Although media reports on Senator Ike Ekweremadu’s official assignment in Montenegro where he attended a prescheduled regular session of the International Parliament for Tolerance and Peace (IPTP) as Nigeria’s representative and also presented the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the National Assembly of Nigeria and the IPTP have clearly put paid to the false claims and insinuations that the Senator stayed away from the Senate plenary of Thursday, July 15 during which the upper chamber voted on the Electoral Act Repeal and Re-enactment Bill, the Office deems it imperative to further put the record straight and restate his faith that electronic transmission of results will still be part of the 2023 general election.
The said MoU will, among many other benefits, enable Nigerian parliamentarians to benefit from training and capacity-building programmes sponsored by the IPTP and allow young Nigerians to benefit from various fully sponsored post-graduate degree programmes in peace building, conflict resolution, mediation, and tolerance in top universities around the globe. Under this MoU, the Global Council for Tolerance and Peace will also collaborate with some universities in Nigeria in offering short term and post-graduate courses in tolerance and peace.
Ekweremadu’s unavailability at Senate plenary on the fateful day does not diminish in any way his credentials in standing to be counted on the side of our democracy. Neither does it shrink his role and doggedness in helping to navigate and push the electronic transmission of result and other key provisions through various landmines at the level of the Joint Technical Committee on the Repeal and Re-enactment of the Electoral Act and the Joint NASS Committee on INEC where he is a member. These efforts are well reorganised by the leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), civil society organisations, PDP NASS Caucus, and the international community.
It is on record that Section 52 (2) of the Electoral Act 2010 provided that “The use of electronic voting machine for the time being is prohibited”. But as Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution, who also helped to pilot all the electoral reforms currently enjoyed in the country, Ekweremadu was at the vanguard of the amendment to the Electoral Act ahead of the 2015 elections to provide for electronic voting, which still remains the law in Nigeria.
This and other legislative interventions and frameworks co-piloted by Ekweremadu over the years led to the introduction of the card reader, electronic voter register, and the test-run of electronic transmission of results in the last Ondo and Edo State governorship elections, which Ekweremadu was present and monitored the election in Edo.
Other key electoral reforms achieved under Ekweremadu’s watch include amendment to Sections 81, 84, and 160 of the Constitution in 2010 to grant INEC financial and administrative independence. Unlike previously when INEC was at the mercy of the Presidency and cleared key decisions with it, Section 160 was amended to expressly provide that in the case of INEC, its “powers to make its own rules or otherwise regulate its own procedure shall not be subject to the approval of the President”.
Also, Section 156 of the Constitution was amended to eliminate membership of a political party as a qualification for appointment into INEC, while Part 1 of the Third Schedule to the Constitution was amended by substituting Paragraph 14 with a new paragraph 14, which unambiguously provides that a member of the Commission shall be non-partisan and shall be a person of unquestionable integrity.
Other reforms include amendments to set timeframes for the filing and determination of election and pre-election matters to speed up electoral justice; amendments to Sections 76, 116, 132, and 178 of the Constitution to provide for a wider timeframe for the conduct of elections; amendments to Sections 66(h), 137(i), and 182(i) to remove the disqualification of persons indicted by an Administrative Panel from contesting elections, a practice that nearly ruined the 2007 elections; reduction of age qualification for elective political offices (Not Too Young to Run Amendment); insertion of a new Section 225A in the Constitution to curb the proliferation of political parties; stoppage of subventions to political parties; compulsory voting to elect party candidates; and stricter conditions for the substitution of candidates to curtail the impositions, among a host of others.
It is unfortunate that just as was the case in the last National Assembly when efforts to better the quality of our elections were serially frustrated and it was eventually not signed into law by Mr. President, non-progressives are equally frustrating the current exertions. But that is not enough to assume that everybody, who was not present at the July 15 plenary, simply chickened out. Why would Ekweremadu chicken out?
Ekweremadu acknowledges that vested political interests obviously never wanted electronic transmission of results to come to fruition. They used their number to block it. However, it is also a fact that the vehemence of those minded against such reform is not new. The Senator nearly lost his life in this cause as armed criminals stormed the Senate on April 18, 2018 to cart away the mace and truncate the discussion of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, which included electronic conduct of elections. Ekweremadu presided on that fateful day. It is on record that the lawmaker stood his ground.
Despite all the odds that have been stacked against him, Ekweremadu has remained consistent and true to his political beliefs and conscience, refusing to legislate out of fear or to fear to legislate.
It is very unfortunate that those who rode to power on the back of the electoral reforms and conducive democratic environment engendered by PDP administrations have continued to take various caustic measures to frustrate further electoral reforms.
Meanwhile, Ekweremadu is not deterred by attacks on his person by the uninformed over the outcome of the voting on the electronic transmission of results.
Instead, Ekweremadu restates his faith that results of the 2023 elections will ultimately be electronically transmitted because it is the best way to go. The issue of electronic transmission of results should not be reduced to party or sectional dichotomies. Every lawmaker is expected to vote in support of what is best for the country, irrespective of political affiliation.
Therefore, as was the case with electronic voting, Ekweremadu is resolved to work with other patriotic and progressive lawmakers to resurrect electronic transmission of results upon the resumption of the National Assembly, starting from the point of harmonisation of the clauses passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives. He has also enjoined those opposed to electronic transmission of results to use the opportunity of the break to reflect on the issue and return with the determination to do what is best for the nation, more so when INEC has further affirmed that it has the capacity to do electronic transmission of results.
Media Adviser to Sen. Ekweremadu
Former Deputy President of the Senate