South-South Senate caucus gets Executive

…Lobby lawmakers, don’t blackmail NASS leadership, Lawan tells Nigerians

…Says those accusing NASS leadership are rabble-rousers

…All we want is a fair, just electoral law — Afenifere

…Nothing wrong with Lawan asking Nigerians to lobby their lawmakers — ACF

…Let Senate make laws to make INEC truly independent — Ohanaeze

…There’s no blackmail, do what Nigerians want, PANDEF tells NASS

…Lawmakers’ll answer to Nigerians, if they fail to do their bidding — MIDDLE Belt Forum

By Anayo Okoli, Dapo Akinrefon,  Henry Umoru, Peter Duru, Chinonso Alozie, Davies Iheamnachor & Ibrahim Wuyo

THE Senate Committee on Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, yesterday bowed to pressure from Civil Society Organisations, CSOs, and other stakeholders who kicked against moves by the Senate to expunge from the Electoral Act the clause on  electronic transmission of results.

The ecommittee, which had earlier jettisoned the idea of electronic transmission of election results, in its report that would be passed today, adjusted the contentious section of the bill to state that INEC may now partially transmit results of elections by electronic means where and when practicable.

With this development,  it  means that the bill, when passed, will empower INEC to transmit results electronically in some parts of the country.

The report

The report read:  “52(1) Voting at an election under this bill shall be by open secret ballot.

“52(2) Voting at an election under this bill shall be in accordance with the procedure determined by the commission, which may include electronic voting.

“52(3) The commission may transmit results of elections by electronic means where and when practicable.”

Recall that in the earlier   provision, Section 50 (2) of the Electoral Act Bill which was inserted into the bill, no provision was made for   INEC to transmit results of any election electronically. 

The section had   read: “Voting at an election under this bill shall be in accordance with the procedure determined by the commission, which may include electronic voting, PROVIDED that the commission shall not transmit results of elections by electronic means.

“A voter on receiving a ballot paper shall mark it in the manner prescribed by the commission.

“All ballots at an election under this bill at any polling station shall be deposited in the ballot box in the open view of the public.”

It was gathered    that the section which was “smuggled” into the bill   was never part of the provisions agreed by the stakeholders and the Senate Committee on INEC during their various engagements.

Lawan decries attacks against NASS

Meanwhile, Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, had earlier yesterday, kicked against what he described as calculated blackmail against the leadership of the National Assembly over the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2021, currently before both chambers.

He also attacked those accusing National Assembly leadership of tampering with report on the Electoral Act Amendments, saying they were rabble-rousers, mischievous and misinformed.

It will be recalled that many Nigerians had accused the NASS leadership of attempting to expunge the clause on electronic transmission of election results, ahead 2023.

Lawan’s comments drew the ire of some stakeholders in the polity, including the pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the pan-Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, among others, who saw the remarks as unbecoming of a person of the stature of the Senate president.

But speaking soon after chairman of the Senate Committee on Independent National Electoral Commission, Senator Kabiru Gaya( APC, Kano South), laid the committee’s report before the Senate at plenary, Lawan urged Nigerians to lobby lawmakers on any aspect of the bill they felt strongly about, adding that lobbying is part of democracy.

Noting that the National Assembly will do only what is right when it eventually considers the bill, the Senate President said following attempts  by some elements to blackmail the leadership of the Senate and House of Representatives, he had no option than to publish the number of his phone and the speaker’s on various online platforms.

He lamented that his privacy was invaded with over nine hundred messages accusing him of manipulating the contents of the Electoral Act (Amendment) bill.

The Senate President, however, maintained that the National Assembly can only consider aspects of the amendment bill contained in the committee’s report presented to the Senate for consideration.

Lawan said:  “There are various accusations, insinuations that the leadership of the Senate, sometimes the National Assembly, has tampered with the report of the committee on INEC of both chambers.

“Some of those accusing the leadership of the National Assembly are innocently misinformed, some are simply mischievous and rabble-rousers.

“This is the first time this report is laid here. This is the decision of the committee on INEC and, therefore, whatever will be discussed or considered about the Electoral Act Amendment Bill will be on the basis of what has been presented to the Senate here.

“If anybody feels very strongly about anything, lobby senators to canvass your position, rather than blackmail our leadership, because my telephone line and that of the speaker were published, and in one day, I received over nine hundred messages saying we have manipulated this, we didn’t.  We will do what is right, we have our procedures and lobbying is part of democracy.”

Attacks on NASS indicate interest in bill — Afenifere

Reacting to the Senate president’s comments yesterday, the pan-Yoruba socio-political organization, Afenifere, said the remarks were an indication of how much interests Nigerians had in the bill, adding that the electorate want a fair and just electoral law.

Afenifere’s National Publicity Secretary, Comrade Jare Ajayi, however, noted that the discomfort expressed by the Senate Leader was understandable.

He said: “Ordinarily, no one likes his privacy to be invaded, especially by those he does not know. But the Senate President should take it as one of the hazards of the job he willingly undertook.

‘’Beyond that, he should also regard the avalanche of messages he received on the Electoral Bill as an indication of how much interest Nigerians have in the bill.

“As such, it is incumbent on the lawmakers to ensure that they factor the views of the people on the bill into consideration.

“On his directing the people to lobby their representatives, the views being expressed are for all of them (Senators and Representatives), including the leadership of the two Chambers.

“All we, the people, want is an electoral law that is fair and just; one that reduces electoral malpractices to the barest minimum.”

Lawan must check if report was tampered with — ACF

Also reacting yesterday, Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, asked the Senate President to investigate if report on the bill was tampered, stressing that those who leveled the allegation were, indeed, rabble-rousers, if no such thing happened.

National Publicity Secretary of ACF, Emmanuel Yawe, said:  “Is there any evidence that there has been a tampering with the Electoral Act Amendment report?

‘’If there is none, then the accusers are truly rabble- rousers, but if it is true that the Act had been tampered with, the ACF calls on the Senate President to order an investigation and those found guilty should be punished.

‘’There is nothing wrong with the Senate President asking Nigerians to lobby their legislators. Lobbying is part of democratic process, after all.”

Make laws to strengthen INEC — Obanaeze

In its reaction, Ohanaeze Ndigbo challenged the Senate to make laws that will strengthen INEC and make it truly independent as the only way to make Nigeria practice true democracy.

According to Ohanaeze’s spokesman, Alex Chidozie Ogbonnia, the appellation of independence being associated with the INEC and even state electoral commissions is a misnomer as they are not independent at all.

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“There is misnomer in what they call Independent electoral commissions. They are not independent. Whatever we get from the amendment, with the commission being independent, nothing will change.

“The President and governors appoint the members, so what we have is democratic dictatorship. Let the Senate make laws to ensure that the commission is truly independent. Nigerians should rise and ensure that the Senate makes law that guarantees independence of INEC, that is when we see true democracy in Nigeria,” Ogbonnia said.

Process must be transparent — ADF

In its position, Alaigbo Development Foundation, ADF, said the   amendment of the Electoral Act is very vital and necessary for Nigeria democracy to grow.

“We believe the   Electoral Act Amendment is very vital and necessary to shape our democratic ethos.  We welcome the provision for the electronic transmission of results, which is currently being considered by the Senate and House of Representatives.

“Let us hope that the National Assembly members will live up to the popular expectations of Nigerians who are yearning for the adoption of the electronic transfer of results. Such a provision would go a long way in minimizing electoral fraud in Nigeria.

“The Senate leadership should ensure a transparent process in arriving at the decision. Let the voting be taken so that everyone would answer for himself or herself.

“Let Nigerians behold those for or against the electronic transmission  of results. By so doing, we shall know those who are against the democratic advancement of our society,” ADF said through its spokesman, Chief Abia Onyike.

On its part, Igbo National Council, INC, called on the National Assembly, to conduct open debate on the Electoral Act Amendment, so Nigerians could see what was going on about the bill.

INC President, Chilos Godsent, said Nigerians are still not sure if their representatives will effectively deliver their demands to the right channel on the bill.

He said: “If there is going to be an amendment of the Electoral Act, the National Assembly should conduct an open debate to enable the public monitor what they are doing and not telling us to go and meet our representatives.

“It is unethical and unconventional and the normal process of doing that is, first there should be a bill highlighting areas of interests for amendment; it is based on that the citizens will now make inputs.

“From there, the citizens will now submit their Memorandum of Understanding, MOU. But   if you submit   through your representatives, how are you sure it gets to the proper channel?’’

Not blackmail, says PANDEF

Similarly, the Pan-Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, in its reaction, said the clamour by Nigerians for a better electoral bill was not blackmail, calling on the Senate to do what was right.

The National Publicity Secretary of PANDEF, Ken Robinson, noted that Nigerians only wanted an electoral bill that would ensure their votes counted, wondering why the Senate President would describe the desire of Nigerians as blackmail.

Robinson said: “Dr. Ahmed Lawan is the Senate President with all due respect, but he is acting under some unknown influences, otherwise every senator represents a district.

“They come from a state and a senatorial district and they represent people and the desire of Nigerians is not hidden. Everybody knows what Nigerians want. The ball is in the court of the Senate, so let them do what is right to strengthen the electoral process in Nigeria, deepen democracy, and ensure that when votes are cast, they will count.

“One of the ways to achieve that is to ensure transmission of votes electronically, through electronic voting, which includes accreditation and transmission of votes electronically, so that whether you vote in Bayelsa, Bauchi or anywhere in Nigeria, the results could get to Abuja and everybody would know what is going on.

“Mr. Senate President is aware of this, he should stop pretending. They should do what is right.  There is no blackmail at all.  Nigerians are only expressing their concerns and desires. They are making it known to those representing them. They should do what Nigerians want them to do.”

Nigerians need not lobby senators — MBF

Also reacting yesterday, the Middle Belt Forum, MBF, said Nigerians needed not lobby senators to have their views on burning national issues respected by the federal lawmakers.

The Forum also frowned on the choice of words used by the Senate President who described those accusing the leadership of the National Assembly of tampering with Electoral Act Amendment bill report as rabble-rousers.

National President of the MBF, Dr. Pogu Bitrus, said it is undiplomatic for the Senate President to use such words to describe Nigerians.

His words: “All I can say is that the statement is unfortunate, it is not supposed to come from somebody like the Senate President. Secondly, he suggested that people should lobby them, he forgot that we elected them and our views should be conveyed and respected by them because we put them in that office.

“What we should do is to tell them our views which they are supposed to respect and not to go and beg or lobby them, it is wrong.

“The issue is, that statement, including his calling people rabble-rousers, is unfortunate and it shouldn’t have come from him. The Senate President is a diplomat, he is supposed to work for the people. He is first  among equals, every Senator has the capacity to be a Senate President.

“So all I am saying is that people elected them into office and they are representing the people. The people of Nigeria shouldn’t lobby them.

“They are going to see the answer of the wrong they might have done or they would want to do. If they don’t do the right thing, Nigerians will answer them in the right way and in the right manner.

“So whatever he says, let’s wait and see, let them not pass it and let them not respect the views of Nigerians.  Of course, Nigerians will give them the right answer when the time comes.”

Vanguard News Nigeria

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