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Concerns grow as electoral reforms act still in Limbo

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President Buhari (right) with INEC Chairman Mahmood


Delayed Reforms, Reminder Of 2018 Failed Process – EU, CSOs

During the week, while expressing worry over the delay in concluding the electoral reform process, a coalition of media and civil society stakeholders appealed to the National Assembly (NASS) to fast track the process to facilitate inclusiveness and openness in elections.
  
Rising from a stakeholders parley and joint press conference on electoral reform, organised by the implementing partners of the European Union Support Democratic Governance in Nigeria (EU-SDGN) project, the coalition described as disturbing, the silence from the National Assembly on the Electoral Amendment Bill since the public hearing in December 2020 and the retreat to consolidate citizens’ feedback into the bill in late January 2021.
 
In a communique signed by the 10 groups, the Director, International Press Centre (IPC), Mr. Lanre Arogundade, said the delay in concluding the electoral reform process served as a reminder of the failed process in 2018.
 
He said: “There’s no doubt that over the last two decades of uninterrupted civil rule, there is still a deep yearning for reforms that can significantly inspire citizens’ trust in democracy.

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“However, the silence from the National Assembly on the Electoral Amendment Bill since the public hearing in December 2020 and the retreat to consolidate citizens’ feedback into the bill in late January 2021, is worrying.
 
“Nigerians deserve that the elected representatives readily respond to the needs of the people and grant the request for a new electoral law that genuinely captures the wishes of the people. This delay in concluding the process serves as a reminder of the failed process in 2018 and the opportunity lost to consolidate Nigeria’s democracy in 2019.”

The group drew the attention of the National Assembly to its proposals contained in the memorandum it submitted to the lawmakers, where it demanded inclusive access and participation in the electoral process with particular attention to women, youths, and people living with disabilities. It urged the NASS to give utmost consideration to inclusion of issues such as protecting the voting rights of the visually impaired voters.
 
The coalition also called on the lawmakers to regulate the cost of nomination of candidates to promote political inclusion, and promote the inclusion of women, youths, and persons with disability in politics.
 
In the area of enhancing the operations of INEC, the coalition advocated that appropriate framework, tools and overall enabling environment should be provided for INEC to be able to conduct credible and acceptable elections in the country.

Speaking on the sideline of the event, IPC Programme Manager, Sanmi Falobi said the reform of the electoral process should be taken seriously if there is going to be a free and fair election.
 
“Elections are credible when there is an enabled environment. There is no law that guarantees that your votes will be counted, one doesn’t know the result of one’s vote until you get to the collation centre. That ought not to be. At the polling booth, citizens should know the result of their vote. These are the things that the reform addresses.
 
“Even if they claim we don’t have what it takes for electronic voting, it will take the government no time to arrange for it. See how Nigerians took the issue of National Identity Number seriously. It is because the government wanted to make it work and so they were committed to it. We urge the government to make electoral reform work.”

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‘No Political Will To Reform Electoral System’
LAGOS-BASED Human rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, has described the delay in the passage of the bill as a national embarrassment, adding that the national assembly has betrayed the trust of the people.

Effiong, who berated the president for his refusal to assent to the bill when it was transmitted to him on three occasions, said there is no political will to reform the nation’s electoral system.

He said, “The current national assembly has set certain deadlines which they have defaulted on. What that shows is that this government is not ready to reform our electoral process and that is not surprising because the ruling party is a beneficiary of some of the defects the bill intends to address.

“If we still rely on the current Electoral Act for the Anambra election, it is going to be a shame. For me, what exactly is the reason for the delay? It is not just sensible. They have not given any concrete reason why they are yet to pass the bill. The lawmakers are busy dueling on frivolities and spending resources on things that are of lesser importance to the country.”

IN the same vein, Director of Programme, Yiaga Africa, Cynthia Mbamalu, said the delay and silence on the issue from the National Assembly communicates a negative message to Nigerians and raises major questions on the commitment of the leadership of the National Assembly to deliver to Nigerians a citizens-responsive Electoral Act.

She observed that a lot of INEC’s innovations that would have led to improvement in the electoral process were not supported by the present electoral act. According to her, the electronic voting, a fundamental deployment requires legal backing to ensure that the process is not challenged in court and the outcome of elections not overturned on that ground.

Citing instance of the Smart Card Reader deployed by INEC to accredit voters in elections, Mbamalu said the courts have consistently ruled that the data from the card readers cannot substitute the figures in voter’s register and cannot be relied on to challenge the quality of elections because it was not captured in the current electoral framework.

She added: “In the hierarchy of laws, the Electoral Act, which is a legislation supersedes any INEC policy. The card reader is an introduction of INEC. Regardless of its importance, if the Electoral Act does not legalise technology by empowering INEC in the Law to deploy technology, its use can be a ground for challenging the legality of the election.”

Stressing the urgent need for the passage of the bill, she stated: “The ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance in Section II Article 2(1) prohibits substantial modification to the Electoral Laws in the last six (6) months before the elections. This is a demand on member states and part of the process of ensuring that there is no arbitrary change in the laws towards an election and that the Election Management body and stakeholders are familiar with the electoral law. However, the protocol provides an exception to this prohibition if the consent of a majority of political actors is sought and received in support of the modification to the Electoral Law six months before the elections.

FOUNDER, Connected Development, Hamzat Lawal, has called on President Buhari to ensure passage of the Amended Electoral Bill and bequeath it as a legacy before leaving office. He said this was necessary because the current electoral framework is no longer in tune with the time.

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Lawal said the electoral body needs the law to be passed in good time to prepare and put all logistics in place while also engaging stakeholders. “If we delay further, this will affect the integrity and process of the 2023 general election. We know that right now election in Nigeria is transactional where we have vote buying and vote selling but technology will bring new dynamic and a paradigm shift. It will make the electoral process independent, inclusive and would build back public trust and confidence in INEC,’ he stated.

Lawal also enjoined the National Assembly to fast track the passage of the bill, stressing that it would not be pleasant to play politics with the electoral act amendment because it is the process that legitimises elected officials and allows citizens to enjoy the dividend of democracy.

Ruling Elite Must Stop Politicisation Of Electoral Reform – Rep Ogun
HOUSE of Representatives member representing Esan North East/Esan South East, Sergius Ogun, warned against the politicisation of electoral reforms ahead of the 2023 polls.

Ogun, while shedding light on obstacles impeding the passage of the electoral amendment Act, said the nation had the opportunity to amend the Act prior to the 2019 elections but noted that there was so much politics, especially by the Executive till they brought it down to typographical errors.

“We cannot tell ourselves that we had a perfect election in 2019. Now, we have another one coming up in 2023 and we are still talking about an amendment of the electoral Act. I would have thought that it should have been done immediately after the 2019 election. If this process is not completed before the end of the year, then people are going to input all manner of things into it in 2022, which is basically more like an election year. That they have not passed the amendment up till now is basically politics. It is imperative that we do the right thing for the sake of this country and for the sake of unborn Nigerians. We must all realise the need to have a country first; that is why we must speak up, especially the elites.”

Ogun observed that just amending the Electoral Act would not solve the nation’s problems because a law is as good as the operator. “If you insist on electronic voting and you carry the machines to the voting units and thugs come to carry them, that would be the end. We do not jail electoral offenders in this country. You have not set an example that would deter people from stealing ballot boxes or for buying votes. Until we do that, whatever we put in the Electoral Act might just be a joke. So, we have to ask ourselves as Nigerians what do we want? Do we want a country that works for all? The day we answer this question is when we will get it right,” he noted.

Expressing hope that the Electoral Act would be passed by June, Ogun disclosed that NASS was done with public hearings and was left with the clause-by-clause considerations.

New Law May Not Guarantee Credible Poll If Politicians Don’t Play By Rules – INEC
CHIEF Press Secretary to Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, Rotimi Oyekanmi has, however, insisted the Commission remains hopeful that new electoral law would be in place by the end of June. 

According to Oyekanmi, “The Electoral Act (Amendment Bill), 2021 was presented for First Reading in the Senate in April. A bill usually passes through five stages before being presented to the President for assent. The stages include First Reading, Second Reading, Committee Stage, Third Reading and Passage, and Harmonisation. The President’s assent completes the process.

“However, the Senate President announced on the floor of the Senate on 6th May that upon resumption from the Sallah break on May 18, the Electoral Act (Amendment Bill) would be given priority attention and passed by the end of May. If the House of Representatives concurs immediately and the President gives assent promptly, we may have a new Electoral Act by the end of June 2021.”

While explaining that the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill is not entirely new having been in the public domain for many years, Oyekanmi said the Senate and the House of Representatives recognise the current general mood and the importance of concluding work on the Bill in good time. He disclosed that INEC had assurances from both chambers that the Bill will be passed in a matter of months, noting that the Committees responsible for the Bill in both Chambers were working at an increased pace.

If the Electoral Act Reform bill fails to get presidential assent before the next general elections, are Nigerians guaranteed an entirely free and fair poll? Oyekanmi stressed that there was no vacuum at the moment because the 2010 Electoral Act is still in force, regardless of its imperfections. However, he noted there are no perfect laws that can guarantee free and fair elections if all stakeholders were not prepared to play by the rules or obey such laws’ provisions.

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“If all stakeholders had complied with the 2010 Electoral Act (as amended) in the past, the current efforts to amend it wouldn’t have been this intensive. But, even if we have a brand new Electoral Act, human beings are dynamic. They can introduce other infractions not yet envisaged in the current amendment process. 

“Let me give you an instance. When the Commission decided not to allow the use of cell phones and photographic equipment in the voting cubicles on election day to prevent vote-buying activities, the perpetrators simply moved their transactions online and into the bushes. We had to enlist the assistance of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to monitor such suspicious transactions. Therefore, while the envisaged Electoral Act will go a long way in improving the electoral system and paving the way for free, fair and credible elections, a lot depends on the compliance level among stakeholders,” he said.

Credible Polls Still Possible With Current Framework, Says Ashang
FOR senior programme officer at the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre, PLAC, Agianpe Ashang, INEC can still conduct a free and credible poll with the current electoral framework.

Though he lamented the delay in passage of the amended act, Ashang noted that the fact that the current law was used for the Ondo and Edo states governorship election last year and the poll was considered credible to a large extent, means the same could be achieved in subsequent elections. She said: “I know that a lot of committee meetings regarding the bill has been held. There were two elections last year, are they saying the elections were not free and fair?

“If the new electoral act does not come out before the Anambra governorship poll, it will be unfortunate but we have to make use of what we have. Our hope is that by 2023, we will have a new electoral act and there would still be time for INEC to test the new law.”

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INECIPCLanre Arogundade
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