By Adetutu Folasade-Koyi ,and  Otei Oham:

• Indicted Governors Can Contest Elections
• Reps Delay Voting On Amendments Till April

LAPSES in the report of the Senate Constitution Review Committee (CRC) prevented the Third Reading and approval of a new Constitution in the Chamber on Wednesday.

The Non-inclusion of Section 109 in the final copy considered stalled the exercise.

The House of Representatives delayed voting on all the amendments to April altogether.

As promised, however, the Senate made history with the use of the Electronic Voting System (EVS) for the first time since 1999 when the National Assembly (NASS) was inaugurated.

Section 109 deals with cross-carpeting in state Houses of Assembly. Cross-carpeting by the President, Governors, and National Assembly (NASS) members was amended.

A record 97 of the total 109 Senators amended 36 clauses in the 1999 Constitution, which saw wide ranging alterations, including freeing the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from the control of the President.

More than the required two-thirds (73 Senators) passed all the amendments.

Ninety-three approved the independence of the INEC away from executive control and manipulation.

Amending Section 160, the Senate empowered the INEC “to make its own rules or otherwise regulate its own procedure (which) shall not be subject to the approval or control of the President.”

Reprieve came for former Governors and other public officials – such as former Governors Musa Kwankwaso (Kano) and Abubakar Audu (Kogi), among others – hitherto restrained from contesting elective posts because a White Paper indicted them for fraud and abuse of office.

Section 182 (i), which barred them on such grounds, was deleted.

The Section barred someone if he/she “has been indicted for embezzlement or fraud by a Judicial Commission of Inquiry or an Administrative Panel of Inquiry or a Tribunal set up under the Tribunals of Inquiry Act, a Tribunal of Inquiry Law or any other law by the Federal or State Governments which indictment has been accepted to the Federal or State Government.”

Another amendment reduced the composition of Judges for Election Petition Tribunals from five to three, made up of a Chairman and two other members.

Quorum is now set at two Judges, as amended in Section 285 (4). The  membership was reduced because “it would help in creating more tribunals for the quick determination of election petitions.”

Section 285 (5) (a) (b) (c) was amended to allow a tribunal dispense with any case and “deliver its judgment in writing within 180 days from the date of the filing of the petition.”

But Petroleum Resources (Upstream) Committee Chairman, Lee Maeba, kicked against the amendment.

He reminded plenary that the CRC had met in Uyo and agreed on “120 days for the tribunal to dispense with cases,” not 180 days.

Maeba was over-ruled by Senate President, David Mark; and the amendment narrowly scaled through with 76 Senators voting for it.

The Senate also removed the direct appointment of state Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) from the President.

As is the case with the INEC Chairman, an amended Third Schedule, Part I (2) says the RECs “shall be appointed by the President subject to confirmation by the Senate.”

The EVS was used despite the objection of Deputy Minority Leader, Olorunnimbe Mamora, who described it as “secret voting” because the vote of each Senator was not immediately made available to the Chamber.

Said he: “To the best of my knowledge, what we did is within the realm of secret voting because nobody knows who voted what and where.

“Secret voting is alien to Parliamentary practice. Our constituents would like to know how we voted, because with what has happened today, they did not see how I voted!”

Mamora asked that votes be displayed so that when an error is made, it can be corrected before moving on to the next phase.

“I am saying this for the records, so that the voting can be transparent.”

Mark riposted that Mamora should have commended the process rather than condemn it.

“It’s not secret,” he reiterated. “I told you that there’s a print-out of the voting pattern. That’s why I didn’t take Ayo Arise’s objection seriously.

“We shouldn’t make it appear as if we have done something that’s wrong. If we were to vote manually, we would be here for the next one month. We have to make progress in life.

“We complained that the machines weren’t working and now that they are working, we are complaining.”

Other Senators applauded the EVS and canvassed that voice vote should be phased out.

However, the House of Representatives seems not to be in a hurry to amend the Constitution as Speaker Dimeji Bankole skipped the presentation of the two reports on it.

Deputy Speaker, Usman Nafada, who heads the House CRC, wanted to lay the reports but was not allowed to do so.

Instead, Bankole called on the Inter-parliamentary Relations Committee Chairman, Sada Soli, to lay his own Committee’s report, and told the lawmakers to prepare themselves for next month when electronic voting on each Constitution amendment will take place.

Bankole, who assured that the electronic system would be fixed soon, urged his colleagues to submit two passport photographs each to register for the process.

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