The two chambers of the National Assembly last week deliberated on the amendment of the Electoral Act 2010, which seeks to recognise the use of card readers, diapora voting and other salient issues in the electoral system.
While the bill was passed by the Senate, it is still at the committee stage in the House of Representatives.
The Senate last week amended some sections of the Electoral Act of 2010, thereby legalizing the use of smart card readers for the authentication of accredited voters as was done in the 2015 general election.
The amendment among other things will also pave the way for electronic voting in future elections.
At the same time they proposed the empowerment of presiding officers at polling units to, in addition to the smart card reader, use any other technological device that may be prescribed by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from time to time for the accreditation of voters, to verify, confirm or authenticate the genuineness or otherwise of voters’ card.
The bill, which passed its third reading, also stipulates that votes and recorded results must be transmitted electronically directly from polling units in an encrypted and secured form.
The amendment passed the third reading on Wednesday after the senate adopted the report of its committee on INEC.
The use of card readers in 2015 had been contentious. The controversy that trailed it manifested at the Supreme Court while deciding its the legality of its use during the governorship elections.
The apex court ruled that both courts were wrong to place emphasis on the non-use of card reader machines in nullifying Governor Nyesom Wike’s election victory.
Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, who delivered the lead judgment, said until the National Assembly amends the Electoral Act to give the card reader a statutory backing, it cannot be the basis for nullifying any election. She praised the Independent National Electoral Commission [INEC] for introducing the card reader in order to improve upon the credibility of elections but said there is a difference between the Constitution, the Electoral Act and the manual and guidelines made by INEC pursuant to powers granted it by the Electoral Act.
She ruled that Card Reader, which is part of INEC’s election guidelines, cannot therefore supersede the electoral register which is provided for in the Electoral Act. The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed as well as Supreme Court Justices Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, Sylvester Ngwuta, Kumai Aka’ahs, John Okoro and Amiru Sanusi all concurred.
With regards to the e-voting, while it was campaigned for during the last election cycle, it didn’tsee the light of day. For those opposed to it, they argued that the introduction of card readers and smart cards was already too much for a polity like Nigeria. More so, they argued that using it for an election so dicey might cause more harm than good. The call for diaspora voting also suffered the same fate.
Essentially, most members of the 7th Assembly members were too concerned about their political fortunes and as such were not open to making radical changes to the electoral system.
But this Senate appears to have braved the odds by passing the Bill, setting a motion a process that would alter the way elections are done in Nigeria.
However, in the House of Representatives, a similar amendment passed second reading on Tuesday, amidst controversy.
The members were divided along party lines over the move to accord the card reader constitutional backing by incorporating its use into the Electoral Act.
The bill ultimately seeks to amend sections 33, 36 of the 2010 electoral act .
Eventually, the House consolidated and read for the second time the bill seeking amendments to four aspects of the electoral Act bordering on the use of card reader for elections, death of presidential or gubernatorial candidates as well as party disclosure of funds.
The proposed amendment also include alteration of the 2010 electoral act by incorporating diaspora voting in the presidential elections.
The bill also seek to amend Sections 33 and 36 of the Electoral Act, 2010 to Provide for Death of a Presidential or Gubernatorial Candidate during an on-going Election, a Bill for an Act to Amend the Electoral Act, Cap. E6, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 to Incorporate Diaspora Voting in the Presidential Election in the Nigerian Electoral Act, 2010 and a Bill for an Act to Amend the Provisions of the Electoral Act, No. 6 of 2010 to Provide a Time Line for the Submission of Lists of Candidates, Criteria for Substitution of Candidates, Disclosure of Sources of Funds Contributed for Political Parties and to Empower the Commission to Uphold Party Primaries where there is a Change in the Results.
If passed into law also, vice presidential and deputy governorship candidates will be empowered to assume the position of candidates in the event that the principal candidates die before the completion of an election.
However, House of Representatives members elected on the platform of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) protested against the move to incorporate the use of card reader into Electoral Act.
Minority Leader, Leo Ogor, who led the dissenting voices noted that there is a difference between electronic voting and card reader. He argued that the card reader was nothing but an instrument used to disenfranchise some Nigerians.
Ogor submitted that rather than improve the electoral process, the card reader did more damage to the voting public.
According him, if the INEC wants to introduce electronic voting, it was free to do so, but the PDP will oppose any attempt to incorporate card reader into the Electoral Act.
“Card Reader is an instrument of disenfranchising Nigerians. INEC should wake up to their responsibility. We should go for clear electronic voting. Any attempt to introduce the card reader into the electoral act, we will go fully against it,” Ogor said.
The member representing Aninri/Agwu/Oji-uzo federal constituency of Enugu state, Hon. Toby Okechukwu posited that the card reader put the nation’s democracy to question and should not be used as a basis for elections.
Okechukwu recalled that the device failed to recognise many registered voters in the last elections, thus disenfranchising affected eligible voters.
Nevertheless, resistance by PDP lawmakers did not change the level of support of APC lawmakers who insisted that the electronic card reader remained a critical component of modern technology to advancing the nation’s democracy.
Lending his voice to the card reader debate, Chief Whip, Alhassan Ado Doguwa, stressed the need to include the electronic card reader in the Electoral Act, saying it is meant to tackle political corruption in the country.
“No amount of argument can convince me that card reader is not an electronic device. The usage of the card reader is a deliberate attempt to fight electoral corruption. It is a very good bill and the card reader must survive and be included in the electoral act. Whoever finds himself as a victim of card reader should have himself to blame,” Doguwa said.
Speaking on the proposed amendment to recognisediaspora voting, the member representing Aguata federal constituency of Anambra state, Hon. Eucharia Azodo, said it will empower Nigerians living in Diaspora to vote in presidential elections.
Similarly, the member representing Jemaa/ Sangafederal constituency of Kaduna state, Hon. Shehu Garba, pointed out the need to provide a platform for Nigerians in diaspora to contribute to the country’s electoral process by voting, just as they contribute to the development process.
But chairperson of the committee on foreign relations, Hon. Nnenna Elendu-Ukeje, expressed concern over the difficulty in doing this, noting that the country’s electoral body has no database of Nigerians living in diaspora. Elendu noted that it was the place of INEC to come up with it and tell the House how it intends to make it work.
“I recognise the importance and need for Nigerians in diaspora to be able to vote in the presidential election but the problem is we do not have a database of Nigerians residing outside the shores of this country.
“We can’t legislate diaspora voting. INEC should come and tell us that they want to do it, tell us how they will do it. They have to build the foundation on which we can go ahead and legislate on it,” she stated.
The bill was referred to the Hon. Aishatu Dukku’s led committee on Electoral and Political Party Matters, and the House Committee on Justice, led by Hon. Rasaq Atunwa.
However, the amendment to the Electoral Act as passed by the Senate, provides that if for some reason the encrypted data is compromised, the presiding officer would have to rely on the manual collation, which could however be prone to manipulation. But where the encrypted data is safe, it completely supersedes the manual results.
The amendment also offers a solution to the ambiguity that may occur in the event a candidate dies after the commencement of elections and before the declaration of a winner by INEC, as was the case during the Kogi gubernatorial election.
The amendment to Section 6 of the Act saw the insertion of a new Sub-section 3 which provides: “If after the commencement of a poll and before the announcement of the final result and declaration of a winner, a nominated candidate dies, (a) the Commission shall, being satisfied of the fact of death, suspend the election for a period not exceeding 21 days; (b) the political party whose candidate died may, if it intends to continue to participate in the election, conduct a fresh direct primary within 14 days of the death of its candidate and submit a new candidate to the commission to replace the dead candidate; and (c) subject to paragraphs (a) and (b) of this sub-section, the Commission shall announce the final result and declare a winner.”
Further, the bill gives political parties the right to adopt direct or indirect primaries in choosing their standard-bearers, while qualification or disqualification of candidates for elections will be solely based on the provisions contained in the 1999 Constitution.
Section 8(5) in the bill also prescribes punishment for any staff of the electoral commission discovered to be a registered member of any political party.
Such staff would be liable to a five-year jail term or a N5 million fine. Section 87 of the bill also stipulates that the monies to be collated as registration fees from aspirants for councillorship elections should not exceed N150,000, local government chairman – N250,000, state House of Assembly member – N500,000, House of Representatives member – N1 million, senatorial aspirant N2 million, governor of a state – N5 million and N10 million for presidential aspirants.
If the bill before the House of Representatives is passed eventually, a harmonised version arrived at by a conference committee of the two legislative chambers will be sent to President Muhammadu Buhari for ascent.alrigh