The Senate spokesperson, Ajibola Basiru (APC, Osun), has said it was not public outcry that changed the mind of some senators on electronic transmission of results in the Electoral Amendment Bill, but the discovery of a section that addressed the concerns of the senators.
He stated this while speaking on “Politics Today,” a political programme on Channels TV on Friday.
Mr Basiru was one of the 52 senators that voted in support of the clause that sought to subject INEC to the dictates of the Nigerians Communications Commission (NCC) and the National Assembly for the transmission of election results.
Newsmen reported how section 52(3) was passed by the upper chamber on 15 July after an amendment by Senate Deputy Whip, Sabi Abdullahi, to the report of the committee on INEC.
Mr Abdulahi’s version reads: “The commission may consider electronic transmission provided the national network is adjudged to be adequate and secured by the Nigerian Communications Commission and approved by the National Assembly.”
The amendment was taken after voting by senators with 52 supporting it.
However, the decision was rescinded on 12 October, and the version of the House, which says, “The Commission may transmit results of elections by electronic means where and when practicable,” was adopted by the senators.
The senate had constituted a conference committee on the 22 September while the House committee was constituted on the 28 September, with the mandate to harmonise the differences in their two versions passed.
While speaking on “Politics Today,” a political programme on ChannelsTV on Friday, Mr Basiru said the senators did not change their minds because of the public outrage by an ‘autocratic minority” but because of the proviso in section 63.
According to Mr Basiru, who is also a member of the harmonisation committee, the lawmakers were concerned about the threat of hacking and possible disenfranchisement of Nigerians who are outside network coverage.
He said clause 63 (3 and 6) provides the needed proviso to assuage the minds of the lawmakers.
“The Presiding Officer shall give to the Polling Agents and the police officer where available a copy each of the completed Forms after it has been duly signed as provided in subsection (2),” clause 63(3).
“We have an autocratic minority in Nigeria that try to organise their thoughts as if that is the thought of the entire country. In the context of representation, it will require you to conduct a referendum or plebiscite when you actually want to aggregate opinion and come to an authoritative decision of Nigerians. As the National Assembly, we have the right to reconsider even a law that has been made and signed by the president.
“We can also recognise our position, we can always amend our position, not because of shouting minority, or individuals who are the elites. We make decisions based on the people that elected us.
“Now, talking about the electronic transmission of results, we were concerned about the hacking of transmission, we were concerned about possible disenfranchisement of Nigerians if you want to do the automatic transmission. Because network service—whether we say 98 per cent areas are serviced adequately, the two per cent are also part of the democratic process. Disenfranchising them will not serve democracy.
“In the course of preparing for harmonisation, we discovered that those issues have been taken care of by section 63 of the Electoral Bill. The Section provides that elections must be concluded at polling units, results must be announced, must be recorded on the electoral form prescribed by the commission and at the same time, must be signed by the presiding officer and countersigned by agents. It is at that point, by subsection 5, that the results can be transmitted. That addressed the two concerns.”
Mr Basiru said that clause 63 will provide enough paper trail.
He added that clause 63(6), which reads that “A Presiding Officer who willfully contravenes any provision of this section commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine not more than N100,000.00 or imprisonment for a term of at least six months,” changed the minds of the senators.
“There is now trail to ensure that results are transmitted, there are paper trails,” Mr Basiru stated.
“There is a subsection 6 that provides for criminal sanction against a presiding officer transmitting what is not authentic.
“Nobody in his real sense will not be concerned about hacking or the issue of disenfranchisement. In Edo and Ondo states, the results were transmitted after they had been announced. It is different from the automatic transmission of results.”
Mr Festus Okoye, INEC’s Commissioner for information and voter education, who appeared alongside Mr Ajibola on the programme, said the commission is waiting for the version that will be transmitted to the president for assent.
He added that the commission was involved in the legislative process of producing the bill.
“The difference between what happened now and what used to happen was from the beginning, Senate Committee on INEC and the House Committee on Electoral Matters took the civil society groups, the office of the attorney general, the Independent National Electoral Commission into confidence in terms of the processes and procedures for the amendment of the Electoral Act,” Mr Okoye said.
“And from the beginning have attended meetings relating to the public hearing and during the technical session, we were also part of the session. The office of the AGF was represented, some civil society groups were part of it, in fact, and they gave me the privilege of chairing the technical session relating to the amendment of the Electoral Act.
“Far-reaching amendments were made to that particular document, unfortunately, just one or two amendments dominated the entire space and sort of dimpled the enthusiasm of Nigerians.
“We are waiting and hoping that some of the progressive changes in the amendment will be in the version to be transmitted to the president for assent,” he said.
Despite the flip-flop by the lawmakers, INEC maintained that it had the capacity to transmit results electronically.