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THE People’s Democratic Party (PDP) is set to query senators elected on the platform of the party who stayed away on the day the Senate voted to decide the inclusion of electronic transmission of election results in the proposed amendments to the Electoral Act.
National Publicity Secretary of the PDP Kola Ologbondiyan disclosed this in an exclusive interview with The ICIR on July 27.
The national leadership of the PDP had endorsed the electronic transmission of election results and subsequently instructed its lawmakers in the National Assembly to push for the inclusion of a provision for transmission of election results by electronic means in the Electoral Act Amendment Bill.
However, the Senate on July 15 passed the 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 Aliyu Abdullahi (APC, Niger North) moved a motion, seconded by Aliyu Ndume (APC, Borno South). INEC should only consider electronic transmission if the national network coverage is adjudged to be adequate and secure by the NCC and approved by the National Assembly.
Some senators disagreed with Abdullahi’s motion, and to resolve the stalemate, the issue was subjected to public voting.
Abdullahi’s motion was adopted 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.
As a result, 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.”
There were reports that the leadership of the APC, concerned over the party’s chances in the forthcoming 2023 general elections, had instructed its members in the National Assembly to reject moves, supported by the majority of Nigerians, to have a provision for electronic transmission of election results included in the Electoral Act.
The two PDP senators that sabotaged their party’s position by voting against electronic transmission of election results are Stephen Odeh (PDP, Cross River North) and Shuaibu Lau (PDP, Taraba North).
Odeh is a loyalist of Cross River State Governor Ben Ayade, who recently defected to the APC. The lawmaker is yet to follow his principal to the ruling party, but he is currently engaged in a legal tussle with INEC as the commission had moved to remove him from the Senate by issuing a fresh Certificate of Return to his opponent in the senatorial election, Jarigbe Jarigbe, a member of the House of Representatives.
Lau was elected to the Senate through a court order in 2017 and won reelection under the PDP in March 2019. Reasons for his decision to vote against the interests of his party and that of the majority of Nigerians is not clear.
Apart from the two senators who joined forces with their APC colleagues to shoot down electronic transmission of election results, many other PDP members of the Senate also sabotaged their party’s position by staying away when voting on the matter.
The PDP senators that were absent on the day of the crucial vote include a former governor of Abia State Theodore Orji (PDP, Abia Central); Yaroe Binos Dauda (PDP, Adamawa South); a former minister of aviation Stella Oduah (PDP, Anambra North); former Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu (PDP, Enugu West); Nicholas Tofomowo (PDP, Ondo South); Uche Ekwunife (PDP, Anambra Central); a former governor of Benue State Gabriel Suswam (PDP, Benue North-East); Abba Moro (PDP, Benue South); Emmanuel Bwacha (PDP, Taraba South); and a former governor of Enugu State Chimaraoke Nnamani (PDP, Enugu East).
* PDP National Working Committee probes ‘sabotage’, to summon, query disobedient senators
Indications have emerged that the national leadership of the PDP is probing the activities of the senators who undermined the party’s decision to support the electronic transmission of election results.
Speaking with The ICIR at the party’s national headquarters in Abuja on July 27, PDP spokesman Kola Ologbondiyan said the National Working Committee (NWC) has decided to summon and query the concerned senators.
“As a party, we have not ascertained why they (senators) did what they did but what we have done so far is we have decided to meet with them by calling a meeting of members of the National Assembly with the National Working Committee to demand the reasons for the actions taken by some of our members in respect of a very prominent decision of the party which is that all members of the party must vote in support of electronic transmission of results,” Ologbondiyan said.
Asked whether the decision to summon and query the lawmakers suggests that the party was probing the concerned senators, Ologbondiyan said, “I don’t know whether it should be called a probe, but I am aware that the hierarchy of the party is interested in knowing why some of our members acted the way they did.”
Further asked whether the party was considering sanctioning the concerned lawmakers, the PDP spokesman said, “I can’t talk about sanctions yet. We have to wait until the meeting is summoned and the issues are raised, and decisions are taken.”
A date is yet to be fixed for the planned meeting between the PDP lawmakers and the party’s NWC, but Ologbondiyan said the parley is likely to come up when members of the National Assembly, who are currently on recess, resume by September.
“Lawmakers are on recess until September. We have not decided on the date, whether to wait until after the recess or before they return from recess.”
* Most of the PDP senators that avoided the vote on electronic transmission have pending corruption cases
The PDP spokesman did not respond to suggestions that most of the senators who stayed away from the vote on electronic transmission of election results may have done so to get a soft landing in pending corruption cases against them.
Checks by The ICIR revealed that most of the PDP senators who dodged the vote on electronic transmission of election results have pending corruption cases in court. There are unconfirmed reports that the embattled lawmakers abstained from voting to curry favours from the ruling APC.
One of the absentee PDP senators, Suswam, is standing trial before Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Federal High Court for alleged fraud. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had re-arraigned Suswam alongside his then Commissioner for Finance, Omodachi Okolobia, on November 2, 2020, before Justice Mohammed for fraud.
Suswam and Okolobia were docked on amended 11 counts bordering on theft, criminal breach of trust, illegal award of contracts and money laundering to the tune of N3.1 billion. The offences were allegedly committed while Suswam served as governor of Benue State.
Another absentee PDP senator, Oduah, is currently being prosecuted by the EFCC before an Abuja Federal High Court for allegedly misappropriating public funds to the tune of N5 billion while serving as minister of aviation.
The court had days before the debate over electronic transmission of election results came up at the National Assembly threatened to issue a warrant of arrest against Oduah if she failed to appear in court on October 19, the next adjourned date in her trial.
Nnamani, another PDP senator that avoided the vote on electronic transmission of results, also has unfinished business with the EFCC.
In June, the anti-graft agency hinted that it had concluded plans to reopen corruption cases against Nnamani and some other former governors. The EFCC had initially filed a N5.3 billion fraud charge against the former Enugu governor.
Former Abia governor Orji is also battling corruption allegations.
An Abuja Federal High Court, in March, struck out an ex-parte application that sought to compel the EFCC to prosecute Orji and his son, Chinedum, for allegedly embezzling Abia State funds but the applicant, former Vice-President of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Monday Ubani has vowed to appeal the ruling and ensure that the former governor was brought to book for the alleged acts of corruption perpetrated during his tenure as governor.
Yet another PDP senator that stayed away from the voting, former minister of interior Abba Moro, is also facing corruption charges.
Moro and three others were arraigned on an 11-count charge bordering on conspiracy, fraud and money laundering in connection to the botched recruitment exercise conducted by the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) in 2014.
Like many of the other PDP senators who stayed away from the vote on electronic transmission of election results, former deputy senate president Ekweremadu also has a case with the EFCC. In August 2018, the anti-graft agency reportedly detained Ekweremadu for alleged fraud and failing to explain how he came to own 22 properties in Nigeria, the United States, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates.
The Nigerian government had in March 2018, through a motion ex-parte filed by Festus Keyamo on behalf of the Special Presidential Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property, sought an interim order of the Abuja Federal High Court to temporarily seize 22 prime properties/assets belonging to Ekweremadu located in London, Dubai, Florida, and Abuja, that were not declared before the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB).
Reacting to the move, the PDP had threatened to report the President Muhammadu Buhari-led APC government to the international community for harassing ‘opposition leaders and voices of dissent.
* Oduah ignores The ICIR’s questions
Meanwhile, Oduah failed to respond when The ICIR sought reactions to the reports that her absence on the day the Senate voted on electronic transmission of results was connected to the pending corruption case.
Several calls to her mobile telephone were not answered. A Whatsapp message sent to her was also not replied after several days.