Electronic Voting: A Difference Between 8th and 9th Senate

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Chuks Okocha compares the leadership of the then President of the 8th Senate, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki and the 9th Senate led by Senator Ahmad Lawan

The manner the two arms of the National Assembly handled the electoral reforms bill has brought the lawmakers under serious criticism as a result of its decision to vote down the adoption of electronic transmission of the results of elections from the polling stations to the central collation centres.

The initiative to amend the electoral act which first came into the equation in the Eighth National Assembly led by Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki who was the 13th Senate President in Nigerian history was aimed at strengthening the credibility of the electoral process and ensuring that results announced at the end of elections reflect the actual votes cast by the electorate.

Though not officially enshrined in the statuette books, the transmission of election results online was was first used in the conduct of the Edo State governorship election last yea and later the Ondo state governorship election. The outcome of the two elections was evidence of the improvement it could bring to the electoral process.

It is no news that the 8th NASS successfully passed the Electoral Act (amendment) Bill 2017 thrice and on each occasion President Muhammadu Buhari who was then scheming for his re-election in the 2019 polls found one reason or the other to withhold his assent to the bill. It was the general impression, and sadly so, that one of the reasons the bill was turned down by the President was much more in his personal interest than in the national interest

It seems the reason the Bill was not signed to law was because the President and his party were opposed to the aspect that they believed will not be in sync with their wish in the elections. At least the bulk of the Bill passed by the defunct Senate and the one considered by the committee on INEC of the present chambers are the same, except that the legislators now voted to water down one of the most progressive initiatives of the last Assembly.

The question now is: How did Saraki and his colleagues in the 8th Senate as well as the House of Representatives headed by Hon. Yakubu Dogara pass the Electoral Act without any rancour or crisis?

The answer to this is in the ability to manage different interest. This is where the capacity of the leadership of each chamber, their popularity or acceptance among members, the motive and interest of the leadership as well as their loyalty to common cause come into play.

With the former Senate President Saraki and the then Speaker of the House of Representatives Yakubu Dogara enjoyed solid relationship, popularity and acceptance with and among their members. And this is because both men refused to be dictated to from any power centre outside the legislature. Rather, the external force that could dictate to Saraki, Dogara and their colleagues were the people – the electorate.

Under Saraki’s watch, hardly could you get a time when a Senator insisted on division of the Senate during voting on issues, except during voting on Constitution Amendment bills. Division of the chambers for the purpose of voting during constitution amendment process is a compulsory method necessary to fulfill the provision of the constitution on the issue of two-third or three-fifth support for the issues to be amended.

Division for the purpose of accurately deciding the position of each member on issues in the legislature is what they literally means, it means the House is divided and cannot achieve a consensus. Saraki usually tried to get the entire chamber to achieve consensus through debate and transparency/openness.

This is easier to achieve once the chamber is called upon to toe the path preferred by the generality of the people who are the constituents of the legislators. To determine what the people’s preference is, Saraki usually gauged opinion through the press, the civil society group, sometimes he commissioned opinion polls and sounded out people across the country representing diverse section of the national demography. This is called Leadership and it greatly worked well for him as the chairman of the National Assembly

It is therefore easy to mobilize members in support of a Bill whose purpose is patriotic, rather than partisan, broad rather than narrow, creative and problem solving rather than conservative or uninspiring.

That is why throughout the 8th Senate, it was said that Senators congregated to work for Nigeria, not for party or for personal interests. The problem with the current Senate is that every position is pushed based on what the Presidential Villa wants and how the ruling party wants members to vote or argue.

Instead of the leadership of the 8th Senate having strong relationship and control with and over the members, the members are mobilized, co-ordinated and controlled from outside the chamber by interests outside the chamber.

Thus, what happened on the electronic transmission of results would not have happened under Saraki and Dogara, two legislative leaders who have effectively deployed their experience, focus and staff quality to improve legislative performance and delivery on the Agenda set at the commencement of the legislative session in 2015.

That is why some members of the current Senate and even members of the public miss the dynamism, focus, innovation and brilliance of the Saraki era in last week’s handling of the amendment of the Electoral Act.

Many of the commentators wondered why Ahmed Lawan and some of the members of the Senate leadership refused to learn from the pro-people Strategy of the Eighth Senate.

Many however have concluded that the desperation by the current leadership to please Buhari and be in the good books of the executive have robbed them of the strategic finesse, tactical sophistication and popular appeal that are needed for handling the prevalent, contending issues of today’s Nigeria.

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