From NDUKAIHE UGWU, Abuja
There was pandemonium yesterday in the House of Representatives as members threw caution to the dogs and engaged one another in verbal and near-physical slugfest during clause-by-clause consideration of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill at plenary.
In the melee, lawmakers across party lines were pitched against one another over a provision on electronic transmission of results in the proposed electoral law.
The development forced the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila to adjourn the consideration of the Committee report on the Electoral Act Amendment Bill to today.
The Speaker, before the motion for adjournment had invited Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to address the House on the contentious issue.
Earlier, a proposal by the Speaker for the inclusion of open balloting otherwise known as option A4 was rejected in a voice vote.
Gbajabiamila had said that “in the spirit of accountability and transparency, I think we should interrogate why the committee opted for open secret ballot against open ballot or what is known as option A4
“It is on record that the freest election in Nigeria history was through the open option A4 as opposed to secret ballot. Anything secret sometimes might have its implication.”
Trouble started in the House at about 3.30pm, after a controversial ruling by the Deputy Speaker, Idris Wase, on a motion for an amendment to Section 52(2) of the proposed electoral law.
The Deputy Minority Leader, Toby Okechukwu had proposed an amendment to 52(2) of the proposed electoral law to the effect that transmission of election results should be electronically. The motion was seconded by the Deputy Minority Whip, Nkeiruka Onyejeocha.
He said: “My amendment is to the effect that transmission of results under this bill, shall be by electronic transmission.”
However, Wase, before subjecting the motion to vote said only 20 percent of his constituency has broadband coverage.
“Today in Nigeria I don’t know the coverage of the broadband. Have we been able to cover all parts of the federation that we now want to put it. I don’t know. But I make bold to say, you can go and verify. In my Constituency, we don’t have more than 20 percent coverage,” Wase said.
When the proposal was subjected to a voice vote, majority voted in support. However, the deputy speaker gave it to the “nays”.
Immediately Wase gave the controversial ruling, the House erupted in crisis with members shouting on top of their voices
Lawmakers aggrieved by the ruling got up from their seats and charged towards the mace. Another set of lawmakers rushed towards the mace too, while the Sergeant-at-arms quickly rushed to protect the mace.
At this point, proceeding were stalled for about 40 minutes. To break the stalemate, Abiodun Faleke proposed that transmission of election results should be manual or electronic.
However, the leader of the PDP caucus, Kingsley Chinda called for a division to determine who has more support between the proponents and opponents of electronic transmission of results,.
In his intervention, Gbajabiamila said all possibilities must be explored to resolve the issue, as it is fundamental.
The Speaker said “We have to explore all possibility. Hon Chinda got it wrong when he said you have ruled on this matter. Let me say it clearly that you have not ruled on this matter. The amendment by Hon Faleke is for electronic and manual. Which is a different issue. By our procedure, that question must be put.”
Nevertheless, the House Leader, Alhassan Ado-Doguwa objected.
“Mr Speaker, you remain the leader of the House but on this observation you made here Mr Speaker, I stand here under moral commitment to say that when a matter is raised, a voice vote is taken and the gavel would be hit. It is a concluded matter,” Doguwa stated
Thereafter, the Deputy Speaker called for a motion for the House to revert to plenary. Consequently, the House reverted to plenary for Wase to report progress from the Committee of the Whole.
The House erupted in crisis again, after the deputy speaker in his report said the House at the Committee of the Whole voted on clauses 1-54 of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill.
In fracas that ensued, Ifeanyi Momah, an All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) member from Anambra State charged at the chairman, House Committee on Airforce, Shehu Koko, saying “I will beat you up”. And Koko replied” you can’t try it. ”
Yusuf Gadgi, an All Progressives Congress (APC) member from Plateau State joined the fray, as he charged towards Kpam Sokpo, a PDP member from Benue State.
At this point, Gbajabiamila resumed his seat and called for the adjournment of the House to today.