Edo, Ondo polls: How Covid-19 delays, raises fears about electoral reforms
Declaration by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that there would be no electronic transmission of results from polling units to Central Database during the Edo and Ondo States’ governorship elections scheduled for September and October 2020 has once again served as a reminder of the numerous irregularities that characterised past elections in the country.
Infamous electoral malpractices such as fake voters’ register, snatching of sensitive electoral materials, criminal multiplication of figures in favour of particular political parties, and collation irregularities are just a few of the numerous examples of election woes begging for legislative remedies.
However, whatever reform efforts the Senate intended to make in the process of amending the 2010 Electoral Act has been put on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic ravaging the world. Not even INEC is happy about the existence of these obvious and persistent irregularities during, before and after elections.
And with the National Assembly being slowed down by Covid-19, particularly in the consideration and passage of Bills, it is almost certain that no such amendment would be effected to the electoral laws before September and October when Edo and Ondo States’ governorship elections would take place.
Observers and participants at most of the workshops, public hearings and retreats organized in respect of the Electoral Reform Bill late last year were of the view that the failure to enact relevant laws to correct the irregularities that characterized the 2019 general elections would spell greater doom, not just for the Edo and Ondo elections, but for the 2023 general elections.
According to a participant at one of the workshops, “The time to come up with such amendments to correct those glaring irregularities that we experienced in the last general election is gradually going. As it stands, it has become clear that the amendment cannot come before the Edo and Ondo governorship elections. And whatever happens in these two elections will be a dangerous signpost to the next general elections. Again, you know that if we can’t get the electoral amendments passed this year 2020, we will be entering into the period when suspicion will trail whatever the National Assembly does.”
National Commissioner and Chairman, Electoral Operations and Logistic Committee of INEC, Professor Okechukwu Ibeanu, at a recent virtual meeting with media practitioners relied on the existing flawed electoral law to say that transmission of results by electronic means would amount to breaching the law. He said the electoral act was clear on the mode of transmission of election results, adding that doing otherwise would amount to going against the rules.
He noted, “The law is clear on how election results are transmitted and as you are aware, we are working with the National Assembly to review the electoral act.”
The electoral umpire has, however, expressed regrets that its desire to deploy technology in the electoral process was yet to get the required legislative backing, noting, “INEC wants to deepen the use of technology in the electoral process and we are hopeful that we would probably begin electronic voting in 2021.”
Not long ago, Senate Deputy President and Chairman, Senate committee on the review of the 1999 Constitution, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, disclosed that the Senate would soon begin work on the many Bills pending before it and seeking alterations to the Constitution amongst which are the electoral Reform bills.
INEC had, in the past, canvassed speedy consideration and passage of credible amendments to the electoral law to boost the transparency of the processes. It expressed optimism and confidence in the leadership of the 9th NASS to expedite the passage of the Electoral Bill before it.
“We are encouraged by the determination of the National Assembly to pass the Electoral Act amendment Bill expeditiously,” INEC chairman Professor Mahmoud Yakubu, had said. “This is very important to the preparations for the next general election. Where the passage of the Bill is delayed, it will affect the formulation of regulations and guidelines as well as the review and publication of the manual necessary for the training of ad-hoc staff for elections because both documents draw from the legal framework.
“There is need to expedite the process, particularly because the Bill under consideration at this retreat is the one emanating from the Senate. The House of Representatives is working on its own Bill. Given the urgency of the situation, the two chambers of the National Assembly (Senate and House of Representatives) may wish to consider adopting the current Bill and to organise a joint public hearing for the passage of the amendments into law in earnest”.
A key Electoral Act amendment Bill sponsored by Omo-Agege, which passed its second reading in the Senate in November last year, created hope that the much-desired Electoral Reform was near. However, eight months after, the nation is still waiting, since not much has been heard about it.
And sadly, there are series of elections that could suffer negatively from this delay. The Omo-Agege Bill mandated INEC to adopt the much-awaited electronic voting method for future polls. It also compels INEC to operate an electronic database into which all results in an election should be transmitted.
The bill also stipulates that data of accredited voters must be transmitted to the central database upon the conclusion of the accreditation of voters, which would be done through the use of the card reader.
“At the end of accreditation of voters, the presiding officer shall transmit the voter accreditation data by secure mobile electronic communication to the central database of the commission kept at the national headquarters of the commission,” the bill states. “Any presiding officer who contravenes this provision shall be liable, on conviction, to a minimum of imprisonment of at least five years without an option of fine.”
The further prevents INEC from shutting down the central database until all petitions arising from the elections are determined by a tribunal or court.
“In respect of data of accreditation of voters, including polling unit results for an election, the commission shall not shut down its central database kept at its national headquarters until all election petitions and appeals pertaining to that election are heard and determined by a tribunal or court,” the bill also stipulates.
On the specific provisions for the adoption of a central database, the bill seeks amendment of section 65 of the Electoral Act, 2010 by introducing a “National Electronic Register of Election Results.”
It states: “The commission shall compile, maintain and update on a continuous basis, a register of election results to be known as the National Electronic Register of Election Results which shall be a database of election results from each polling unit, including collated results of each election conducted by the commission.
“National Electronic Register of Election Results shall be kept by the commission at its national headquarters and any person or political party may obtain from the commission, on payment of reasonable fees as may be determined by the commission, a certified true copy of any election result kept in the National Electronic Register of Election Results for the federation, a state, local government, area council, ward or polling unit, as the case may be and the certified true copy may be in printed or electronic format.”
On electronic voting, the Electoral Reform Bill seeks amendment of section 52 (2) of the 2010 Electoral Act and introduces a new provision stating that “the commission may adopt electronic voting or any other method of voting in any election it conducts as it may deem fit.”
It was learned that many lawmakers are not comfortable with the additional clause which permits INEC to use any other method it deems fit and may delete that option during the consideration of the bill. The current law completely prohibits the use of electronic voting as it states “The use of the electronic voting machine, for the time being, is prohibited.”
The reform bill has also slashed the nomination fees charged by political parties. Presidential aspirants are to pay not more than N10 million while governorship aspirants are to pay N5 million.
Specifically, the bill states: “For the purpose of nomination of candidates for election, the total fees, charges, dues and any payment howsoever named imposed by a political party on an aspirant shall not exceed N150,000 for a ward councillorship aspirant in the FCT; N250,000 for an area council chairmanship aspirant in the FCT; N500,000 for a house of assembly aspirant; N1,000,000 for a House of Representatives aspirant; N2,000,000 for a senatorial aspirant; N5,000,000 for a governorship aspirant; and N10,000,000 for a presidential aspirant.”
The Bukola Saraki-led National Assembly had passed the electoral reform but failed to get presidential approval at the end. That bill sought to strengthen internal democracy, reduce the cost of politics, widen political participation and the conduct of free, fair and credible elections through technological innovations and an electronic database.
However, there were concerns raised over the enforceability of some of its provisions. President Muhammadu Buhari, in refusing to sign that bill, had said: “I am declining assent to the bill principally because I am concerned that passing a new electoral bill this far into the electoral process for the 2019 general elections, which commenced under the 2015 Electoral Act, could create some uncertainty about the applicable legislation to govern the process.
“Any real or apparent change to the rules this close to the election may provide an opportunity for disruption and confusion in respect of which law governs the electoral process.”
No comments yet