Members of the House of Representatives, yesterday, exchanged blows during the debate on whether or not the electronic transmission of election results should be made a law in Nigeria.
This came after the House witnessed intermittent, rowdy sessions, tensed atmosphere and lot of pauses in the consideration of the report of its Committee on Electoral Matters on the electoral bill.
Meanwhile, the Senate, voting along party lines, threw out a major aspect of the proposed Electoral Act Amendment that would have allowed the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to on its own, decide where practicable to transmit elections results, settling for the Nigerian Communication Commission, NCC and the National Assembly deciding where and when INEC could transmit election results electronically.
With 52 senators, all senators on the platform of All Progressives Congress, APC, voted for it, against 28 senators, mainly of opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, voting against the position. The voting was done along party lines.
In the House of Reps, Yusuf Gagdi from Plateau State and Ifeanyi Momoh from Amambra State were seen punching each other, prompting members to separate them.
Similarly, some members charged at one another, removed their flowing gowns to get physical.
It all started during the clause-by-clause consideration of the Electoral Bill, which started smoothly with members proposing and adopting amendments where necessary.
The consideration, however, took a disturbing dimension when it got to section 52 of the bill, which speaks about the inclusion of the voting system and transmission of election results.
The Committee on Electoral Matters, chaired by Aisha Dukku from Gombe State, had in its report, given INEC the discretion to adopt electronic voting and transmission of election results in the section.
But in the course of the exercise, the deputy minority leader of the House, Toby Okechukwu, proposed that electronic transmission of election results be inserted and made compulsory in the bill.
It was seconded and subjected to a voice vote by the Deputy Speaker and Chairman of the Committee of the Whole, Ahmed Wase.
The voices of those who supported Okechukwu’s motion were in the estimation of the majority of the members louder than those who voted against the inclusion of electronic transmission of results.
But Wase ruled in favour of those who said “nay.”
Swiftly, the members rose and protested the ruling. For more than 20 minutes, the chamber was rowdy.
Every entreaty to members by the deputy chief whip, Nkiru Onyejiocha, to take their seats failed.
When calm eventually returned, Wase appealed to the members to adopt lobby as a civil measure, instead of coming around the podium to insult him.
He said: “Consider what happens to our brothers in Yobe and other places.” The remarks prompted another round of jeers on the floor.
Afterwards, James Faleke from Lagos State moved that the “transmission of results under this bill shall be both electronic and manual.” His proposal, however, attracted a thunderous shout of no, no.
Contributing, Kingsley Chinda, Rivers State, moved a point of order. Quoting Order 9 of the House rules, Chinda said the speaker had already ruled on the matter and that further action on it would be to call for a division of the House.
But in response, speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, said Okechukwu and Faleke’s proposals were different and called for a division and votes on both proposals.
But the majority leader of the House, Ado Doguwu disagreed with Gbajabiamila, said Wase had already hit the gavel on the issue.
Again, there was cacophony of voices, saying “yea” and “nays” among the members.
At this point, Onofiok Luke from Akwa Ibom State formally moved a motion for a division of the House on the matter but Wase disagreed.
Then, the minority Leader, Ndudi Elumelu remarked, “What the speaker said is not out of context. Even though you have ruled on Toby’s amendment, some other person can bring another amendment.”
Faleke, again, at this point formally raised a motion on the adoption of both the electronic and manual transmission of election results.
The motion was seconded by Wale Raji from Lagos State and was put to a voice vote.
The voices of those who supported outweighed those it the said no.
Again, Wase ruled in favour of those who said no.
The lawmakers rose in protest, prompting the sergeant-at-arms to form a human shield at the podium to protect the mace.
For more than 30 minutes, protests, cheers and jeers enveloped the the chamber.
Sensing that members’ frayed nerves couldn’t be calmed, Doguwa was asked to move a motion that the House revert to plenary. The motion was seconded by deputy chief whip, Nkiruka Onyejiocha.
At plenary, Wase read the details of all that transpired in the Committee of the Whole., saying the Committee of the Whole should considered clauses 1 to 54 of the Electoral Bill report.
The development was greeted by all-time rejection and a thunderous shouts of no, no.
Again, the sergeant-at-arms quickly rushed and formed a human shield, preventing members from getting close to the mace.
At this juncture, members threw caution to the winds, became unruly and went physical with each other, defying every move to restore normalcy.
The speaker, Gbajabiamila mounted the podium, took over from Wase and announced the adjournment of plenary to today at 10am.
He further announced the invitation of the Chairman of INEC, Professor Yakubu Mahmoud and Executive Vice Chairman, NCC, Professor Umaru Dambatta, to the House today, to shed more light on measures that might support or mar the idea of electronic transmission of election results.
In the Senate, confusion and anger enveloped the chamber as senators considered the report that has 158 clauses.
The anger was fuelled by the concession of the powers of INEC to the National Communications Commission, NCC, to transmit results of election rather than the latter.
Trouble started, when after the presentation of the report by the Chairman, Senate Committee on INEC, Senator Kabiru Gaya (APC, Kano South) read the report and the Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate, Senator Sabi Abdullahi(APC, Niger North) moved for an amendments of clause 52(3).
The clause recommended by the Senate Committee on INEC that electronic transmission of election results by INEC where and when practicable was rejected by an amendment raised by Sabi Abdullahi.
Abdullahi in calling for the amendment through point of order, added a provision that such electronic transmission of results by INEC should be subjected to certification of network coverage by NCC.
Abdullahi said: ” The Commission may consider electronic transmission of results provided there is national coverage as adjudged by the NCC and approved by the National Assembly.”
This did not go down well with some senators as Senator Bassey Akpan(PDP, Akwa Ibom North East) moved that it was contained in the recommendation.
The clause which took Senate about three hours to consider and approved, first created stalemate when Senator Akpan took a swipe at Abdullahi’s amendment.
Akpan in his amendment, sought retention of the provision as originally proposed by the committee which was, however, voted against when put to voice votes as ruled by the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan.
After the ruling, the Senate was in stalemate for about 15 minutes, which led to hurried closed door session.
Following the confusion that erupted during plenary, the Senate Minority Leader, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe (PDP, Abia South), who raised a point of Order and came under Order 73, called for division for Nigerians to know who voted against electronic transmission of results by INEC.
Though the Leader of the Senate , Senator Yahaya Abdullahi ( APC Kebbi North) and Senator Micheal Bamidele ( APC Ekiti Central), made spirited efforts to make Abaribe withdraw his motion on division, Abaribe stood his ground for the division and physical counting of votes.
At this point, the Clerk to the Senate, Ibrahim El – Ladan presided over the election by calling the senators one after the other on the basis of state and at the end of the physical voting which lasted for about 40 minutes, a total of 80 senators voted, out of which 52 voted for the amendment made by Senator Abdullahi, 28 voted for original provision of the clause.
The Senate after voting, resolved that INEC may consider electronic transmission of results provided there is national coverage as adjudged by the NCC and approved by the National Assembly.
*Vanguard News Nigeria