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Tracking Electoral Act 2022 and its remedial clauses

By Azimazi Momoh Jimoh, Deputy Bureau Chief, Abuja 
28 February 2022   |   3:06 am
Right from 1999 to the present dispensation, or precisely for a period spanning more than one decade, what should ordinarily be a simple act of updating Nigeria’s Electoral law

[FILES]<br />Chairman, House Committee on INEC, Aisha Dukku (left); President Muhammadu Buhari; Senate President, Ahmad Lawan; House of Reps Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila and Chairman, Senate Committee on INEC, Kabiru Gaya at the signing of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill into law at the State House, Abuja… yesterday PHOTOS PHILIP OJISUA

Right from 1999 to the present dispensation, or precisely for a period spanning more than one decade, what should ordinarily be a simple act of updating Nigeria’s Electoral law, correcting clear defects, stood like a monster too deadly to combat.
  
Nothing, save series of machinations and dirty intrigues, inter and intra-political party schemes explain the circumlocution that has attended the long drawn amendment exercise. Yet, as politicians across parties took their turns to be victimised by the spectre, the need to stand firm and effect necessary changes in the electoral law became more compelling. 

  
It is against that background that last Friday’s signing of the 2022 Electoral Act by President Muhammadu Buhari comes into bold screen. The occasion offered serious evaluation of most of the issues that had, for a long time, stood on the way of electoral transparency and fidelity of its outcomes. 
   
A look at the amended Electoral Act showed that the political mischief associated with the practice of transmitting electoral votes and figures across many stations after the actual voting at polling unit may have been defeated. 
  
Although, the new law did not categorically stipulate the use of the much desired electronic transmission of results, it has given the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) the power to decide on whether to apply it or not.
   
Section 50 of the Act, which adopted the open secret ballot as the method of voting in all elections stated in sub-section (2) that “voting at an election and transmission of results under this Act shall be in accordance with the procedure determined by the Commission.”INEC had demonstrated its commitment and capacity to use the electronic transmission method in many elections in the past.
  
The Act has also provided treatment to the controversial issue of over voting, which had hitherto been determined by number of voters in the voters register for the area in question. 
  
Section 51 now states that the total number of accredited voters will become a factor in determining over-voting at election tribunals. Section “50(2) reads: Where the number of votes cast at an election in any polling unit exceeds the number of accredited voters in that polling unit, the Presiding officer shall cancel the result of the election in that polling unit. (3) Where the result of an election is cancelled in accordance with subsection (2), there shall be no return for the election until another poll has taken place in the affected polling unit. 
   
“(4) Notwithstanding the provisions of subsections (2) and (3) the Commission may, if satisfied that the result of the election will not substantially be affected by voting in the area where the election is cancelled, direct that a return of the election be made.”
  
The Act has also solved the problem usually arising from situations where presiding officers declare results under duress.
 
Section 65. (1) The decision of the returning officer shall be final on any question arising from or relating to (a) unmarked ballot paper; (b) rejected ballot paper; and (c) declaration of scores of candidates and the return of a candidate:
   
Provided that the Commission shall have the power within seven days to review the declaration and return where the Commission determines that the said declaration and return was not made voluntarily or was made contrary to the provisions of the law, regulations and guidelines, and manual for the election.”
   
In another provision, political parties have also been permitted to conduct fresh primary election to replace candidates who die during elections.
  
When former Kogi State governor, Abubakar Audu, died before the result of that election could be announced, a lot of controversies were generated regarding who takes over his position. It was later resolved in favour of Yahaya Bello who came second in the APC primary that produced late Audu.
  
But, the Electoral Act has now stipulated that a fresh election shall be conducted should this happen in future.
  
Section 34(3) says: “If after the commencement of poll and before the announcement of the final result and declaration of a winner, a candidate dies (a) the Commission shall, being satisfied of the fact of the death, suspend the election for a period not more than 21 days; and
   
(b) in the case of election into a legislative House, the election shall start afresh and the political party whose candidate died may, if it intends to continue to participate in the election, conduct a fresh primary within 14 days of the death of its candidate and submit the name of a new candidate to the Commission to replace the dead candidate: Provided that in the case of Presidential or gubernatorial or Federal Capital Territory Area Council elections, the running mate shall continue with the election and nominate a new running mate.”
   
The Electoral Act has also provided remedy to the issue of acceptance of the card readers as mandatory accreditation technology before voting. According to Section 47 (1) A person intending to vote in an election shall present himself with his voter’s card to a Presiding officer for accreditation at the polling unit in the constituency in which his name is registered.
  
(2) To vote, the presiding officer shall use a smart card reader or any other technological device that may be prescribed by the Commission, for the accreditation of voters, to verify, confirm or authenticate the particulars of the intending voter in the manner prescribed by the Commission.
  
(3) Where a smart card reader or any other technological device deployed for accreditation of voters fails to function in any unit and a fresh card reader or technological device is not deployed, the election in that unit shall be cancelled and another election shall be scheduled within 24 hours if the Commission is satisfied that the result of the election in that polling unit will substantially affect the final result of the whole election and declaration of a winner in the constituency concerned.”
 

And in a controversial manner, the Electoral Act tried to address the issue of political suspicion and acrimony that had existed between legislators, Presidents, governors and political appointees. In section 84 it stipulates that anyone holding a political office – ministers, commissioners, special advisers and others – must relinquish the position before they can be eligible to participate in the electoral process either as a candidate or as a delegate.
 
By this, the Act has automatically stopped a President or governors from making their appointees automatic delegates in an indirect primary election, which is popular between the two major parties.
  
Tagged “Political Appointee not Eligible as a Voting Delegate or Aspirant”, section 84 of the Act, which states as follows: “(10) No political appointee at any level shall be a voting delegate or be voted for at the Convention or Congress of any political party for the purpose of the nomination of candidates for any election.
 

(11) Where a political party fails to comply with the provisions of this Act in the conduct of its primaries, its candidate for election shall not be included in the election for the particular position in issue.
   
(12) Notwithstanding the provisions of this Act or rules of a political party, an aspirant who complains that any of the provisions of this Act and the guidelines of a political party have not been complied with in the selection or nomination of a candidate of a political party for election, may apply to the Federal High Court for redress.
    
(13) Nothing in this section shall empower the Courts to stop the holding of primaries or general elections under this Act pending the determination of a suit.”
    
Meanwhile, political parties have now been compelled to prepare for an early primary election in line with the guidelines issued last Saturday. According to the INEC boss, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, the new Electoral Act stipulates among others that conduct of party primaries, including the resolution of disputes arising from them must take place between Monday April 4, 2022 and Friday June3, 2022.
  
It also provides that submission of nomination forms to INEC via the online portal for Presidential and National Assembly elections should happen between 9.00am on Friday June 10, 2022 to 6.00pm on Friday June 17, 2022.
 
Submission of nomination forms to INEC via the online nomination portal for Governorship and State Assembly elections must equally take place between 9.00am on Friday July 1, 2022 to 6.00pm on Friday July 15, 2022.
 
Also, commencement of Campaign by political parties for Presidential and National Assembly elections would begin Wednesday September 18, 2022 just as commencement of campaign by political parties for Governorship and State Assembly elections is Wednesday October 12, 2022.