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The Electoral Act And Its Many Controversies

After the commencement of the Fourth Republic in 1999, there have been many amendments to the Electoral Act, meant to enhance and improve the performance of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

The latest amendment, Electoral Act 2021, has, however, generated a lot of controversies.

The goals of the amendments have always been not only to have an electoral system in place but to improve the quality of life of Nigerians by improving the quality of the electoral process. Efforts to get the Electoral Act amendment bill signed into law by the 8th National Assembly were futile, with President Muhammadu Buhari rejecting to assent to it three times.

The legislation was, however, reintroduced in the 9th National Assembly. The legislation passed through all the legislative procedures and the report was submitted to both chambers of the national assembly.

Chairperson, House of Representatives Committee on Electoral Matters, Aishatu Dukku, during series of activities to repeal the Electoral Act No. 6, 2010 and enact the INEC Act 2021, said the amendment sought to regulate the conduct of federal, state and area council elections.

The leadership of the 9th National Assembly having promised passage of the bill several times, passed it on July 15(Senate) while the House of Representatives passed theirs on July 16.

The passage of the bill which had over 300 clauses was sequel to lengthy consideration of the report of the Senate Committee on INEC, presented by the Chairman, Sen. Kabiru Gaya (APC-Kano State). Nigerians thought that the passage of the piece of legislation would bring respite to the electoral process, but it turned out the other way round, with the amendment to Clause 52(3) of the bill, generating public outcry.

The Senate during the clause-by-clause consideration of the bill approved electronic transmission of results during elections, provided that such areas are adjudged by the National Communications Commission (NCC) to be adequately covered under its national coverage and approved by the National Assembly.

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The approval came following an amendment to Clause 52(3) by Sen. Sabi Abdullahi (APC-Niger). The amendment was seconded by Sen. Ali Ndume (APC-Borno).

The committee in its recommendation initially prescribed that “The Commission (INEC) may transmit results of elections by electronic means where and when practicable.”

This, however, was amended by the Senate Deputy Whip, Abdullahi to read, “The Commission may consider the electronic transmission of results, provided the national coverage is adjudged to be adequate and secure by the National Communications Commission (NCC) and approved by the National Assembly.”

On his part, Sen. Ali Ndume (APC-Borno) said “I support the futuristic idea of electronic voting which is not realistic in my area that I represent. “And therefore, for it to be approved, hoping that there will be light or network in my local government or my state if NCC says so, then I support that.”

Sen. Akpan Bassey (PDP-Akwa-Ibom) called for an amendment to retain the initial recommendation of clause 52(3) on the bill that was amended. Bassey’s call, however, resulted in a round of heated verbal arguments among the senators. The approval of Sen. Sabi’s amendment proposal, however, did not go down well with some senators, who were against the amendment to the clause. This, resulted in a rowdy session, as senators engaged in a heated exchange of words.

Senate President Ahmad Lawan, then called for a close session, which lasted for almost 10 minutes, given the reverberating exchange of words amongst senators. However, Senate Minority Leader, Sen. Enyinnaya Abaribe supported Bassey’s amendment that the initial clause is retained. He cited Order 73 of the Senate Rule which called for a division.

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Out of a total of 80 senators present, 52 voted for the retention of the ‘Sabi Abdullahi amendment,’ while 28 who belonged to the opposition PDP voted for the ‘Bassey’s amendment.’

Sen.Kabiru Gaya had said the legislation would provide for use of card readers and other technological devices in elections, political party primaries as it relates to a timeline for the submission of the list of candidates.

“It will also provide for criteria for substitution of the candidate, the limit of campaign expenses among others.”

He also said that the legislation would address the omission of names of candidates or logos of political parties in an election and its resultant consequences. The chairman further said the limit of election spending was increased.

“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.

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For state assemblies, candidates can now spend up to N30 million, from the previous N10 million. President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, assured Nigerians that what the Senate did was to show serious concern and care about the divergent views of Nigerians on the election process.

“All of us want to see an election process that is all-inclusive, that is fair, that is equitable and just to everyone, whether someone is in the city or in the village. We pray that this bill will guide the 2023 general elections so well. And we hope to have a better and more improved election process in 2023.”

Governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Tambuwal, said that the decision of the Senate to subject INEC’s constitutional power to conduct elections to the NCC and National Assembly is patently unconstitutional. Tambuwal, former Speaker, House of Representatives, said INEC’s constitutional power could not be shared with any institution.

“For the avoidance of doubt, Section 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 the Third Schedule, Part 1, F, S.15: INEC has the power to organize, undertake and supervise all elections.”

“The Constitution further provides that INEC operations shall not be subject to the direction of anybody or authority.”

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Tambuwal said that unquestionably, the mode of election and transmission of results were critical parts of the conduct, supervision, undertaking, and organization of elections in Nigeria.

“Of course, the National Assembly has the 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.”

Tambuwal said that the Senate decision to subject INEC’s constitutional power to conduct elections to NCC was “consequently patently void, unconstitutional and unlawful.’’

Executive Commissioner, Technical Services of NCC, Mr. Ubale Maska, had told the House that only about 50 percent of polling units in the country have a 3G network that can transmit election results electronically. Maska said that in 2018, the Commission conducted an analysis of the 119, 000 polling units in the country.

According to him, about 50.3 percent of the polling units have 3G and 2G network coverage, while parts of the remaining 46.7 have only 2G and the rest do not have coverage at all. He explained that only polling units with 3G network coverage could transmit election results electronically.

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He, however, explained that results could be uploaded in areas covered by 2G and later be moved to an area with 3G for the transmission to be completed. On the possibility of hacking the process, Maska said that no system could be 100 percent free from the activities of hackers.

Whatever happens at the end of the day, the desire of Nigerians is free, fair, and credible elections in 2023.

Credits: Naomi Sharang(News agency of Nigeria)

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