The Senate, yesterday, yielded to intense public pressure to reverse its earlier decision to subject electronic transfer of results to the discretion of Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and gave the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) the sole right to the innovation. There was palpable excitement as many celebrated the Senate action as reassuring.
Also, despite appeals from different quarters, the upper chamber of the National Assembly, approved direct primaries for aspirants seeking election in all the registered political parties in the country.
By these decisions, however, the INEC has not only been empowered to electronically transmit election results, the Senate has also given power back to the people in the choice of their representatives at different levels of leadership.
What these landmark decisions means is that apart from taking away attraction and concentration of power and influence from the state governors in the choice of who runs for what office, it might have dealt a huge blow to godfatherism factor from the power equation. What it all comes down to is that it gives power back to the electorate. It means people will simply go and queue behind the poster of the candidate they support. The votes are counted and result declared for all to see, It will effectively end imposition of unpopular candidates on the party by godfathers. It’s like Option A4 all over again. For long, governors had wielded enormous influence of the parties and were the principal determinants of who runs and who doesn’t. With direct primaries, they have lost that vital influence.
Reacting to the development, a former Vice President and presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2019 election, Atiku Abubakar, commended the resolution of the disagreement between the National Assembly (NASS) and INEC on electronic transmission of election results.
A press statement by the media office of the former Vice President on Tuesday, said the harmonisation of positions between the two institutions was an indication that Nigeria’s democracy was growing and getting stronger.
On his part, Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike also lauded the National Assembly for its decision to allow the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), determine the use of electronic voting and transfer of results, but disagreed with the Senate on the issue of direct primaries.
In the same vein, a former Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, lauded the red chamber for heeding people’s opinion by reversing itself on the contentious issue of electronic voting.
But, disappointed with some of the senate decisions, the PDP, yesterday, described the approval of direct primary for the nomination of candidates for election, in all political parties by the senate, as a retrogressive provision that sought to wipe off all the gains achieved in the electoral practice since 1999.
The Senate had shortly before proceeding on a two-month annual vacation on July 15, 2021, during the consideration of a report on the 2010 Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2021, submitted by its Committee on INEC, amended clause 52(3) as recommended.
While the clause as presented in the committee report stated that INEC could transmit election results electronically, where and when practicable, the Senate had passed the amended version which stated that, “INEC can transmit election results electronically subject to confirmation of Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) of adequacy and security of National Network.”
The upper chamber in Clause 52 of the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill passed almost three months ago, had also approved that, “the Commission (INEC) may consider the electronic transmission of results, provided the national coverage is adjudged to be adequate and secure by the National Communications Commission and approved by the National Assembly.”
The Senate, however, revisited the issue at yesterday’s plenary sequel to the presentation of a motion by the Senate Leader, Senator Yahaya Abdullahi, for the re-committal of some clauses of the Electoral Act No 6 2010 (Repeal and Re-enactment) Bill (SB122) to the Committee of the Whole.
He explained that the decision to subject the amended clauses of the bill to re-committal was reached after critical examination by the Senate Committee on INEC.
He added that some fundamental issues, which required fresh legislative action were observed by the Senator Kabiru Gaya-led Committee in the bill.
Seconding the motion, Senator Adamu Alero, said the motion would strengthen the electoral process and give Nigerians more power to select their desired leaders.
He said the motion, if adopted would help the electorate to ensure that questionable characters were not elected in governance.
According to Alero, the motion would discourage money bags from taking over and determining the outcome of elections in the country.
On his part, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele cited Clause 87, which has to do with conduct of primaries, saying: “Direct primary is a way of giving power to the people since every member will enjoy that right of selecting a candidate.”
He said if democracy must grow, direct primary should be adopted.
He said the recommendation in Clause 87 (4) states that the guidelines for the conduct of the primary must be submitted to INEC, adding that sub-section 7 states that every aspirants shall be entitled to have a copy of the guideline at least 14 days to the primaries.
Senator Smart Adeyemi, however, spoke against the amendment of Clause 87 to introduce direct primary election, saying the motion to amend the clause to introduce direct primaries would make the electoral process burdensome to the people.
Senate Minority Leader, Senator Eyinnaya Abaribe said Clause 52 (3), which talked about electronic transmission of election results should be made clear for the electoral umpire to decide.
He said in the original bill, political parties were allowed to decide the mode for their primaries, adding that political parties who have the capacity to organise either a direct or indirect primaries should do so.
According to him, the political parties may not have the financial capacity, because direct primaries will demand more money.
The Chamber thereafter went into the Committee of the Whole during which it passed the motion for re-committal by re-amending certain aspects of the bill contained in Clauses 43, 52, 63 and 87, respectively.
The Senate at the Committee of the Whole chaired by Dr. Ahmad Lawan, amended Clause 52(2) of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill to read: “Subject to section 63 of this Bill, voting at an election and transmission of results under this Bill shall be in accordance with the procedure determined by the Independent National Electoral Commission, which may include electronic voting.”
Clause 87(1) of the Electoral Bill Amendment Bill, which was also passed as recommended states: “A political party seeking to nominate candidates for elections under this Bill shall hold direct primaries for aspirants to all elective positions, which shall be monitored by the Independent National Electoral Commission.”
Members of the Senate Conference Committee on the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2021, were expected to meet with their counterparts in the House of Representatives to harmonise the two versions passed by both chambers.
Atiku Reacts, Says Civil Societies are Watchdogs of Public Policies, Institutions
Atiku, in his reaction, said the harmonisation of positions between INEC and the National Assembly was an indication that Nigeria’s democracy was growing and getting stronger.
He also commended individuals and groups particularly, the various pro-democracy advocacy groups that participated in the public discourse on the controversial issue, saying, “by this outcome, I am convinced that public institutions in Nigeria will continue to play their roles as guardians of public policy.
“The civil societies are the watchdogs of public policies and the institutions. Probably, we would not have come to this path without the active engagement of the civil society agents. This outcome should further encourage Nigerians and the civil society to do more in order to guarantee good governance in the country.”
Wike Commends Senate on Electronic Transmission, Disagrees on Direct Primary
Wike, in a statement by his Special Assistant on Media, Mr Kelvin Ebiri, said the resolution of the National Assembly joint committee to allow the electoral umpire transmit election results electronically was a good development for Nigeria and democracy.
“I think it is a good news to hear that the Joint Committee of the House of Representatives and the Senate agreed for INEC to transmit result electronically. That is a good news to hear. As I have always said, what is important now is what do people want. The moment you do what the people want, you will see happiness everywhere.
“I think it is a good development for Nigeria and democracy. And I will urge them – the two chambers, the House of Representatives and the Senate – to abide by that recommendation by the joint committee of the two Chambers, because it is for their own interest.
“And I commend the Senate President and the Speaker, House of Representatives, all the principal officers and members who felt that they must listen to what is good for Nigeria and what is good for Nigerians. They must listen to the people.
Speaking further on the amendment of the Electoral Act, Wike disagreed with the Senate that parties must conduct direct primaries. He stated that the issue of direct or indirect primaries should be the exclusive decision of the political parties in the country.
He maintained that it will be unfair for the National Assembly to prescribe for political parties how to conduct their primaries.
“A party could adopt a method , procedure in electing who represent them at various level, that is not the for the National Assembly to dictate that you must do it by direct or indirect method. That is not democracy. That should be an internal affair of the party.”
Governor Wike insisted that National Assembly prescribing how political parties conduct their primaries is tantamount to interference in the internal politics of the parties.
“The National Assembly should realise that doing that is interfering in the internal politics of the parties and that will not augur well.”
The governor also faulted the bill sponsored by the Deputy Senate President seeking for the establishment of two Nigerian Law School campuses in each of the six geopolitical zone.
He stressed that the proposal is not in tandem with current reality, as the existing Nigerian Law School campuses are grossly underfunded.
“The National Assembly have not been able to give them the money to fund the Law School, and you are saying they should establish two Law School in each zone.”
Ekweremadu: Action Justifies Assurances to Nigerians
Ekweremadu, while commending the Senate for reversing itself on electronic transmission of results, said the action justified his assurances to Nigerians in July, that all hope was not lost for electronic transmission of 2023 election results despite the initial setback.
In a statement by his media aide, Uche Anichukwu, Ekweremadu added: “I want to specially commend the Senate for setting aside narrow partisan interests to correct the mistake of July 15, 2021 by reversing itself on the issue of electronic transmission of election results.
“This clause, though not originally part of the Bill, was introduced by the Joint National Assembly Committee on the Independent National Electoral Commission, which I am part of, to save the nation the troubles of ballot box snatching, electoral violence, and manipulations that happen between the polling booth and collation centres.
“Although I was representing Nigeria at an international parliamentary session in Montenegro and therefore unavoidably absent during the passage of the Bill in July, I had assured Nigerians that we would work with the progressives across party lines to dialogue with our colleagues and other critical stakeholders to ensure that electronic transmission of results was restored in the Bill.
“It is, therefore, heart-warming that my confidence in the capacity of my colleagues to dialogue and rise above narrow partisan interest on this matter was not misplaced. I must also commend the Civil Society Organisations and Nigerians for standing up for what is right for the nation and our democracy.”
PDP Warns Senate against Rolling Back Democratic Gains
The leadership of the PDP has said the decision by the APC-controlled Senate was a humongous blow to the development of democratic norms and a plot to introduce anarchy during internal party elections as currently obtainable in the APC.
A statement by the party’s National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, held the view that the provision was aimed at increasing the costs of nomination procedures thereby surrendering the processes to money bags against the wishes and aspiration of Nigerians.
“Our party makes bold to state that with the exception of the APC, which intends to deploy looted funds in future election, hardly will there be any political party that will be able to raise the cost of conducting internal elections under a direct primary process.
“This is why the decision of the Senate has elicited widespread rejection from Nigerians across board,” the PDP said, urging the Senate to immediately deploy its appropriate legislative instrument to reverse itself on the direct primary as it was not operable and did not reflect the wishes and aspiration of majority of Nigerians.