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Making history in electoral act bill 2021

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The passage of the 2021 Electoral Bill presents a historic moment to create electoral reform legacies by the Ninth National Assembly. It is a moment to be counted as a people-centred legislative, legislature, and legislation.

Following much delay and re-drafting, the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021 has been passed by both Chambers of the National Assembly, with a slightly different version in each Chamber.

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The Electoral Hub, an organ of the Initiative for Research, Innovation, and Advocacy in Development (IRIAD), had earlier expressed concern over the earlier version prohibiting electronic transmission of results in the Bill. Although this prohibition has now been removed, we are still concerned about the power given to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) over the electronic transmission of results. This power is contained in Section 52(3) in the version of the Bill passed by the Senate as: “The Commission may consider the electronic transmission of results provided that the National Network Coverage is adjudged to be adequate and secured by the Nigerian Communications Commission and approved by the National Assembly”.

In the House of Representatives, Section 52(2) of the Bill gives the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) the discretion to adopt electronic voting or any other method of voting it deems fit. However, the Section is silent on the issue of electronic transmission of results. Therefore, the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021, particularly the version passed by the Senate, means that the operationalisation of electronic transmission of results is now only to be determined by the National Assembly and the NCC. This provision is not only dysfunctional but also unconstitutional, as it goes against Section 78 of the Constitution which states that “the conduct of elections shall be subject to the direction and supervision of Independent National Electoral Commission”.

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Indeed, passing such a contentious Bill with unresolved issues is undemocratic and does not reflect the principles of discussion, dialogue, and inclusion that should underlie a democracy. Further fuelling these issues is the recent sole confirmation by the Senate President, Dr Ahmed Lawan, a person of questionable character without the consensus of other members of the Senate. Such undemocratic actions, especially since they concern the electoral umpire INEC, are a huge threat to our democracy and elections.

Therefore, going forward, we demand these seven key actions from both Chambers of the National Assembly to ensure the integrity of the electoral process at large and INEC as an independent electoral umpire:

NASS, through a harmonisation process to merge the two Bills, should give INEC the unfettered discretion to determine the mode of conducting elections, including voting and transmission of results, as provided for in the Constitution.

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The Senate should remove the NCC’s power in Section 52(3) to determine whether or not INEC should transmit results electronically.

NASS should ensure transparency in the law-making process. This implies that following each review, an updated copy of the Bill should be made accessible to the public for engagement.

Any attempt at electoral reform in NASS must clearly reflect the views and opinions of key electoral stakeholders including INEC and the general public.

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NASS should ensure that electoral reform is done in a timely manner with strict deadlines that must be met.

The Senate should ensure that appointments into INEC reflect the principles of integrity, neutrality, impartiality, and non-partisanship. This implies that obvious card-carrying members of any party or people with integrity issues should automatically be disqualified.

Subsequently, NASS should legislate to provide for appointments into INEC by an independent body, rather than the President.

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We also urge citizens to spur their legislators into action by amplifying these seven demands. They can do this by calling their legislators, writing letters and petitions to them, going on peaceful protests, and making their demands known on social media platforms, blogs, and other communication technologies.

Finally, we wish to reiterate that POS, SIM registration, NIN enrolment, JAMB registration, WAEC/NECO registration, agricultural mobile platforms, and smart card readers all have network coverage in villages. We are therefore confident that, just as INEC has stated,1 there is the capacity to transmit results electronically nationwide.

We, therefore, challenge the National Assembly to review the provisions of the Bill relating to electronic transmission of results, and in particular give INEC the unfettered discretion to determine the mode of conduct of elections without being subject to the direction of any authority as provided for by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This would be the best way to guarantee the integrity and credibility of our electoral process.

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As earlier stated, the moment of history-making is now. The National Assembly has a choice to go up by leaving a lasting legacy of electoral reform or down by destroying the progressive electoral gains. If the National Assembly fails to make these changes and produces a Bill that does not meet the electoral integrity test including containing key recommendations from INEC and other stakeholders, we urge President Muhammadu Buhari to withhold assent to the Bill. This would be the final act to compel legislators to make the required changes and produce a Bill that meets the expectations of Nigerians and guarantees the integrity of our elections.

Princess Hamman-Obels is founder and director, The Electoral Hub.

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