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A case for Electoral Act Amendment Bill

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All over the world, National Electoral Bills are often the subject of debate and disagreement until ultimately majority of the lawmakers say yes to the bill and subsequently pass it to the President to append his signature. The President on the other hand takes a look before appending his signature or put it in abeyance. The electoral system has a direct impact upon who shall govern the country- It is this process that brings about the elected representative of the people who govern a particular country that practice democracy.

One of the above scenarios was the case when our lawmakers passed the Electoral Amendment Bill for the fourth time to President Mohammadu Buhari but he refused to sign on the allegations of various reasons. One that it was too close to the 2019 general elections to change the rules of the game- it could create some uncertainty about the applicable legislation to govern the process. Another reason why the president declined assent has to do with the ‘’ electronic transmissions of results’’ clause. According to President Buhari Campaign spokesperson, Festus Keyamo, he said on Channels TV that, the electronic transmissions of results across Nigeria won’t work at the moment because most parts of the country … especially rural areas …still have no access to the internet. A good question is, how well does the existing Electoral Bill meets Nigerian’s needs? What we have prevalent in our elections are still bribery and or vote trading, voter intimidation, coercion, threats, ballot box snatching, impersonation and vandalism. In remote cases, some voters cast votes in the name of a dead person or someone who is non existence. So sad! It’s obvious that a free, fair and credible election cannot be successfully implemented in an awkward electoral process.

The main purpose of Electoral Act in any nation is for the general conduct of election, it helps to strengthen internal democracy, reduce cost of politics and broaden political participation. As is it now, the introduction of the card reader where a candidate is accredited to vote is yet to be part of our electoral act and as such, the failure of the card reader machine or failure to use it cannot invalidate the election. This Act according to our lawmakers seeks to fulfill this purpose and much more.
Let’s look at the highlight of the Electoral Act:

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The proposed amendment seeks to penalize any INEC official who knowingly refuses to disclose his political affiliation before being employed by the commission. The penalty is a fine of N5 Million, an imprisonment of at least five years or both.

The amended version includes a new subsection (2) which makes postponement of election unnecessary once there is at least one valid nomination by a political party.
Section 44, which stipulates that INEC must ensure the ballot papers contain the symbols of the political parties.

Similarly, there is section 49, which addresses the issues of ballot paper, confirmation of voters’ name. The amended version recommends the use of card reader and other technological devices in elections.

There is section 53, which addressees the question of over –voting and stipulates that results of a polling unit where the number of voters should be declared null and void.
It is a norm all over the world that when elections reflect the wish of the electorate, it is deemed to be free, fair and credible. Put in another way, when each process is open to scrutiny and all parties can confirm the procedure, it is credible but can we say the proposed electoral bill amendment has answers to all our concerns? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Even with the electronic voting, there are still issues experienced by nations that adopted it, issues such as hacking, the integrity of the voting machine vendors, election management system computers, who has the remote access to the central computer, among others which we might not be adequately ready to tackle now but comparing it to manual voting is like chalk and cheese. Globally, different trends are seen in different regions with regards to electoral system- each region designs what suit her purpose. While a total acceptance of electronic voting may be a herculean task for us but we can at least begin somewhere. United States mechanical lever voting machines were first used for elections in 1892 that is about 127 years ago. The real question is, when would the indelible ink put on our fingerprints become obsolete?

At the moment, it is not possible for the entire registration, accreditation, vote counting, collation and announcement to be done electronically but we can at least transmit electronically. We must not only enthusiastically adopt the 4th Industrial Revolution but mimic the Electoral success of Nations that have zipped Election Malpractices. When our leaders have expedite action with regards to straightening our electoral process, they can proudly look back in few years to come by saying that they were part of the system that ensure that all eligible voters can log into a computer terminal from the nooks and crannies of their houses to cast their vote and we can all say bye to the nuisances of looking for polling location for hours and don’t have to wait forlornly.

Anjorin wrote from Lagos.

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