Reviewing our legislators’ ayes and nays (1)

By Adewale Kupoluyi    |   25 November 2015   |   5:06 am  

gavelA few days ago, I was watching some legislative proceedings in one of the parliaments in the country when the speaker demanded the response of his colleagues to an important national discourse.

In the usual conversation, the presiding had asked for either ayes or nays. After carefully listening to the responses given by the law makers, it was obvious that majority of them opted for nays but to my surprise, the speaker banged the gavel and declared that the ‘ayes have it’. I was shocked by the verdict!

In some nations of the world including Nigeria, it is the usual tradition and practice for lawmakers to adopt voice vote by adopting the use of ayes (yes’) and nays (no’s) in taking decisions on important matters during parliamentary sessions. Section 56 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) provides that questions posed in the Senate or House of Representatives shall be determined by a simple majority of the members present by voting.

Similarly, in Rule 72 of the Senate Standing Order, the National Assembly recognises three modes of voting; namely: voice votes, signing of register in a division and electronic device. The rule also applies to the lower chamber of the National Assembly, which is the House of Representatives.

These modes of voting can further be sub-divided into two groups: the recorded votes and unrecorded votes. Voice votes fall into the unrecorded category, while division and electronic voting are classified as recorded votes. Rule 71(3)(4) specifically states that the President of the Senate or chairman of the legislative house, at the conclusion of the debate, will ensure that votes shall be taken by voices of ayes and nays while the result shall be declared by the presiding officer. Due to the observed discrepancies in the approach, there is the need for our parliament to embrace the use of technology, move away from avoidable acrimony and be more accountable to the people who empowered them better than the current arrangement.

Although few advanced democracies still rely on the voice vote mode, its disadvantages seem to outnumber the merits. The first demerit of voice vote option is the inability to record votes thus preventing the electorate from knowing their representatives’ voting patterns and know whether it is in tandem with expectations. This practice has also made it difficult for the citizenry to assess their legislators in terms of performance.

Secondly, it does not show sophistication and decorum. Many people are of the opinion that a more decent way of taking parliamentary decisions should be evolved. Thirdly, declaring voice vote’s result is usually unscientific, prone to manipulation and rather based on the opinion and discretion of the presiding officer and not on what really transpired, as I have observed in the first paragraph of this essay.

Kupoluyi is of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB),, @AdewaleKupoluyi

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