Some civil society groups, on Monday, urged the National Assembly to act in national interest rather than looking for political gains when making final decisions on the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill.

Rising from a meeting in Abuja, the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room and the European Union Funded Programme Support to Democratic Governance in Nigeria (EU-SDGN), called for a “dispassionate, selfless decision-making process” as the Harmonisation Committee of the Senate and House of Representatives get set to harmonise the differences in the areas of the bill passed by both chambers in July.

The Senate last week appointed a seven-member harmonisation committee to meet with its House counterpart to resolve the grey areas of the bill.

The House is expected to constitute its own committee soon.

One of the areas the committee the lawmakers are expected to harmonise is the controversial section on electronic transmission of results by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

While the Senate wants INEC to consider electronic transmission of results provided the national coverage is adjudged to be adequate and secure by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the House retained the original provision of the bill, which states that “the Commission may transmit results of elections by electronic means where and when practicable.”

The groups called for the total removal of the part of the bill that will subject INEC constitutional powers to decide mode of transmitting elections result to the approval of the NCC alongside the National Assembly to avoid long legal tussles.

They expressed confidence in the electoral umpire given its recent technological evolution.

“As a civil society community and as expressed by a vast majority of electoral stakeholders and Nigerians, we are concerned by these identified differences in the proposals particularly regarding electronic transmission of results and the deployment of technological devices in the conduct of elections,” the groups said in a statement.

“Following from our experience and observations of elections in recent years, as well as widely held views of Nigerians, we expect the harmonisation committee to accept the version of the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill that allows the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to determine the mode of conduct of elections, including transmission of results.

“INEC has shown by its practice and experience that it has adequate capacity to use technology in elections including in the transmission of results. This experience has been proven during several off-cycle elections in recent years. Indeed, INEC has expanded its use of technology, including using the Z-pad and now, its newest innovation, the Bi-modal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS).”

Recommendations

Consequently, the groups made the following recommendations to the committee to

-Adopt the House of Representatives Version of Clause 52, which gives INEC the power to determine the procedure for voting and transmission of election results. The power to determine the procedure for transmission of results should be vested with INEC without interference from any individual or government agency. This position safeguards INEC’s independence.

-Adopt the Senate Version of Clauses 63 and 76 which increases the penalty for sanctioning a presiding officer who contravenes the Electoral Act concerning the proper counting of accounting for votes and the announcement of results. We believe that sanctions should place high retributive demand (financial or otherwise) on the offender, in order to discourage electoral offences.

-Adopt the Senate version of clause 87, which gives political parties the option to adopt either direct or indirect primaries. The focus should be on strict adherence to the guidelines for each mode of party primary adopted.

Meanwhile, with reference to Clause 43 and 49, the group urged the committee to adopt the Senate’s recognition of “voting devices” rather than “and voting devices” and also give power to INEC to use “other technological devices” for voter accreditation alongside “Smart Card Readers.”

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