OrderPaperToday – The Senate was on Thursday split along partisan and north- south regional divides when an amendment bill to embed the use of card reader device in the Electoral Act was debated.
Senators relapsed into regional and partisan enclaves as those from the northern part of the country and the All Progressives Congress (APC) backed the bill while those against it were mostly from the south and of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The debate on the bill sponsored by Sen. Tijani Kaura (APC, Zamfara North) also brought up echoes of the 2015 general elections where the card readers worked effectively as against more hitches recorded in its usage in many parts of southen Nigeria.
Presenting the lead debate on the bill, Sen. Kaura said that there was need for the Electoral Act to be amended to address challenges with the card reader witnessed in the last election.
Speaking in support of the bill, deputy leader of the Senate, Ibn Na’Allah (APC, Borno) said the amendment was imperative, noting however that it was not possible for the parliament to see every conceivable lacuna in the Electoral Act that required amendment.
Accordingly, he proposed that the amendments be made flexible saying: “This amendment seeks to validate card reader for elections.
“Instead of limiting to card reader, we could say that the INEC shall have power to conduct election using card reader or such other equipment for the purpose of conducting free and fair election.
“So the law must give some flexibility to the electoral body, it is a very noble cause and we should support this bill to pass the second reading.”
But for Senator obinna Ogba (PDP, Ebonyi Central) he would only support the bill on the condition that the card reader or other amendment does not favour one region of the country over another.
He said judging from the last general elections, the card reader seemed to have worked against voters in the southern part of Nigeria where a lot of peple were disenfranchised by the card reader.
He said: “Whether we like it or not, a great percentage of my people did not vote as a result of this card reader.
Also speaking, Sen. Foster Ogola (PDP, Bayelsa West) vehemently opposed the bill saying it stood in contravention to certain sections of the Nigerian Constitution.
Ogola said that before the Electoral Act could be amended, the Constution would first be amended as any amendment made to the Act would be a nullity.
He said: “The constitution says that any law made that is in contravention with the constitution is null and void.
“The elections had been going smoothly, INEC conducted election last week, lack of this new law has not deterred election. For this to go, we must first amend the constitution to provide for the use of electronic voting system.
” am convinced that this bill should not go for a second reading until the constitution is amended and I urge my colleagues to ensure that thisbill is not passd for second reading.”
Sen. Bassey Akpan (PDP, Akwa Ibom) spoke in a similar vein, arguing that while he was not against the card reader, it was necessary for it to have been used and perfected before it is included in the Electoral Act or the Constitution.
He said that the card reader did not work well in the South recalling that the machine was unable to verify former President Goodluck Jonathan at his polling unit.
He said: “We had states where the number of accredited voters was as equal and the number of registered voters.
“We must be able to get the assurance of INEC that card reader would work: we need to build on it before we make it into our laws as a preference.
“We are interested in it working for the collective interest of the country not for a sectional interest.”
Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekwerenmadu (PDP, Enugu) whilst supporting the bill, said the Act should be amended to accommodate unseen contigencies like the recent case in Kogi where a candidate died after primary election had been concluded.
“This is time to liaise with INEC, judiciary and propose a comprehensive review of the Electoral Act and even those electoral issues contained in the constitution,” he argued.
The Senate however passed the bill which basically seeks to amend the Electoral Act to include the use of the card reader in the electoral process, for second reading
In this regard, the upper chamber directed its committee on INEC to conduct a public hearing on the proposed amendment and report back in four weeks.
The President of the Senate Bukola Saraki asked the committee to go beyond the issue of card reader to also consider all other issues in the Act that possibly require amendment.
“Once we start getting into the electoral arena it becomes more and more difficult,” he said.
He also charged the committee to come up with amendments that would be easy to implement so as not to create more `lacuna’ in the electoral process.