Reps reject Option A4, electronic voting
When the House considered the method to be used for voting in 2011, some lawmakers canvassed Option A4, which they argued had defied all electoral malpractices when tested in 1993.
Their suggestion was overwhelmingly rejected by the House, which accepted the Open-Secret Voting system recommended by its Committee on Constitution Review.
And Nigerian journalists, who stormed the National Assembly complex to protest the killing of their members and lack of press freedom in the country, were denied entry to the building.
Also yesterday, some former state governors pushed for the amendment of the 1999 Constitution to create room for only two parties, arguing that most of the over 50 parties in the country were not worth the registration certificates they carry.
The House, which also debated the contentious issue of independent candidates, gave tough conditions, which aspirants must meet before they can run on non-party basis in future elections.
At the clause-by-clause consideration of the 2010 Electoral Bill, the House said politicians seeking to be independent candidates in the 2011 polls must register with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) at least 60 days before the date for the general election.
The conditions, which were spelt out in section 34 of the new Electoral Bill, dictated that a person seeking to contest an election as an independent candidate shall in the case of the president, have 50 registered voters in each of at least two-thirds of the wards in the federation while a governor must be supported by 100 registered voters in each of at least two-thirds of the wards in the state.
For aspiring independent senators, 150 registered voters in each of at least two-thirds of the wards in the senatorial district must support them while 200 voters in each of at least two-thirds of the wards in the federal constituency must endorse the ambition of a member of the House of Representatives.
In the case of a member of House of Assembly of a state, 250 registered voters in each of at least two-thirds of the wards in the constituency are needed to give him the nod to enter the race while chairmanship aspirant must secure their support of 300 registered voters in each of at least two-thirds of the wards in the council.
The House also said a councilor must enjoy the mandate of 20 registered voters in the ward.
All the aspirants must also pay to INEC a non-refundable deposit of 10 per cent of the maximum election expenses for each elective office, section 96 of this bill declared.
It further provided that a person who scores one-third of the total votes cast in the election in which he is a candidate shall be refunded his deposit.
Section 54 (1) stated that voting at an election under this Act shall be by Open Secret Ballot, adding that the use of electronic voting machine for the time being is prohibited.
The bill also stipulates that a voter upon receiving a ballot paper, shall mark it in the manner prescribed by INEC while all ballots at an election under the Act at any polling station shall be deposited in the ballot box in the open view of the public.
On a visit to the Senate President David Mark, who was represented by the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, the former governors supported the adoption of the Open Ballot system for use in the 2011 elections.
Ekwemadu told the group which had 10 former governors in tow that their requests came late.
“It is against the constitution which guarantees freedom of association,” he said.
Through their spokesman, former Akwa Ibom State Governor Victor Attah, they noted that the “1999 Constitution places heavy reliance on political parties for the development, promotion and sustenance of the democratic process and democratic culture of the country…however the present multi-party system is too unwieldy to be able to promote a self-sustaining democratic polity.
“The proliferation of political parties weakens the polity and invariably promotes a one-party system.
“For instance, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has become the only dominant national party because of the inability of other parties to grow beyond their regions or states. The present system where most parties in the country do not exist beyond their registration certificates does not create an effective opposition, which is the bedrock of democracy.”
Former Kaduna State Governor and Senate Finance Committee Chairman, Ahmed Makarfi, former Governors of old Kano State, Kabiru Gaya, Abubakar Audu (Kogi), Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa), Adamu Aliero (Kebbi), and Dr. Peter Odili (Rivers) were in the trip.
Former Lagos State Governor Bola Tinubu represented by Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora, and Senate Minority Whip and former Zamfara State Governor Ahmed Yerima, also attended the meeting.
On cross-carpeting, the former governors disagreed with the Senate, which endorsed it, arguing that it weakens the democratic process, promotes disloyalty and undermines party discipline.
And given “a better understanding” that now exists among members of the federal legislature on the Freedom of Information (FoI) Bill, the Lower House may soon go back to the abandoned proposed law.
Addressing members of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), who thronged the National Assembly complex yesterday, carrying posters and placards in protest of the delay in the passage of the 11-year-old bill and killing of journalists, the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Diaspora Affairs, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, said the FoI Bill would certainly be passed into law since the Speaker, Dimeji Bankole had assured that the bill would scale through.
Dabiri-Erewa, who received the protesters at the gate of the National Assembly complex, said the bill had been stalled because it was a revolutionary document. She said the unfortunate delay was expected since such bills were not passed into laws without going through rigorous processes.
She said: “The Speaker has assured several times on the passage of the FoI Bill. It might not be when you want it but it is something that will be passed… FoI is a revolutionary bill, you should expect challenges in a revolutionary bill but there is a better understanding now on the FoI Bill among members of the Parliament, so hopefully, we will have to go back to it again. It is just a matter of time. FoI is what we need if we are serious about democracy, fighting corruption and it is a bill that will deepen accountability”, ” she said.
NUJ National President, Mohammed Garba, who led the protesters insisted that the indifference attitude of the legislators towards the bill had increased hazards in the journalism profession, which include incessant killing of members and threats to their lives.
He said it was unfortunate that some members of the public thought the passage of the bill into law would benefit the journalists only, stating that it was in the interest of every Nigeria.
Garba, who was accompanied by some journalists and executive committee members of Abuja chapter of the union said: “The kernel of the matter is that freedom of information has more to do with access to information, it is the access of the public to information held by public bodies. Many countries of the world have come to recognise that democracy works better when people are part of the governance or that governance has meaning when the people have access to information and on the workings on governance and institutions.”
The protesters were however denied access into the National Assembly but Bankole mandated Dabiri-Erewa to address them outside the main gate to the complex.
Bankole had waited in vain at the foyer of the building to receive the journalists and had to delay the plenary session before he sent Dabiri-Erewa to receive them when the management decided to locked up the gate.
Dabiri-Erewa said: “The Speaker was ready to meet and receive the NUJ personally. He had been waiting for you and he had to delay the plenary for more than 15 minutes. He asked me to stand for him and gave the assurance that the Parliament is now favourably disposed to passing the FoI bill.
“The House believes in FoI bill. There is a better understanding among Parliamentarians now on what the bill is all about. What ever has not been understood is now understood, this points to the fact that the bill will be passed,” she remarked.
Chairman of Abuja Council of the NUJ, Jacob Edi decried the locking of the National Assembly gate against the union.
He said the action of the management of the Assembly confirmed the fears of journalists that there existed an institutional conspiracy to stall the passage of the bill.