Nigeria: Senate Passes Electoral Bill, Empowers NCC, NASS to Determine Use of Electronic Transmission

INEC office signpost (file photo).

The passage of the bill was preceded by quarrels and disagreement among the lawmakers leading to a rowdy session.

The Senate has passed the Electoral Amendment Bill.

The passage of the bill was a sequel to a lengthy consideration of the report of the Senate Committee on Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Kabiru Gaya, chairman of the committee, presented the report.

The bill seeks to repeal and re-enact the 2010 Electoral Act.

It also seeks to resolve issues regarding INEC's introduction of modern technologies into the electoral process, particularly accreditation of voters, electronic voting and electronic transmission of results from polling units.

Efforts to get the bill signed into law by the Saraki-led 8th National Assembly were futile with President Muhammadu Buhari rejecting it three times.

It was first rejected in March 2018 where Mr Buhari said the proposed law would usurp the constitutional powers of INEC to decide on election matters, including fixing dates and election order.

In 2018, he rejected it again citing "some drafting issues" that remain unaddressed following the prior revisions to the Bill. And in December 2018, when the bill was rejected, Mr Buhari said passing a new bill with elections close by could "create some uncertainty about the legislation to govern the process."

The legislation was ,however, reintroduced in the ninth Assembly.

In the new bill, the lawmakers make provision for electronic transmission of results - a major recommendation by Nigerians.

Other contentious provisions in the bill are electronic voting, diaspora voting and limit of spending by political parties and candidates.

Passage of the legislation was, however, preceded by quarrels and disagreement among the lawmakers over Section 52(3) of the bill.

The Section states "The Commission may transmit results of elections by electronic means where and when practicable."

But the Senate Deputy Whip, Sabi Abdullahi, had moved that the Section be amended to read:

"The commission 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," he proposed.

Lawmakers were made to vote individually after the Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, called for a division - challenging the amendment.

A total of 52 senators voted in favour while 28 voted against. A total of 28 senators were absent during the voting process.

If the House of Representatives concurs and the bill is assented to by the president, INEC will lose power to solely determine whether election results are transmitted electronically.

The new bill also empowered INEC to review results declared by an electoral officer under duress.

Section 68 of the legislation reads: "the decision of the Returning Officer shall be final on any question arising from or relating to unmarked ballot paper, rejected ballot paper and declaration of scores of candidates and the return of a candidate...

"Provided that the Commission shall have the power within seven days to review the declaration and return where the Commission determines that the said declaration and return was not made voluntarily or was made contrary to the provisions of the Law, Regulations and Guidelines, and Manual for the election.

While Section 64(2) reads: "a decision of the Returning Officer or the Commission under subsection (1) may be reviewed by a Tribunal or Court in an election petition proceeding under this bill."

The limit of election spending was , however, increased in the new bill.

The spending limit in Section 91 of the bill now allows presidential candidates to increase their cash haul from the current N1 billion to N5 billion while governorship candidates can rake in N1 billion from the hitherto N2 million.

For senatorial candidates, they can now legally raise N100 million from the previous N40 million, while candidates to the House of Representative can now accept N70 million from the current N30 million. And for State Assembly, candidates are now free to call up N30 million from the previous N10 million.

After the bill was passed, the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, thanked colleagues for their devotion and dedication in the entire process.

He noted that if any difference is spotted in legislation passed by the House of Representatives, a conference committee will be constituted to harmonise the bill.

He also hoped that the new legislation will improve future elections in Nigeria.

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