It took the House of Representatives two days to consider the report on the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, or better still, to consider the controversial section 52(3) of the bill.
Even though the Senate had set the tempo for the House on the same section, it could not have predicted what eventually happened in the lower chamber.
Thursday started with rancour over the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), as some members of the House from the south protested the report of the conference committee that recommended three per cent for host communities against the five per cent the House had agreed on.
When the Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, walked into the chamber, he was greeted with discontent that culminated in rowdiness. A closed-door session was able to calm some nerves, and when the House resumed, the report was stepped down.
Senate sets tempo
While this was ongoing, the Senate had started the consideration of the report on PIB and adopted the report of the conference committee despite protests by some lawmakers.
The Senate also commenced the consideration of the report on the electoral bill presented by Kabiru Gaya (APC, Kano).
Section 52(3), which says “The Commission may transmit results of elections by electronic means where and when practicable,” gives the electoral umpire the discretion to decide when to deploy electronic transmission of results.
Sabi Abdullahi (APC, Niger) had moved an amendment that read, “the commission may consider electronic transmission provided the national network coverage is adjudged to be adequate and secure by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and approved by the National Assembly.”
The use of voice votes on Mr Abdullahi’s amendment led to a rowdy session, as it appeared that the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, was ruling against the majority.
Following a rowdy session and an executive session that lasted over one hour, the senators used headcount to decide Mr Abdulahi’s amendment, which was passed by 52 votes.
Before the consideration of the electoral act report, a motion had set the tempo for the House. The motion seeking to declare Bauchi an oil-producing state was put to question three times.
When Mr Gbajabiamila put the motion to question for the first time, the “nays” was obviously louder than “ayes.” It was put a second time and third time, as lawmakers from the south were clearly against the motion. In the end, the speaker ruled in favour of the “nays”
Upon the commencement of the consideration by the Committee of the Whole chairman, Idris Wase (APC, Plateau), more drama unfolded.
Mr Wase, who, as deputy speaker, statutorily chairs the committee of the whole, has a reputation of being “dictatorial” when presiding either at committee of the whole or plenary.
A few months ago, he had stopped Mark Gbillah (PDP, Benue) from presenting a petition from the Mutual Union of Tiv in America (MUTA).
In the main, the deputy speaker was very fast in the clause by clause consideration with clause 1, clause 2, clause 3, clause 4 with a chorus of “carry” from a section of the House, while some lawmakers tried to call for amendments.
Section 49(2) makes provision for the smart card readers and any other technological devices recommended by INEC.
“The Presiding Officer shall use a Smart Card Reader or any other technological device prescribed by the Commission for the accreditation of voters, to verify, confirm or authenticate – ”
Mr Gbajabiamila moved an amendment for “or any other technological device prescribed by the Commission” to be deleted. The amendment was passed.
The implication is that INEC can only use smart card readers.
Contentious Section 52
The Deputy Minority Leader, Toby Okechukwu, then moved an amendment to section 52(3).
The proposed amendment by Mr Okechukwu said “transmission of results under this bill shall be by electronic transmission.”
Mr Wase had protested the amendment that less than 20 per cent of his constituency had the needed network coverage for transmission of results.
“I want to believe that…. I don’t know the coverage of the broadband. Have we covered the entire country so that we can have electronic transmission?
“I make bold to say it, you can go and verify it. We have not more than 20% coverage in my constituency, except you want to disenfranchise some people.”
However, the amendment was seconded by the Deputy Chief Whip of the House, Nkeiruka Onyejeocha (APC, Abia). When it was put to a voice vote, the “ayes” obviously had it, but the deputy speaker again ruled in favour of “nays.”
This led to protests by some lawmakers, which led to an uproar. But James Faleke moved an amendment for transmission to be “by electronic and manual means”.
Kingsley Chinda (PDP, River) raised a point of order, saying that a decision had been taken and, therefore, the proper procedure was for the House to call for a division.
At this point, Mr Gbajabiamila intervened.
He said that section 52 could still be amended. He was, however, challenged by the Majority Leader, Alhassan Dogwa (APC, Kano), who said the matter had been disposed of.
Wale Raji subsequently seconded the amendment, and as with the previous votes, Mr Wase again ruled against the majority, causing another uproar in the House.
In the drama that ensued, Mrs Onyejeocha could be heard saying, “this man (Mr Wase) has done it twice, this is not acceptable.”
Free for all
Following the ruling by the deputy speaker, there was a free-for all between those in support of the ruling and those against it.
Amid the stalemate, Mr Wase reverted to plenary and following a more rowdy session, Speaker Gbajabiamila took over plenary and announced that the House will invite the INEC and the NCC to discuss the possibility of electronic transmission.
The session was adjourned till the next day to conclude.
On Friday, a team from NCC was admitted into the chamber to brief the House on the possibility of electronic transmission of election results in the country.
Ubale Maska, the NCC commissioner of technical services, told the lawmakers that only 50.3% of the 109,000 polling units surveyed by INEC in 2018, had 3G/2G network coverage, while 40% had only 2G and 10% not having network in any form. He concluded that only 3G/2G combination is sufficient for transmission.
He also said that transmission, like any other system, is vulnerable to cyber-attacks and hacking.
At the resumption of consideration of the report, another rancour erupted when Mr Wase started from clause 53 instead of clause 52.
He, however, assured the lawmakers that clause 52 would be revisited through a motion to rescind the earlier decision.
Walk-out by opposition
Other clauses were considered without any hiccup. When the last clause was decided, Mr Wase again called on Mr Doguwa to move a motion to revert to plenary to report progress.
The Minority Leader of the House, Ndudi Elumelu (PDP, Delta) then asked, “are we going to review clause 52?”
In his response, the deputy speaker said members who wanted to change any part of the bill should do so through a motion for rescission.
In response, Mr Elumelu said, “Clause 52 is different from other amendments. Members have been trying to say that clause 52 was never carried. I will advise that we leave this chamber because we are not part of it.”
It was at this point that the PDP members staged a walkout while other members considered and passed the bill.
Gbajabiamila’s closing remarks
“The House passed the Electoral Act amendment. 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 results, 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 time 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 told us that NCC had about 49 per cent coverage as of 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.
“I also want to use this opportunity to explain to people out there the difference between electronic voting and electronic transmission of results. 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.
“On PIB, this House once again proved today that it is a House of the people and that it is ready to accommodate all interests. That was why we suspended the laying of the report yesterday despite the fact that there was agreement between the House and the Senate as per our rules.
“But we were not too happy and suspended the report. Unfortunately, the Senate had already adopted their report and there was nothing to go back to and so, we had to abide by our rules and lay the conference report so that the House would vote whether to adopt it or not. You have voted because that is the procedure.”
The National Assembly has commenced its summer holiday after passing the controversial electoral amendment bill.
However, the bill still needs to be harmonised by the joint committee of both chambers. This means that nothing will happen until the lawmakers resume from their recess in September.