President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday, February 25, 2022, signed into law the amended 2010 Electoral Act. It took him about seven years and five rejections to do so.
The Electoral Act is a watershed in Nigeria’s perennial search for a more durable, robust and transparent democracy. Irrespective of a few lapses, the law is a great improvement from previous legislations.
First, it will positively revolutionise elections in Nigeria as it contains salient and praise-worthy provisions that could change the way we conduct elections through the introduction of technological innovations expected to guarantee the constitutional rights of citizens to vote and be voted for effectively.
Secondly, it will reduce, to the barest minimum, incidences of acrimony arising from dissatisfied candidates and political parties.
All the same, we commend the collaborative effort by all stakeholders made up of civil society organisations, labour, the media, the INEC, political parties, the legislative and executive arms, which resulted in the enactment of the much improved Electoral Act.
Thirdly, the new law would enhance democratic efficacy, especially the provisions in sections 3, 9(2), 34,41,47,(84(9)(10) and(11), respectively.
Furthermore, being reformative in content and progressive in objectives, the Act will no doubt enhance a credible electoral process if religiously followed.
However, we are worried by two contentious issues imported into the Act
First, is Clause 84 (12), which bars political office holders at all levels from voting or being voted for in any political party convention or primary in Nigeria.
According to the section, “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.
“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.”
Clearly, this section contravenes the constitutional rights of political office holders to vote, or be voted for at political party conventions and congresses.
As rightly observed by President Buhari before signing the bill into law, the qualification and disqualification criteria introduced by the new act contradicts the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended) by way of importing blanket restriction and disqualification to serving political office holders of which they are constitutionally accorded protection under Section 40 and 42 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
It is imperative to note that the only constitutional expectation placed on serving political office holders that qualify, by extension, as public officers within the context of the constitution is resignation, withdrawal or retirement at least 30 days before the date of the election.
Therefore, it will be stretching things beyond the constitutional limit to import extraneous restrictions into the constitution on account of practical application of Section 84(12) of the bill where political parties’ conventions and congresses were to hold earlier than 30 days to the election.
No doubt, the likely victims of this contentious provision are serving ministers, commissioners, special advisers and other political office holders seeking to be president, governor or members of the National and State Houses of Assembly.
Until the section is removed such political appointees cannot participate in party primaries, whether as delegates or candidates.
Although the president last week submitted a letter to the Senate president, Ahmad Lawan, requesting for amendment of this section, it remains unlikely that the amendment would be made before the commencement of All Progressives Congress’ (APC) convention on March 26 and political parties primaries starting next month.
Worse still, such affected political office holders are barred from going to court to either stop the conduct of primaries or any election, by the same Act
Specifically, Clause 84(10-13) limits courts from stopping party primaries or elections from holding. It states, “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.”
Another contentious issue is the financial burden it imposes on both politicians and the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC).
It is incontestable that the provision for direct primaries by the existing 18 political parties would impose too much financial burdens on the parties. The difference between this and the general election is minimal because general elections offer all Nigerians the opportunity to exercise their civic responsibilities.
All the same, we commend the collaborative effort by all stakeholders made up of civil society organisations, labour, the media, the INEC, political parties, the legislative and executive arms, which resulted in the enactment of the much improved Electoral Act. This is what happens when all stakeholders work together in the best interest of the country.
It is our expectation that with the signing into law of the new Electoral Act, the electorate will witness an improvement in the country’s electoral process as Nigeria’s democracy stands to gain a lot from the new law.