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Supreme Court, INEC brains behind electoral act amendment, says DSP Ovie Omo-Agege

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DSP Ovie Omo-Agege

Full electronic voting to curb rigging

Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege, who is also the Chairman of Constitution Review Committee, has said that the 9th Senate’s ongoing efforts at amending the Electoral Act were prompted by the Supreme Court and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). He said the cogent observations by the Supreme Court and the need to ensure full compliance with INEC’s rules motivated the amendment of the Act.

He made the assertion at the recent retreat organised by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the National Assembly on the ‘Reform of the Electoral Legal Framework’. Omo-Agege gave an overview of the Bill to amend the Electoral Act, 2010 which he presented before the Senate.

Omo-Agege’s paper, which was a central issue during the retreat, was on ‘Overview of the Bill for an Act to Amend the Electoral Act (No. 6) 2010 and other Related Matters, 2019.’

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“The Bill is, in part, a response to several decisions by the Supreme Court wherein the apex court directly or indirectly invited the National Assembly to make necessary amendments to the Electoral Act.

“As a lawyer and Senator of the Federal Republic, I believe that given the finality and immutability of its decisions, it is only responsible for the National Assembly to act whenever there are apparent lacunae in our laws.

“Many believe that under Sections 153(f) and 160 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) and Section 153 of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended), INEC’s Electoral Guidelines, Regulations and Manuals are not ‘mere’ documents to be subjected to pervasive non-compliance by-election riggers i.e. if we must avoid incalculable damage to the integrity of our elections.

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“However, the Supreme Court has consistently and firmly held the view that the guidelines, regulations and manuals issued by the Commission introducing the ‘Card Reader’ technology for the accreditation of intending voters requires express statutory basis. Indeed, the Supreme Court has specifically stated that if it is desirable, then it is only the National Assembly that has a constitutional mandate to write, or as the Court put it exactly, “bowdlerize” the technology into the Electoral Act.”

He added that the commission does not have the mandate to do so through its guidelines, regulations and manuals, “and we agree entirely.

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“In response, therefore, by the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, 2019, we are ready to resolve issues surrounding INEC’s introduction of necessary, appropriate and secure modern technologies into our electoral process.”

In that regard, he said the Senate wanted to ensure that all relevant stakeholders in the electoral process were under a statutory mandate to comply fully with INEC’s guidelines, regulations and manuals. After making justifications for the reform effort, Senator Omo-Agege further itemized other provisions being amended towards making the Electoral Act more robust.

He added that the leadership of the 9th National Assembly is open to sound inputs from INEC and stakeholders to ensure maximum effectiveness. According to him, items being reviewed by the panel towards reforming Nigeria’s electoral legal framework include: “members of political parties are not allowed to get into the commission as employees or appointees unnoticed, and undermine the integrity of the commission from within (CLAUSE 1); mandating INEC to publish the Voters Register for public scrutiny at every Registration Area and on its website at least 30 days before a general election, and stipulating sanctions for any breach of this provision (CLAUSE 4); mandating INEC to suspend an election in order to allow a political party that lost its candidate before or during an election to conduct a fresh primary to elect a replacement or new candidate (CLAUSE 5);

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“Granting agents of political parties the right to inspect original electoral materials before the commencement of an election, and stipulating a sanction on politicians, their supporters or others whose actions led to such a breach of this amendment (CLAUSE 6);

“Granting political parties that nominated candidates for an election a right (exercisable within a specified timeframe) to inspect its identity/logo appearing on samples of relevant electoral materials proposed to avoid incessant cancellation of elections due to ‘exclusion’ of parties from the election due to printers’ errors or deliberate mischief of not including the logos of some parties on electoral materials (CLAUSE 7);

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“Providing a detailed framework for the operation of current and future technological devices and innovations in the accreditation of intending voters, with clear sanctions for breaches (CLAUSE 8); mandating the commission to keep its database running until elections petitions are determined, so as not to make it impossible for petitioners and respondents to present their cases using relevant documents from the database (CLAUSE 8);

“Making ‘card reader’ reports generated and duly certified by the Commission as prima facie proof of the record of accreditation of voters (CLAUSE 8); defining ‘over-voting’ to include situations where ‘total votes cast’ also exceed ‘total number of accredited voters’ (CLAUSE 10);

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“Providing greater clarity and transparency in the process of reaching the final announcement of election results, starting with sorting of ballots, counting of votes, etc, with clear sanctions for violation (CLAUSE 11); recording and keeping relevant detailed information of election results, ballot papers and other sensitive electoral materials used in an election, with clear consequences for violation (CLAUSE 11);

“Mandating the Commission to establish a National Electronic Register of Election Results (CLAUSE 12); providing a procedure for verifying and confirming election results before declaration, and stipulation sanctions for violation (CLAUSE 13); allowing agents of political parties to record details of electoral materials (CLAUSE 14); prescribing criminal sanctions for executives of any association that gives false information in order to be registered as a political party (CLAUSE 15)

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“Overhauling Section 87 on Nomination of Candidates by Parties for Elections (CLAUSE 16) by prescribing maximum fees payable by aspirants and restricting nomination criteria to relevant provisions of the Constitution; mandating political parties to publish relevant details and procedures of their primaries ahead of time to avoid the mischief of deliberating excluding some party members from primaries by not providing such information, and creating comprehensive procedures for Direct and Indirect party primaries.”

Others include clarifying that under Section 138 (1)(a) of the Principal Act, a person shall not be deemed to be unqualified for an elective office and his election shall not be questioned on grounds of qualification if he meets relevant provisions of the Constitution, without more (CLAUSE 18); stipulating 90 days as the statutory period within which the commission is to conduct a fresh election where an election is nullified and there is no more right of appeal (CLAUSE 20); violation of the order of a court or tribunal to produce or inspect electoral materials will attract court sanctions, and ensuring that failure by INEC officials and others to comply with any provision of the Act carries appropriate sanctions.

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