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Electoral Act 2022: Stakeholders on how to maximise gains of enhanced reforms

By Kehinde Olatunji
11 April 2022   |   2:46 am
When President Muhammadu Buhari signed the newly amended Electoral Act on February 25, 2022, many heaved a sigh of relief because the process had dragged on for too long. Nigerians

[FILES] INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu. Photo; FACBOOK/INECNIGERIA

When President Muhammadu Buhari signed the newly amended Electoral Act on February 25, 2022, many heaved a sigh of relief because the process had dragged on for too long. Nigerians had become hungry for an effective law that will guide the conduct of the 2023 general elections.

The Electoral Act 2022 is Nigeria’s fourth repeal and re-enactment of election legislation, since the return to democratic rule in 1999. The Electoral Act was amended three times (in 2010, 2011, and 2015) before it was repealed. The last amendment process dated back to 2016, shortly after the inauguration of the 8th National Assembly, which was eager to amend the law due to public demand.     

 
But that exercise suffered a setback as the President declined assent to the electoral bill four times, citing drafting issues, assault on INEC constitutional powers, and late passage of the bill as reasons.

The 9th National Assembly reactivated the electoral reform process in 2019. Unlike the previous reform efforts, the 9th Assembly adopted a slightly different approach by consolidating all previous amendments to the 2010 Electoral Act and electoral bills passed in the 8th National Assembly into a single bill.
  
In December 2021, President Buhari declined assent to the bill, due to the restriction on political parties to adopt only direct primaries for nominating candidates. After seven years of intense advocacy, intrigues and intense pressure by civil societies and other stakeholders, the electoral bill was finally signed into law.
   
Previous reports had shown that voter turnout was on a downward trend. Since 2003, voter turnout had declined from 69.1 per cent to 57.5 per cent in 2007, then to 53.7 per cent in 2011 and 43.7 per cent in 2015. The decline continued in 2019 when turnout stood at 34.8 per cent. There has been concern about voter turnout and in general, citizens’ participation in the electoral space.

  
Dataphyte’s review of the election expenses revealed that the Federal Government spent a total of N444.5b to conduct the country’s last three general elections, but altogether wasted over N255b due to low voter turnout recorded in each of the elections.
  
A look at the Average Cost per Registered Voter Index (ACRVI), as noted in the 2019 general elections report showed that the amount spent is well within the internationally accepted ranges, which placed the cost per voter in established and stable democracies at the rate of $1 to $3; transitional democracies at $4 to $8, and post-conflict and transition democracies from $9.
  
When the figures are looked up with the number of people, who actually turned out to vote in the last three general elections, data showed that low voter turnout has cost the country over N255b.
 
In fact, except for the 2011 elections, the money wasted in the other two elections was more than the actual cost, going by the number of people, who eventually turned out to vote on Election Day.
  
Nigerians believe that the signing of the 2022 electoral Act would lay to rest these issues and subsequently encourage citizens’ interests in elections.
 
For instance, the new Electoral Act, of 2022 strengthens the financial independence of the National Electoral Commission (INEC) by ensuring that all funding required for a general election is released not later than one year before the elections.
  
The Act also establishes that the Commission shall take reasonable steps to ensure that persons with disabilities, special needs and vulnerable persons are assisted at the polling place by the provision of suitable means of communications, such as braille, large embossed print or electronic devices or sign language interpretation, or off-site voting in appearances case.
  
The new act addresses a lacuna in the previous electoral law, which was manifest in the 2015 governorship election in a situation where a candidate died before the result of that election was announced. The act affords political parties the opportunity to conduct primary elections to replace a candidate, who dies after the commencement of polls and before the announcement of final results and declaration of a winner.
  
A timeline of 21 days is provided for INEC to conclude an election and declare a winner. It goes further to prescribe that in the case of legislative elections, the election will start afresh, and a political party affected by the bereavement can conduct a new primary within 14 days to nominate a new candidate. However, in the case of presidential and governorship elections, the running mate of the deceased candidate will continue with the election and nominate a running mate.
  
At a training organised by German foundation, Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, held in Abuja tagged: ‘The 2022 Electoral Act: Emerging Challenges and Improvements,’ to build the capacity of Nigerian journalists on the new Electoral Act 2022, it was gathered that despite the signing of the Electoral Act, some communities would be disenfranchised in the coming elections, as some areas are still inaccessible to the commission’s officers.

Sections 47 (2) of the Electoral Act secures the place of the Smart Card Reader or other Technological Device in the Electoral Process while section 50 (2) of the Act gives the Commission the discretion to determine the mode of voting and transmission of results.

The Commission had introduced new and creative changes in the enumeration of voters; the party nomination processes and the conduct of elections, while the INEC is currently conducting the CVR both physically and online, using the new INEC Voter Enrolment Device (IVED).

  
The Commission has also introduced an online portal through which international and domestic observers and the media can apply for accreditation. The commission introduced the INEC Result Viewing Portal (iRev) through which polling unit level results are uploaded to a result-viewing portal in real-time. These technological steps and many more will no doubt aid a greater use of technology in the electoral process and it will to a large extent reduce human interference in the voting, counting and collation process.
  
Despite these improvements, participants cautioned that technology does not operate itself and the human element is ever-present. For instance, speaking at the training, INEC spokesman, Festus Okoye, stated that the commission would not expose its staff to unnecessary danger, even though the commission is determined to register eligible registrants.

There were setbacks with the BVAS during the Anambra gubernatorial election and the FCT Area Council Elections but the BVAS performed well during the six by-elections conducted by the Commission in four states in February 26.
  
Okoye acknowledged that the BVAS did not perform optimally and said the commission took all the criticisms on board and has made necessary corrections and adjustments. “This accounts for the optimal performance of the BVAS in the six bye-elections conducted by the Commission in the four States.” He said.
 

 
He added: “ The Commission will continue to use the BVAS to verify, confirm or authenticate the particulars of an intending voter. The BVAS is the new enemy of those engaged in identity theft and multiple voting, as it verifies either the fingerprint or facial of the intended voter.
 
“Those that warehoused PVCs, the consultants and middlemen that design how to undermine the electoral process and those that hawk and distribute PVCs are now canvassing for the return to incident forms and manual voting.
  
“The commission will not travel backwards but will continue to improve on its technological base and innovations. The commission will continue to work with security agencies to protect our equipment and personnel. With the BVAS and the uploading of polling unit level results, violence has left the Collation Centers and reverted back to the polling units.”
  
He added that the commission would expand the base of the training of its ad-hoc staff to acquaint them more with the workings of the BVAS and other technological innovations of the Commission.
  
On his part, Political Sociologist, University of Abuja, Kari Umar stated that the clamour for fresh Electoral Reform should kick-off immediately, while urging the INEC to perfect the BVAS before 2023.
  
Umar also urged the INEC to organise a series of troubleshooting sessions on cyber attacks and cyber security and prepare well to contend with desperadoes and build a solid, impenetrable bulwark around the electronic transmission system before 2023.
  
“On the whole, there should be a robust Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) system to manage all manner of risks.”
  
Umar also tasked the INEC to procure and install the necessary infrastructure and train their personnel to facilitate and ensure the seamless operation of technology and machines to be deployed in the electoral process.
    
He also urged stakeholders to keep an eye on INEC and its staff, particularly those in charge of key machines and technology, while urging the commission to engage the services of digital forensic experts to investigate every incident, help collect, preserve and analyse digital data, and whose evidences stand a better chance of being accepted in the event of litigation.
 
He urged the political class to have a change of mindset and attitude and do away with zero-sum politics, allowing the electoral process to be and imbibe the spirit of good sportsmanship.
   
“Notwithstanding the existence of some ‘banana peels’ strewn on the path of the electoral process, the 2022 Electoral Act offers a great opportunity and hope in our quest for free, fair, transparent and credible polls. Reforms and changes in the amended Act can, however, only make meaning and come to fruition if and when all stakeholders in the election realm work together, remain vigilant at all times and insist on the faithful implementation of and strict adherence to every clause in the Act.”
  
On his part, Chairman, Partners for Electoral Reform Convener, Say No Campaign, Nigeria, Ezenwa Nwagwu stated that the excitement that has trailed the Electoral Act resonates with the desire of citizens to improve the electoral process.

“It is helpful to caution, however, that a new legal regime, fine as it may be, can be subverted by the political class that absent itself from a conversation about wholesome electoral behaviour and integrity and by the security agents also, who engage in professional misconduct, and the judiciary, who abuse its powers of interpretation and supplant the plight of voters through technicalities.”
  
He added that no sympathy should be spared for those who find comfort in the regime of excuses, adding that there is a need to mobilise the people to engage not only in elections but also in governance. “It is a pertinent way to consolidate democracy, which even in its worst form is better than any other,” he adds.

Legal Adviser, National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS), Dr. Shuaibu Danwanka said the Electoral Act 2022 in particular appears desirable with flamboyant provisions that will no doubt strengthen the electoral process to a certain degree of fairness and credibility.
  
He, however, stated that the impact of all the innovations discussed will only be realised if the critical stakeholders, INEC, political parties, judiciary and candidates remain committed and sincere in discharging their obligations or playing their roles with a high sense of justice, fairness and integrity.
 

 
Executive Director, OJA Development Consult, Jide Ojo stated that INEC and its 36 other counterparts at the State Independent Electoral Commissions cannot single-handedly deliver on free, fair, peaceful, credible and inclusive elections.
  
He urged political parties, contestants, security agencies, media, accredited observers, judiciary, legislature and electorate to pull their weights to ensure a free and fair election.

“Legal and administrative reforms alone, as previously enunciated, cannot deliver free, fair, credible and inclusive elections. All the aforementioned stakeholders must show commitment and political will to play by the rules. For instance: political parties and contestants must strictly adhere to the rules of the game, as set by the National Assembly and INEC.

  
He admonished observer groups and media to engage in conflict-sensitive reportage and shun fake news, while calling on the judiciary to ensure substantial electoral justice, not judgement, adding that election dispute resolution must be timely.

“There must be no cutting corners or culture of impunity,” he said. Nigerians had become hungry for an effective law that will guide the conduct of the 2023 general elections.

The Electoral Act 2022 is Nigeria’s fourth repeal and re-enactment of election legislation, since the return to democratic rule in 1999. The Electoral Act was amended three times (in 2010, 2011, and 2015) before it was repealed. The last amendment process dated back to 2016, shortly after the inauguration of the 8th National Assembly, which was eager to amend the law due to public demand.     

 
But that exercise suffered a setback as the President declined assent to the electoral bill four times, citing drafting issues, assault on INEC constitutional powers, and late passage of the bill as reasons.

The 9th National Assembly reactivated the electoral reform process in 2019. Unlike the previous reform efforts, the 9th Assembly adopted a slightly different approach by consolidating all previous amendments to the 2010 Electoral Act and electoral bills passed in the 8th National Assembly into a single bill.
  
In December 2021, President Buhari declined assent to the bill, due to the restriction on political parties to adopt only direct primaries for nominating candidates. After seven years of intense advocacy, intrigues and intense pressure by civil societies and other stakeholders, the electoral bill was finally signed into law.
 

  
Previous reports had shown that voter turnout was on a downward trend. Since 2003, voter turnout had declined from 69.1 per cent to 57.5 per cent in 2007, then to 53.7 per cent in 2011 and 43.7 per cent in 2015. The decline continued in 2019 when turnout stood at 34.8 per cent. There has been concern about voter turnout and in general, citizens’ participation in the electoral space.
  
Dataphyte’s review of the election expenses revealed that the Federal Government spent a total of N444.5b to conduct the country’s last three general elections, but altogether wasted over N255b due to low voter turnout recorded in each of the elections.
  
A look at the Average Cost per Registered Voter Index (ACRVI), as noted in the 2019 general elections report showed that the amount spent is well within the internationally accepted ranges, which placed the cost per voter in established and stable democracies at the rate of $1 to $3; transitional democracies at $4 to $8, and post-conflict and transition democracies from $9.
 
 
When the figures are looked up with the number of people, who actually turned out to vote in the last three general elections, data showed that low voter turnout has cost the country over N255b.
 
In fact, except for the 2011 elections, the money wasted in the other two elections was more than the actual cost, going by the number of people, who eventually turned out to vote on Election Day.
  
Nigerians believe that the signing of the 2022 electoral Act would lay to rest these issues and subsequently encourage citizens’ interests in elections.
 
For instance, the new Electoral Act, of 2022 strengthens the financial independence of the National Electoral Commission (INEC) by ensuring that all funding required for a general election is released not later than one year before the elections.
  
The Act also establishes that the Commission shall take reasonable steps to ensure that persons with disabilities, special needs and vulnerable persons are assisted at the polling place by the provision of suitable means of communications, such as braille, large embossed print or electronic devices or sign language interpretation, or off-site voting in appearances case.
  
The new act addresses a lacuna in the previous electoral law, which was manifest in the 2015 governorship election in a situation where a candidate died before the result of that election was announced. The act affords political parties the opportunity to conduct primary elections to replace a candidate, who dies after the commencement of polls and before the announcement of final results and declaration of a winner.
  
A timeline of 21 days is provided for INEC to conclude an election and declare a winner. It goes further to prescribe that in the case of legislative elections, the election will start afresh, and a political party affected by the bereavement can conduct a new primary within 14 days to nominate a new candidate. However, in the case of presidential and governorship elections, the running mate of the deceased candidate will continue with the election and nominate a running mate.
  
At a training organised by German foundation, Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, held in Abuja tagged: ‘The 2022 Electoral Act: Emerging Challenges and Improvements,’ to build the capacity of Nigerian journalists on the new Electoral Act 2022, it was gathered that despite the signing of the Electoral Act, some communities would be disenfranchised in the coming elections, as some areas are still inaccessible to the commission’s officers.

Sections 47 (2) of the Electoral Act secures the place of the Smart Card Reader or other Technological Device in the Electoral Process while section 50 (2) of the Act gives the Commission the discretion to determine the mode of voting and transmission of results.

The Commission had introduced new and creative changes in the enumeration of voters; the party nomination processes and the conduct of elections, while the INEC is currently conducting the CVR both physically and online, using the new INEC Voter Enrolment Device (IVED).
  
The Commission has also introduced an online portal through which international and domestic observers and the media can apply for accreditation. The commission introduced the INEC Result Viewing Portal (iRev) through which polling unit level results are uploaded to a result-viewing portal in real-time. These technological steps and many more will no doubt aid a greater use of technology in the electoral process and it will to a large extent reduce human interference in the voting, counting and collation process.
  
Despite these improvements, participants cautioned that technology does not operate itself and that the human element is ever-present. For instance, speaking at the training, INEC spokesman, Festus Okoye, stated that the commission would not expose its staff to unnecessary danger, even though the commission is determined to register eligible registrants.

There were setbacks with the BVAS during the Anambra gubernatorial election and the FCT Area Council Elections but the BVAS performed well during the six by-elections conducted by the Commission in four states in February 26.
  
Okoye acknowledged that the BVAS did not perform optimally and said the commission took all the criticisms on board and has made necessary corrections and adjustments. “This accounts for the optimal performance of the BVAS in the six bye-elections conducted by the Commission in the four States.” He said.
  
He added: “ The Commission will continue to use the BVAS to verify, confirm or authenticate the particulars of an intending voter. The BVAS is the new enemy of those engaged in identity theft and multiple voting, as it verifies either the fingerprint or facial of the intended voter.
 


“Those that warehoused PVCs, the consultants and middlemen that design how to undermine the electoral process and those that hawk and distribute PVCs are now canvassing for the return to incident forms and manual voting.
  
“The commission will not travel backwards but will continue to improve on its technological base and innovations. The commission will continue to work with security agencies to protect our equipment and personnel. With the BVAS and the uploading of polling unit level results, violence has left the Collation Centers and reverted back to the polling units.”
  
He added that the commission would expand the base of the training of its ad-hoc staff to acquaint them more with the workings of the BVAS and other technological innovations of the Commission.
  
On his part, Political Sociologist, University of Abuja, Kari Umar stated that the clamour for fresh Electoral Reform should kick off immediately while urging the INEC to perfect the BVAS before 2023.
  
Umar also urged the INEC to organise a series of troubleshooting sessions on cyber attacks and cyber security and prepare well to contend with desperadoes and build a solid, impenetrable bulwark around the electronic transmission system before 2023.
  
“On the whole, there should be a robust Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) system to manage all manner of risks.”
 
Umar also tasked the INEC to procure and install the necessary infrastructure and train their personnel to facilitate and ensure the seamless operation of technology and machines to be deployed in the electoral process.
    
He also urged stakeholders to keep an eye on INEC and its staff, particularly those in charge of key machines and technology, while urging the commission to engage the services of digital forensic experts to investigate every incident, help collect, preserve and analyse digital data, and whose evidences stand a better chance of being accepted in the event of litigation.

He urged the political class to have a change of mindset and attitude and do away with zero-sum politics, allowing the electoral process to be and imbibe the spirit of good sportsmanship.
 

  
“Notwithstanding the existence of some ‘banana peels’ strewn on the path of the electoral process, the 2022 Electoral Act offers a great opportunity and hope in our quest for free, fair, transparent and credible polls. Reforms and changes in the amended Act can, however, only make meaning and come to fruition if and when all stakeholders in the election realm work together, remain vigilant at all times and insist on the faithful implementation of and strict adherence to every clause in the Act.”
  
On his part, Chairman, Partners for Electoral Reform Convener, Say No Campaign, Nigeria, Ezenwa Nwagwu stated that the excitement that has trailed the Electoral Act resonates with the desire of citizens to improve the electoral process.

“It is helpful to caution, however, that a new legal regime, fine as it may be, can be subverted by the political class that absent itself from a conversation about wholesome electoral behaviour and integrity and by the security agents also, who engage in professional misconduct, and the judiciary, who abuse its powers of interpretation and supplant the plight of voters through technicalities.”
  
He added that no sympathy should be spared for those who find comfort in the regime of excuses, adding that there is a need to mobilise the people to engage not only in elections but also in governance. “It is a pertinent way to consolidate democracy, which even in its worst form is better than any other,” he adds.

Legal Adviser, National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS), Dr. Shuaibu Danwanka said the Electoral Act 2022 in particular appears desirable with flamboyant provisions that will no doubt strengthen the electoral process to a certain degree of fairness and credibility.
  
He, however stated that the impact of all the innovations discussed will only be realised if the critical stakeholders, INEC, political parties, judiciary and candidates remain committed and sincere in discharging their obligations or playing their roles with a high sense of justice, fairness and integrity.
  
Executive Director, OJA Development Consult, Jide Ojo stated that INEC and its 36 other counterparts at the State Independent Electoral Commissions cannot single-handedly deliver on free, fair, peaceful, credible and inclusive elections.

  
He urged political parties, contestants, security agencies, media, accredited observers, judiciary, legislature and electorate to pull their weights to ensure a free and fair election.

“Legal and administrative reforms alone, as previously enunciated, cannot deliver free, fair, credible and inclusive elections. All the aforementioned stakeholders must show commitment and political will to play by the rules. For instance: political parties and contestants must strictly adhere to the rules of the game, as set by the National Assembly and INEC.
  
He admonished observer groups and media to engage in conflict-sensitive reportage and shun fake news, while calling on the judiciary to ensure substantial electoral justice, not judgement, adding that election dispute resolution must be timely.

“There must be no cutting corners or culture of impunity,” he said.