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INEC summons emergency meeting over new Electoral Act

By Bridget Chiedu-Onochie, Azimazi Momoh Jimoh, Adamu Abuh, Terhemba Daka, John Akubo, Matthew Ogune, Sodiq Omolaoye (Abuja), Ibrahim Obansa (Lokoja) and Isa Abdulsalami Ahovi (Jos)
26 February 2022   |   4:33 am
After years of back and forth movements by the Executive and the National Assembly with regard to attempts to improve the country electoral process via legislation, President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday assented to the reworked Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2022...

Chairman, House Committee on INEC, Aisha Dukku (left); President Muhammadu Buhari; Senate President, Ahmad Lawan; House of Reps Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila and Chairman, Senate Committee on INEC, Kabiru Gaya at the signing of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill into law at the State House, Abuja… yesterday PHOTOS PHILIP OJISUA

• Commission To Study Law For Implementation • Buhari Seeks Further Amendment
• Ignore President’s Request, CSO Urges NASS • Lawan, Gbajabiamila Praise
Ninth Assembly • APC, PDP Exchange Fireworks • It’s New Dawn, Say Atiku, Saraki

After years of back and forth movements by the Executive and the National Assembly with regard to attempts to improve the country electoral process via legislation, President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday assented to the reworked Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2022, declaring that the new legislation is aimed at revolutionalising elections in Nigeria.

In line with established tradition, the signing ceremony was witnessed by the President of the Senate, Ahmed Lawan; Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila and Chairman, Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) and current Governor of Ekiti State, Kayode Fayemi. Other Principal Officers of the National Assembly as well as top cabinet members and Presidency aides also witnessed the epoch making ceremony.

Following the development, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), yesterday, summoned an emergency meeting in Abuja, which would hold today to discuss the implementation of the new law. 

National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, who disclosed this in a statement, described the development as historic, noting that it was the fourth time since the restoration of democracy in Nigeria that the Electoral Act was repealed and re-enacted.

According to him, the new law contains many progressive provisions that would facilitate the conduct of free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria. 

“The nation now has the Electoral Act 2022, which replaces the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended). Together with the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the new Act constitutes the principal law to govern the conduct of future elections, including the 2023 general election.

“Given the tight timelines contained in the new law, the Commission fully appreciates the importance of proceeding with their implementation in earnest. Consequently, an extraordinary meeting of the Commission is scheduled for tomorrow Saturday, February 26, 2022. Thereafter, a statement will be issued on the way forward,” he said. 

Earlier, INEC’s Director, Voter Education and Publicity, Victor Aluko, told The Guardian in an interview that the commission was thrilled by the development. 

Aluko urged Nigerians to expect the best from the commission as the 2023 general election draw closer. 

“We had looked forward to this day. The signing of the Electoral Act gives a form of certainty to the legal framework for the 2023 general elections. Now there is a certainty and we can at least go ahead and do the needful. 

“The Nigerian people should expect the best from INEC. They should expect free, fair and credible elections. INEC as an institution would always gives its best as we have always. The Nigerian people deserve elections that are very credible and we will give them that,” Aluko said.

The Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2022, passed by the National Assembly was forwarded for presidential assent via a letter dated January 31, 2022. Signing the document, President Buhari noted that the current Electoral Act comes with a great deal of improvement from the previous Electoral Bill 2021. 

He said there are salient and praiseworthy provisions that could positively revolutionise elections in Nigeria through the introduction of new technological innovations.

President Buhari noted that the innovations would guarantee the constitutional rights of citizens to vote and to do so effectively. According to the President, the Act would also improve and engender clarity, effectiveness and transparency of the election process, as well as reduce to the barest minimum incidences of acrimony arising from dissatisfied candidates and political parties.

He said the commendable efforts were in line with the policy of the administration to bequeath posterity and landmark legal framework that paves the way for credible and sound electoral process that all Nigerians be proud of.

He said: “Distinguished Senators and Honourable Members of the National Assembly, from the review, it is my perspective that the substance of the Bill is both reformative and progressive. I am making this bold declaration, because I foresee the great potentials of the Bill. Worthy of note include the democratic efficacy of the Bill with particular reference to sections 3, 9(2), 34, 41, 47, 84(9), (10) and (11) among others.

“This, however, cannot be said about one provision as contained in the proposed Bill, which provision constitutes fundamental defect, as it is in conflict with extant constitutional provisions.

“Section 84 (12) constitutes a disenfranchisement of serving political office holders from voting or being voted for at Conventions or Congresses of any political party, for the purpose of the nomination of candidates for any election in cases where it holds earlier than 30 days to the National Election.

“The section provides as follows: ‘No political appointee at any level shall be voting delegate or be voted for at the Convention or Congress of any political party for the purpose of the nomination of candidates for any election.’

“This provision has introduced qualification and disqualification criteria that ultra vires the Constitution by way of importing blanket restriction and disqualification to serving political office holders of which they are constitutionally accorded protection.

“The practical application of Section 84(12) of the Electoral Bill 2022 will, if assented to, by operation of law, subject serving political office holders to inhibitions and restrictions referred to under Section 40 and 42 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).”

Continuing, President Buhari noted that the only constitutional expectation placed on serving political office holders that qualify, by extension as public officers within the context of the constitution is resignation, withdrawal or retirement at least 30 days before the date of the election.

He added: “Hence, it will be stretching things beyond the constitutional limit to import extraneous restriction into the constitution on account of practical application of Section 84(12) of the bill where political parties’ conventions and congresses were to hold earlier than 30 days to the election.

“Arising from the foregoing, with particular regards to the benefits of the Bill, industry, time, resources and energy committed in its passage, I hereby assent to the Bill and request the Nationally Assembly to consider immediate amendments that will bring the Bill in tune with constitutionality by way of deleting section 84(12) accordingly.”

The Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Babajide Omoworare, who tabled the document for signing, urged the National Assembly to give speedy attention to the amendments suggested by the President. 

Indications had emerged last Wednesday that President Buhari would sign the long-awaited Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2022 yesterday. Presidency sources had confirmed that the President would perform the duty around 12noon.

Anxiety had continued to mount over President Buhari’s delay in assenting to the re-amended bill, as some members of the public as well as some critical stakeholders already concluded that he was bent on withholding assent again.  

The President had on December 21, 2021, via a letter read during the plenary sessions at the Senate and the House of Representatives, declined assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021. Buhari had noted that the mandatory use of direct primaries for all political parties in the country would be too expensive to execute, saying that it would put a financial burden on Nigeria’s slim resources. That was the fifth time the President declined assent to amendments to the Electoral Act 2010 in the last five years

In March 2018, he had rejected the Bill due to some provisions that would usurp INECS powers on electoral matters. In July 2018, he vetoed the Bill outright by refraining from making comments on it until the expiration of the 30 days timeline. In September 2018, he rejected the Bill on the basis of drafting errors and cross-referencing gaps. In December 2018, he rejected the Bill because it was too close to the 2019 General Election.

Fielding questions from State House correspondents immediately after the signing ceremony, the President of the Senate, Lawan, hailed the N inth National Assembly for working in a bipartisan manner to produce the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2022, which the President to assent to. 

“It took a lot of efforts, a lot of work, commitment and dedication by members of the National Assembly and other stakeholders; those in government particularly, and some civil society organisations,” he said.

Lawan particularly commended the President for “being there to ensure that any challenge as far as the passage of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill was concerned” was overcome.

He added: “Today marked the most important part of this exercise, when Mr. President signed the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2022, into law. For us in the Ninth National Assembly, this is a fulfillment of one of the cardinal objectives in our legislative agenda in the two chambers.

“For Nigerians, let me say congratulations. Many Nigerians have shown interest, their main focus on ensuring that the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2022 becomes a law. And of course, it is a law today. And for INEC, now you have what you need. INEC, you have to produce the best possible electoral exercise, right from probably the Ekiti and Osun off season elections, and of course in the 2023 general election.”

Lawan, however, noted that “law is one thing, respect for the law is another thing.” He stressed that “no matter how beautiful a law is, if there is no desire, no commitment, and that obligation to ensuring compliance with law, the law could be less effective and efficient.”He expressed belief that if Nigerians respect the current Electoral Act, there would be an improvement in the electoral system.

Lawan said the National Assembly was disposed to addressing the amendment being sought by the President, noting that it was a “legitimate request.”

“We will be expecting a communication from Mr. President with respect to this. And then the National Assembly in both chambers will look into the request for amendment. But on the whole, I think this is a wonderful development for this administration, for Nigeria; for the evolution and development and growth of democracy in Nigeria.”

Also, answering questions, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, described the signing of the Bill as a turning point in the electoral history of Nigeria. He said the new document was a landmark piece of legislation brought about by the collaborative efforts of stakeholders, including students and youths.

“I can count off head at least 10 to 15 provisions in that electoral law, that if properly executed by INEC, and by the people who the laws are made for, there will be a turning point in the electoral history of Nigeria. And we will witness, not just by mouthing, free, fair and credible elections but actually free, fair and credible elections moving forward.

“So, I’m happy that this day has come. It’s been long coming. And I’m sure everybody will be happy,” he said.
Speaking in the same vein, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Media and Publicity, Senator Ajibola Basiru congratulated the Ninth Assembly for the innovative provisions in the Act. 

In a statement, he identified the conduct of primaries, campaign expenses, use of technological devices in elections, electronic transmission of results and review of results declared by an electoral officer under duress as some of the reforms introduced that would ensure the credibility of elections in Nigeria. 

He stated that the Senate has taken notice of Section 84(12) of the Act, especially the concerns raised by Mr. President, assuring Nigerians that the National Assembly would give the section the desired legislative attention.

Also fielding questions, the National Chairman, Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC), Yabagi Yusuf Sani, an engineer, said the country “has gotten the fundamental ground norms that will ensure that elections are credible, and peaceful by bringing in the electronic transfer of results from the polling units.

“That, in itself, has cut out a lot of things that have bedeviled electoral processes in this country. Today, we can certainly say that the amount of money spent on elections would definitely be reduced. We can also say that the kind of violence that we normally witness will be, if not completely absent, reduced to the barest minimum,” he said.

On whether the new law will provide a level playing field for everybody including smaller parties, Sani declared that it represents a great leap for the country.

“It is a step forward, it’s a great leap forward in terms of laying the foundation for credible, reliable and free elections. I believe that the laws are there, but what is lacking is the enforcement of those laws. And if we don’t enforce them, it will be like a situation where whatever you put in is what you get.

“So, yes, Mr. President has done his own. It now remains the law enforcement officers and also the INEC that are charged with the responsibility of delivering this very important process, which is the elections,” he added.

A former National Commissioner of INEC, Prof. Lai Olurode, also expressed a similar view, saying: “I am not sure the signing of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2022 by the President was a big news to professional politicians and INEC bureaucracy. I don’t think we should expect any remarkable improvement in the election environment just by virtue of a law. Having a law is not enough. It takes two to tango. It is necessary, but not sufficient to have good laws; you must also have people whose minds are not seal.

“The way I see it is that the mind of an average politician in this country is bent on disobeying the electoral rules. So you need to reform the minds of an average politician to compel him to respect the rules of the game.” Olurode, however, said INEC should begin to look out for how the new Electoral Act would affect it.

“Fortunately, we still have a year to the general election and again, you don’t even need to give a notice of a year before you can organise election. With the electronic transmission of results, which is part of the amendment, there would be improvement in that regard. One area where I am particularly elated is in terms of returning officers not being able to compromise by announcing fake results. 

“The problem is, once they announce a fake results under the old law, INEC is powerless to do anything, as the commission has to wait to approach the court and usually, we know the how the court system travels at a snail speed. So, once a reckless election officer compromises at that level, it is as good as saying the beneficiary of the compromised process has won the election. But with the new law, INEC can now decide to upturn or revise decision that has been taken by the returning officer. That is one area I think the amendment will bring about more electoral justice than what we had before.” 

Former President of the Senate, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, also commended President Muhammadu Buhari for signing the Electoral Act (amendment) Bill 2022 into law.

He also lauded the National Assembly, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and other Nigerians who remained persistent in insisting that Nigeria deserves a new law that will guarantee free, fair and peaceful poll in 2023 and beyond.

Saraki in a statement signed by the Head of his Media Office, Yusuph Olaniyonu, noted that while President Buhari deserves commendation for working with the federal legislature and rising above partisan interest to give the country a new law that could reform the electoral process, the big applause should go to the members of the civil society organisations who for the past one year, have kept up the pressure and continuously agitated for the passage of the new Electoral Act.

“The new Electoral Act brings us closer to having free, fair, and peaceful elections in which people’s votes count, where the majority will have their way and the minority will have their say. For too long, the old electoral law had been part of the problem. We can now seek to elect our leaders, having in mind, the current challenges facing our country.

“With a new Electoral Act, we can move on to debating real solutions to the problems of insecurity, creation of jobs, strengthening of the economy, cementing national unity and building a better future for all Nigerians,” Saraki stated.

Saraki recalled the various efforts that he and his colleagues made in the 8th National Assembly to give the country a new Electoral Act, which led to their submitting the Bill four different times without getting the presidential assent.

“That is why it is with great joy that I welcome the news that the country finally has a new Electoral Act. It is better late than never,” Saraki added.

In his reaction, an Abuja-based rights activist and National President, Human Rights Writers Association (HURIWA), Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko, noted that the signing of the reworked Bill by Buhari was noteworthy but shameful.  He noted that the eventual signing came after so much frustrating delays, which left Nigerians in “suspended animation.”

“It is shameful that something as simple as going through the reworked Electoral Bill sent to him could take him a month and the people of Nigeria including the electoral body, the civil society, human rights bodies and other interest groups were forced to mount unrelenting pressure on the President to sign this bill into law. It shows that the President does not really deserve any praise because he almost took Nigerians for a huge joke. 

 
“His refusal to sign the Bill gave a lot of Nigerians goose pimples, because the impression was that the President is unwilling to allow for a free, fair, transparent and accountable election to elect his successor in about 12 months time, because the amended electoral bill he has now signed contain some good provisions that allows for electronic voting and transmission of election results, which would minimise frauds that are committed by rogue INEC officials during the process of manual collation of results.

“We are hopeful that the usual Nigerian factor that has tarnished the credibility of past presidential elections will be minimised with this fresh electoral Act signed today. 
 
“The copies should be mass printed officially from the office of the Chief clerk of the National Assembly and handed over to Nigerians so we understudy it.”

Onwubiko urged INEC to latch on the Act and begin the final phase of preparation to conduct free, fair and peaceful poll next year. To the Executive Director, Initiative for Grassroots Advancement (INGRA), Hamza Aliyu, it was time for Nigerians to concentrate on the substance of the law.

Aliyu noted: “First, there is the issue of the timing for the release of election timetable which the new law states is 365 days. This is already less by more than 40 days. 

“So, there is need for INEC to quickly adjust and do the needful. Also there is the issue of funding of INEC Budget, which the law says must be done 365 days before the elections. As we speak, the NASS has not passed the Budget for INEC. There is need to quickly settle this issue too

“Again there is the issue of the observations and reservations by the president, especially on the barring of political office holders as delegates at party conventions, which he thought was an infringement on their rights as party members. We hope that the NASS would quickly amend these parts to ensure that we don’t have to come back to it again. Overall we are happy today and pray we use these amendments to move our electoral system forward.”

On his part, former Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Plateau State Branch, Sule Kwasau, said: “The President’s assent to the Electoral Bill will definitely have an impact, especially in the area of collation of results from the polling units.

“The results cannot be tampered with any longer and the potential for rigging and manipulation has been reduced.” Executive Director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, has also lauded President Buhari for assenting to the electoral bill into law. 

In a statement yesterday, the CISLAC boss who doubles as Chairman of Transition Monitoring Group, also thanked the National Assembly, media, CSOs and Nigerians for the collective success on having a new Electoral Act. 

Rafsanjani said President Buhari has fulfilled his obligations by upholding the values of democracy and assenting the electoral bill.
Executive Director of Conscience for Human Rights and Conflict Resolution, Idris Miliki Abdul, also congratulated Nigerians on the arrival of a new Electoral Act.

“INEC can now commence its activities on the elections. The political parties will also build their activities as soon as INEC release its programme,” he said.

The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) also applauded President Muhammadu Buhari over his decision to grant assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill.

APC in a statement by its Caretaker Secretary Sen. John Akpanudoedehe, noted that the development was a big win for the country’s electioneering processes and democracy. 

The APC said the development was a pointer to the fact that the President Buhari administration was committed to improve the transparency and credibility of Nigeria’s electioneering processes and internal democracy.

The party expressed appreciation to the National Assembly, civil societies, development partners and indeed all well-meaning Nigerians whose collective efforts and support birthed the new Electoral Act.

It added: “From legal backing given to election management bodies to review election results declared under duress, provisions for people with disabilities and special needs, electronic transmission of election results among other key provisions, current and coming generations will fondly remember President Buhari as the courageous leader who institutionalised credible elections and internal democracy in Nigeria. 

“The task of improving the credibility of our elections is a collective and continuous one. As a party and government, we will continue to champion needed reforms. We hereby call on well-meaning Nigerians to join us to completely stamp out past practices of electoral fraud weaponised by past administrations of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).”

But the PDP in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Debo Ologunagba, has declared that the new Electoral Act was a death knell on the APC, saying that party thrives on manipulations, ballot box snatching, ballot box stuffing and alteration of election results at the collation centres against the will of the people.

“The victory by Nigerians in resisting the APC and compelling President Buhari to sign the new Electoral Act clearly signposts the inevitable triumph of the will and aspiration of the people to kick out the APC through a process that ensures that votes cast at the polling units count,” the party said.

It called on Nigerians not to rest on their oars but to further strengthen their resolve by rallying themselves to take charge of their polling units and ensure that their votes are transparently counted and transmitted during 2023 general election.

Former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, on his part, urged INEC to rollout the election guidelines in earnest so that political parties and Nigerians could fully commence the journey to choose their leaders in 2023.

“I wish to acknowledge the work of the legislature in bringing this law with new innovations into fruition. I also pay tribute to the nudge of the civil society and patriotic Nigerians in making this brand new Electoral Act a reality,”Atiku noted.

Meanwhile, the Concerned Nigeria Group led by Deji Adeyanju has urged the National Assembly to ignore President Buhari’s request to amend Section 84 of the new Act, insisting that it was in consonance with the 1999 Constitution.

Adeyanju said: “We commend the President for this positive and courageous step. As we had earlier stated in various press releases, it is not too late for the President to retrace his steps and leave a positive legacy that will be talked about for years to come. 

“This Electoral Act and the innovations it will bring into our electoral space will be considered as one of the President’s greatest legacies. 

“We note that while signing the bill into law, the President requested the National Assembly to immediately amend the Act and expunge Section 84, which provides that political office holders must resign before the conduct of primaries. 

“We urge the National Assembly to reject this request, as the principle behind that section was well thought out. Any political office holder who seeks to contest for a public office should resign and concentrate on the electioneering process, rather than using public funds to fund his election. This section is in consonance with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999), as amended.”