TWO former governors of Abia State who are currently members of the Senate have been confronted by their constituents over their role in rejecting a provision for electronic transmission of election results in proposed amendments to the Electoral Act passed by the Senate.
The constituents, under the aegis of Abia League of Professional Initiatives (ALPI), have queried the two former governors – Orji Uzor Kalu and Theodore Orji.
The Senate on July 15 passed the Electoral Act amendment bill with a controversial Section 52(3), which stated that the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), with the approval of the National Assembly, would determine whether the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) could transmit results electronically or not.
Initially, Section 52(3), in the report submitted by the Senate Committee on INEC, had read: “The commission (INEC) may transmit results of elections by electronic means where and when practicable.”
But after 52 senators – comprising 50 from the APC and two from the PDP – voted to give NCC and the National Assembly the powers to determine whether INEC can transmit election results electronically, Section 52(3) in the Electoral Act Amendment Bill passed by the Senate read: “INEC may consider electronic collation of results provided the national network coverage is adjudged to be adequate and secured by the Nigerian Communications Commission and approved by the National Assembly.”
Two former Abia State governors – Orji Uzor Kalu and Theodore Orji – are currently serving as senators. Both men played significant roles in the outcome of the vote conducted by the Senate to decide on the inclusion of electronic transmission in the Electoral Act.
Kalu, a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and currently the Senate Chief Whip, was governor of Abia State from 1999 to 2007. He represents Abia North in the Senate.
Like other APC senators, Kalu voted against electronic transmission on July 15.
When it was his turn to vote, the former governor claimed that there was no mobile telecommunications network in his hometown, Igbere, a suburban town in Abia State.
“Because there is no network coverage in my village, I vote NO,” Kalu said as he cast his vote against the transmission of election results by electronic means.
After his tenure as Abia State governor, Kalu’s successor, Theodore Orji, also made his way to the Senate. Orji, a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who represents Abia Central in the Senate, was governor of Abia State from 2007 to 2015.
Orji was among a cast of high profile PDP senators who were absent when the Senate voted to decide on the inclusion of electronic transmission of election results in the Electoral Act.
The absence of the PDP senators helped undermine the wishes of many Nigerians who are demanding the inclusion of a provision for electronic transmission of election results in the country’s Electoral Act.
* Query letters issued to former governors
The constituents, through the Abia League of Professional Initiatives (ALPI), issued query letters to the former governors turned senators.
Kalu was asked to explain why he voted against electronic transmission while Orji was asked to state why he was absent from the Senate on a day a crucial decision that would affect his constituents was to be taken.
The ALPI said the two senators failed to represent the interests of their constituents who voted them into the Senate.
“We are particularly dismayed that media reports indicate that you were absent from the Senate Chambers when this crucial vote was called. We consider your absence to be an egregious shirking of your responsibility and a dereliction of your duties as the representative of the people of Abia Central Senatorial Zone, whose voices were effectively silenced by your absence” parts of the query letter addressed to Orji read.
Reacting to the development, Orji’s supporters described the Abia League of Professionals Initiatives as a ‘faceless’ group, adding that the former governor was absent from the Senate on the day of the voting because he was commissioning some projects in his constituency.
But speaking in an interview on Arise News Television on August 18, Convener and National Coordinator of the Abia League of Professionals Initiatives Sonny Iroche insisted that the two Abia State former governors failed to represent the interests of their constituents by the actions they took concerning electronic transmission of results.
“Senator Theodore Orji, through a proxy, said we are a faceless group. We are not faceless. We have over 200 eminent professionals drawn from various sectors. Abia League of Professionals Initiatives is a registered NGO concerned with the good governance and prosperity of the people of Abia State. The senator is our staff; we employed him through our votes to represent us in the Senate,” Iroche said.
He added that the ALPI has prominent personalities such as former military administrator Ike Nwachukwu, former chairman of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Onyema Ugochukwu, and former Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) Anya O. Anya, amongst several others.
* Orji Uzor Kalu lied in claiming there’s no network in his hometown
Iroche added that Kalu’s claim that there was no telecommunications network coverage in his hometown, Igbere, was false.
“Orji Uzor Kalu is not the only person from Igbere. We have many of our members from there, and we know they have a network. Orji Uzor Kalu uses his phone in his hometown; he does online banking from his village,” Iroche said while picking holes in the reasons advanced by the former governor for his refusal to vote in support of electronic transmission.
Igbere, described by Wikipedia as a suburban town in Bende Local Government Area of Abia State, is located 66 miles from Aba, the commercial city of Abia State and about 50 kilometres from Umuahia the state capital.
Kalu had returned to the Senate after his conviction on corruption charges, for which he was already serving a prison term, was nullified by the Supreme Court on technical grounds.
In an unexpected judgment, the apex ruled that the trial judge that found him guilty had been elevated to the Court of Appeal and should not have ruled on the matter.
The EFCC had said it intends to reopen the corruption case against the former governor.
However, despite the corruption allegations hanging on Kalu’s neck, a former military ruler Ibrahim Babangida recently reportedly named Kalu as a possible Nigerian president successor of President Muhammadu Buhari in 2023.
“So we can have the likes of Orji Uzor Kalu, who is interested in running the country, and why not?” In a documentary aired on Africa Independent Television, Babangida, who has been speaking on national issues in recent times, including voicing his opinion on the type of president he believes Nigeria needs.
* National Assembly members should be paid per-sitting
Meanwhile, Convener and National Coordinator of the Abia League of Professionals Initiatives Iroche, in the interview on Arise News Television, said the remuneration of members of the National Assembly should be based on sittings they attended to forestall a situation whereby lawmakers stay away when crucial decisions that affect their constituents are being taken.
Iroche said, “Nigerians should demand that the pay of our senators and members of the House of Representatives should be like a sitting fee. If you do not sit in the chambers on any given day, you will not be paid for that day. It should be pay-as-you-serve; that way, Theodore Orji’s supporters will not tell the people of Abia State that he (Orji) was busy commissioning a project somewhere when such a vital issue like voting on electronic transmission of election results was going on in the National Assembly.”
Iroche also faulted the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) for, according to him, siding with the Senate against electronic transmission of election results, despite the fact that telecommunications operators in the country and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had insisted that Nigeria has the capacity to transmit election results through electronic means.