Sunday, April 4, 2010

Published by Nigerian Tribune

At a recent session in the Senate, during its proceedings on the amendment of the 1999 Constitution, a total of 36 sections of the constitution were amended with two-thirds majority votes. However, in the House of Representatives, things were different because the ad-hoc committee could not present its report because, according to the Speaker of the House, Dimeji Bankole, preparations for electronic voting on the amendment must be concluded first.

The senators who participated in the voting were reported to have been excited by the activation of the electronic voting machine which had hitherto been moribund. It is heartening to note that the senators tasked their leadership to ensure that the use of electronic voting in the Senate becomes a permanent feature in the legislatures.

According to reports, the electronic device in the Senate had been lying idle for about 12 years before its recent activation and usage. This implies that voting had been conducted manually over the years and therefore, the record of the voting pattern of the legislators in both the upper and lower chambers of the National Assembly could not have been accurate. The derivation of useful statistics for research purposes is also not possible with the former primitive system. As a matter of fact, observers of the proceedings at the National Assembly, especially the televised proceedings, would have been aghast at what informed the decisions of both the Senate President and the Speaker as they banged the gavel and announced with some measure of confidence that ‘the ayes have it or the nays have it.’

Did they count manually or simply depend upon the decibel of the voices of the voters who could have mischievously opted to any either ‘ayes’ or ‘nay’ for the same motion? Certainly such a crude process must have been inimical to the process of strengthening democracy. This is because the voting pattern of each legislator is a crucial index to ascertain the position of each legislator and ensure that he accurately votes in a pattern consistent with the aspirations of his people.

For instance, as a sad but relevant example, the tenure elongation plot during Olusegun Obasanjo’s presidency failed only because the legislators demurred when they realised that the proceedings were to be televised live. With the electronic voting device in place, it would have been easily obvious who voted for what, and each constituency would have known how much commitment their senators and representatives were showing in their voting patterns.

The activation of the electronic device at the National Assembly is therefore a welcome development vis-à-vis the strengthening of the democratic institution in Nigeria. The state Houses of Assembly should take a leaf from the National Assembly’s book and effect same at the state level to enhance transparency. With it in place, people can know who of the senators or representatives or legislators at the state level have been unduly influenced to vote in a direction contrary to the position of their constituencies.

We are aware that in more developed democracies in the world, legislators have been accurately assessed by their people through their voting pattern. The people have been empowered to assess their representatives critically so as to decide whether to return such legislators at the next poll or not. This is the kind of democracy which truly gives the people the power to be exercised on their behalf by their representatives at the legislatures. The manual system of counting voting is arbitrarily and totally unacceptable to a people who want to be truly in charge of their collective destinies.

Source: Nigeria Tribune

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