 million from the previous N10 million.
The bill was, thereafter, read for the third time and passed.
After the bill was passed, Mr Lawan, thanked colleagues for their devotion and dedication in the entire process.
He noted that if any difference is spotted in legislation passed by the House of Representatives, “a conference committee will be constituted to harmonise the bill”.
He also said he hoped that the new legislation will improve future elections in Nigeria.
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