Electoral Bill: Fresh Problem As Senate Constitutes Conference Panel

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The Senate has constituted a seven-member conference committee on the Electoral Act (amendment) Bill, passed by both chambers in July.

Senate President Ahmad Lawan, who announced the committee during plenary yesterday, named the Senate Leader, Abdullahi Yahaya as chairman.

Other members of the Senate committee are Kabiru Gaya (North West), Ajibola Basiru (South West), Danjuma Goje (North East), Uche Ekwunife (South East), Sani Musa (North-Central), and Mathew Urhoghide (South South).

The panel is mandated to meet the House of Representatives team to harmonise any contentious aspect of the bill.

Different versions were passed by both chambers amid sharp division among lawmakers over clause 52 of the bill, which seeks the introduction of modern technologies into the electoral process.

Clause 52(3) provides for electronic transmission of results from polling units.

The joint committee on INEC that worked on the bill had recommended that “The commission may transmit results of elections by electronic means where and when practicable”.

But the Senate, during consideration and passage of bill, changed the section to read “The commission (INEC) may consider electronic transmission provided the national network coverage is adjudged to be adequate and secure by the Nigerian Communications Commission and approved by the National Assembly.”

However, the House retained what was recommended by the committee.

Many senators, especially from the opposition PDP, had opposed the amended clause during consideration of the report, resulting in call for division by Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe.

Five of the Senate conference committee members voted in favour of the amended clause 52(3) which whittled down the power of INEC on electronic transmission of results.

Only Senator Urhoghide voted against the amendment while Ekwunife was absent during voting.

Those who voted for the amendment argued that the rate of internet coverage in the country was still low; saying retaining the provision in the report would disenfranchise millions of Nigerians, especially those in the rural areas.

Those who voted against said INEC, as an independent institution, should not be made to be dependent on another authority in carrying out its mandate.

“I believe it is important to make NCC submit to INEC for the specific purpose of assisting the electoral umpire in determining the availability of necessary infrastructure and technical capacity to do so long clearly before election,” said Senator Michael Opeyemi Bamidele.

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