18 March 2016

Nigeria: Senate Begins Amendment of Electoral Act to Legalise Use of Card Readers

Abuja — A bill seeking to amend the Electoral Act to give room for the incorporation of the use of card readers into the Act scaled second reading on the floor of the Senate on Thursday.

The bill, entitled: "A Bill for an Act to Amend the Electoral Act N0. 6 2010 and for Other Matters Connected Therewith 2016," was initiated by Senator Tijani Kaura (Zamfara North).

Leading debate on the bill, Kaura said making the use of card readers a legal initiative had become important in view of the huge value it added to the 2015 general election.

According to him, court pronouncements on the device that it was unknown to law had made legislation on it necessary, noting that: "It will further strengthen our democracy."

He described its introduction as novel, explaining that a number of African countries have been using the device to enhance their electoral systems.

The lawmaker added that if made a legal instrument, it would further boost Nigerians' confidence in the electoral process.

"The card reader is indeed a novel innovation by INEC... The card reader machines have been in use in many countries even before Nigeria adopted its usage in the 2015 general election. It has been in use in countries such as Ghana, South Africa, Kenya and many other African countries and most importantly, it has deterred electoral fraud. Thus, all hands must be on deck to make legislations that will boost the confidence that our citizens have in democracy," he said.

In his contribution, Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, however, suggested the need to ensure a comprehensive amendment of the Electoral Act beyond the provision for the use of card readers.

He listed other issues which he said needed to be considered as amendments to the Act to include electronic voting as well as the failure of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to comply with 90 days' orders by courts for rerun elections.

But Senator Foster Ogala (Bayelsa West) vehemently opposed the bill, describing it as an attempt to smuggle a strange device into the nation's electoral system. According to him, the provision of the bill was inconsistent with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution pointing out that any law that is inconsistent with the constitution is null and void.

He insisted that if the bill must be passed, the constitution must first be amended before the use of card readers could be incorporated into the Electoral Act as he argued that INEC had successfully conducted several elections without making use of card readers.

Also speaking, Senator Albert Akpan (Akwa Ibom North-east) warned against rushing to make card readers legal instruments. However, he said he was not opposed to the use of card readers but rather its imperfections.

In the same vein, Senator Obinna Ogba (Ebonyi Central) opposed the bill as he recalled how a number of Nigerians mainly from the South were disenfranchised during the last general election as a result of card readers' usage.

But Senator Jibrin Barau (Kano North) threw his weight behind the bill, describing the introduction of card readers into the nation's electoral system as revolutionary.

He said the move had elevated Nigeria into the class of civilised countries.

Also yesterday, the Senate passed a bill raising the number of judges in Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High court from 37 to 75.

The increase followed the adoption of a report by Chairman, Senate Committee on Judiciary, David Umaru.

Meanwhile, a week after the House of Representatives resolved to take over the functions of Kogi State House of Assembly, the Senate has concurred with the resolution.

Accordingly, it asked the Inspector General of Police (IG), Solomon Arase, to seal the legislative house until the crisis which engulfed it is amicably resolved.

The House of Representatives had on March 8 resolved to take over the state assembly after a committee it initially set up to mediate in the crisis which resulted in the impeachment of the state asembly speaker,, Lawal Momoh Jimoh, by five of its 20 members failed.

Members of the assembly had vehemently resisted the move.

The Senate Leader, Ali Ndume, who moved the motion, said the trend of events in the state assembly had shown clearly that the state legislative house could no longer perform its responsibilities.

According to him, the move to take over the legislative house was in accordance with Section 11(4) of the 1999 Constitution which he said empowered the National Assembly to take over any house of assembly that could no longer perform its responsibilities.

The Senate also declared the impeachment of the Speaker of Kogi State House of Assembly, Momoh Jimoh Lawal, by five of the 20-member house null and void just as it condemned the roles allegedly played by the police in subverting the constitution.

Ndume said: "In view of the fact that the Kogi State House of Assembly cannot perform its legislative functions due to intractable crises and volatile security situation in the state, National Assembly hereby invoke the powers conferred on it by Section 11(4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to take over the legislative functions of the state house of assembly pending the restoration of normalcy in the assembly.

"The Senate declares that the impeachment proceedings embarked upon by five members of the Kogi State House of Assembly is null and void. The Senate condemns the role played by the Nigerian Police in subverting the provisions of the constitution by providing cover for only five members out of 20 members of Kogi State House of Assembly to commit illegalities.

"The Senate directs the IG Arase, to seal the Kogi State House of Assembly complex until the matter is resolved."

However, Senator Dino Melaye (Kogi West), attempted to scuttle the move, pointing out that since the matter had become a subject of litigation, it was only right for the Senate to wait until the case in court is fully determined.

But Senate President Bukola Saraki dismissed Melaye's claim, saying the issue under consideration was not a petition rather a matter referred to the Senate for concurrence from the House of Representatives. He explained that the Senate had the power to act on the matter without prejudice.

Hence, the resolution was passed with overwhelming support by senators with only a dissenting voice from Melaye.

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