By Fred Itua, Abuja
The current Senate, vis-a-vis, the National Assembly, will be adjudged as the most popular Assembly in Nigeria’s recent history. Sadly, its popularity, for many, will be for the wrong reasons. Many Nigerians, ditto for politicians, have passed a damning verdict on the Senate, tagging it as an appendage to the presidency.
The House of Representatives, on the other hand, appears to be more daring and often align with the wishes of Nigerians. This clear distinction, was on display on the floor of the two chambers of the National Assembly in July, 2021, when different versions of the 2010 Electoral Amendment Bill, was passed.
While the House passed the recommendation of its joint Committee on Electoral Matters, the Senate, on the other hand, abandoned its own report and settled for a draconian amendment, sponsored by the Deputy Chief of the Senate, Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, wherein, he posited that electronic transmission of results can only be done, when and if the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), secures an approval from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and the National Assembly.
In what has become a famous national embarrassment, All Progressives Congress (APC) senators, supported the move, when it was subjected to a head count. Ironically, chairman of INEC Committee, Kabiru Gaya, who had earlier recommended that electronic transmission of results be adopted, voted against his own report. While the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) senators who were in the minority had their say, APC lawmakers who were in the majority, had their way.
Part of the clause amended, 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 Commission (INEC), which may include electronic voting.
“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 Commission.”
Daily Sun had earlier reported that plans were underway to force direct method of conducting primary elections on political parties.
As predicated, the Senate also reversed its earlier position and adopted direct primaries for conduct of primaries by political parties. In its earlier amendment passed in July, Senate approved both direct and indirect which had always been there.
With last Tuesday’s sudden volte-face, Nigerians are wondering what could have changed. Certain posers have been raised. Unfortunately, the Senate spokesman, Basiru Ajibola, who should rather explain certain decisions taken by the upper legislative chamber, has often repeatedly and arrogantly said that the media can write whatever it deems fit.
Though the leadership of the Senate has refused to offer any explanation, credible sources, have however revealed what informed that decision. According to a senator from one of the South South states and who’s at loggerheads with his governor, the main focus of the Senate, was the adoption of direct primaries as the only means through which candidates of political parties can be nominated.
The senator said a good number of lawmakers, supported the move, but decided to include electronic transmission of results, in order to gain the sympathy of Nigerians. He said governors of the APC and PDP, were the main targets of the amendment, as part of moves to weaken their grip on the parties during elections.
He said President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan and former governors, as well as lawmakers plotting to succeed their governors, had series of meetings, where a final decision was reached. He said with the adoption of direct primaries, every registered member of a political party, will now participate during primaries, as against the current practice, where governors unilaterally control delegates’ lists during nominations.
He said the electronic transmission of results, will further weaken governors from interfering in the outcome of elections in the various states.
For instance, Lawan is involved in a cold war with his state governor, Mai Mala Buni. According to those familiar with the development, the governor has concluded plans to stop Lawan from returning to the Senate in 2023. Already, the governor has allegedly hijacked the APC structure in the state, leaving Lawan at his mercy.
In Ákwá Ibom State, Bassey Akpan who heads Senate Petroleum (Upstream) Committee, is at loggerheads with his governor, Udọm Emmanuel. Akpan has tried, without success, to get the backing of his governor to support his bid in 2023. However, the governor appears to have foreclosed his chances. Akpan is one of those who supported the adoption of direct primaries during elections.
In Taraba State, Senate Deputy Minority Leader, Emmanuel Bwacha, is slugging it out with his governor, Darius Dickson Ishaku. Bwacha, who prides himself as a pastor, has been at loggerheads with his governor, over plans to succeed him in 2023.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s senator, Baba Kaita, isn’t left out. He is making the necessary moves to succeed his governor, Aminu Bello Masari in 2023. Unfortunately, he appears not to be in the good books of President Buhari and the state governor.
Former governors too who are fighting their successors, are not left out from the last minute volte-face to change the earlier decision of the Senate and opt for electronic transmission of results and direct primaries for political parties.
However, Nigerians have been reacting. Former Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, has commended the Senate for reversing itself on electronic transmission of results, saying it was a huge victory for the nation’s democracy.
Ekweremadu said the Senate’s 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.
Ekweremadu through his media aide, Uche Anichukwu, said: “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.”
Former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Kingsley Moghalu, in a chat with Daily Sun, said the decision by the Senate is commendable. He called on Nigerians to come out and register, ahead of the 2023 general elections.
He said: “I believe that the 2023 elections, the citizens of Nigeria should not allow it to be a contest between two sides of the same coin because there is no difference. It should be a battle between the old and the new – between the old Nigerian and the possibilities for a new Nigeria. That is what 2023 should be.
“I am calling on the young people of this country, the youths, to register, vote and colonise the future that rightfully belongs to them.
“Speaking about 2023, I am very pleased with the news coming out of the National Assembly that the Senate has caved in to the pressure of Nigerian people and has decided to allow INEC to conduct elections as it sees fit, which means the inclusion of electronic transmission of results.
“This is a massive victory for democracy and I believe that it shows what I have been saying that we cannot all go and sit down and become part of a surrendered brigade.”
Idris-Etanami Abiodun Usman, executive director of Sustainable Initiative for Nurturing Growth (SING) Nigeria, in a chat with Daily Sun, called on INEC to only settle for electronic transmission of results and not repeat the mistake of 2015.
He said: “To some extent, it will address the issue of rigging. But my only fear is that, Nigerian politicians are very smart. To me, these politicians have already created a way out. Notwithstanding, I believe it is a good thing. I think it is time to enlighten ourselves. There is no part of Nigeria you’ll go to and not find network, except those areas where you have problems with insecurity.
“I believe areas where network is poor, something can be done. Now, we can vote and our votes can be transmitted electronically. Let’s plead with the INEC chairman. He has to be firm and ready to ensure that only electronic transmission of results will be accepted. He should not give some areas preferences.
“He must be willing to ensure that what happened in 2015 must not happen again, where some parts used card readers and others didn’t do that.”