There is palpable fear amongst Nigerians that the February 18, 2023 general election may be characterised by the flaws that have become the recurring decimal in Nigeria’s polls since her return to civil rule in 1999.
This is because the new Electoral Act believed to have the antidote to electoral malpractices that threaten the country’s democracy is still held down at the National Assembly.
The 9th National Assembly had promised Nigerians that it would pass the Electoral Act Amendment Bill in the first quarter of 2021 when public hearing on the law was held in December 2020.
The first quarter has passed and Nigerians are now in the second quarter but the federal legislature is still foot-dragging while the clock ticks fast to the 2023 polls.
Nigerians have been clamouring for electronic voting and reduced cost of election which they believe would enhance the credibility of polls and encourage participation for a good number of people who have all along been discouraged by the high cost of election to offer themselves for service.
Sponsored in the House of Representatives by Aishatu Dukku (APC, Gombe), chairman of the Committee on Electoral Matters, the legislation seeks to repel the Electoral Act NO. 6, 2010 (As Amended 2015) and Enact The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Act 2020, to regulate the Conduct of Federal, State and Area Council Elections and for Matters Related.
The Bill intends to make provisions for the use of Card Readers and other technological devices in elections and Political Party Primaries, to provide a time line for the submission of list of candidates, criteria for substitution of candidates, limit of campaign expenses, and address the omission of names of candidates or logo of political parties.
Specifically, Section 52 (1)(b) of the Principal or the current Electoral Act is amended to provide that: “The Commission may adopt electronic voting or any other method of voting in any election it conducts as it may deem fit”.
Section 53 (2) and (3) under Over Voting is amended as: “Where the votes cast at an election in any polling unit exceed the number of accredited voters in that polling unit, the result of the election for that polling unit shall be declared null and void by the Commission and another election may be conducted at a date to be fixed by the Commission where the result at that polling unit may affect the overall result in the Constituency”.
Also, the proposed law states that: “The maximum election expenses to be incurred by a candidate at a presidential election shall not exceed N5,000,000,000.00. The maximum amount of election expenses to be incurred by a candidate in respect of governorship election shall not exceed N1,000,000,000.00.
“The maximum amount of election expenses to be incurred by a Candidate in respect of Senatorial and House of Representatives seat shall not exceed N100, 000,000.00 and N70,000,000.00 respectively. In the case of State Assembly election, the maximum amount of election expenses to be incurred by a candidate shall not exceed N30,000,000.00.
“In the case of a chairmanship election to an Area Council, the maximum amount of election expenses to be incurred by a candidate shall not exceed N30,000,000.00. In the case of Councillorship election to an area Council, the maximum amount of election expenses to be incurred by a candidate shall not exceed N5,000,000.00”.
The sponsor of the Bill, Dukku left no one in doubt as to the import of the Bill to the 2023 general election as she said in her lead debate before its second passage that the amendment has become necessary because of the flaws observed in Nigeria’s electoral system.
She said: “It is no longer news that our electoral experiences since 1999 show a strong correlation between an efficient and effective electoral legal framework and the conduct of free, fair and credible elections.
“In addition to this are concerns that the legal framework on certain issues should be well-settled ahead of the 2023 elections such as the use of technological devices like the Card Reader and electronic voting system, criteria for substitution of candidates, disclosure of source of funds contributed to political parties, replacement of lost or destroyed permanent voter’s card, penalty for the possession of fake voter’s card, dates for conducting primary election shall not be earlier than 150 days and not later than 120 days before the date of election, etc.
“The Bill therefore, seeks to address many loopholes in our electoral system by way of amending over 300 clauses (including new provisions) of the Electoral Act 2010”.
It therefore, implies that if the National Assembly fails to pass the new Electoral Act in time for the President to assent to, the 2023 general election may be in peril.
Manual voting, for instance, gives room for electoral frauds such as manipulation of results and snatching of ballot papers which the recent innovation of INEC RESULT VIEWING (IReV) that enabled Nigerians to view Polling Unit results real time as the voting ended in the 2020 Edo and Ondo Governorship elections proved that the malpractices could be tackled electronically.
Also, failure to pass the amendment to the Electoral Act is also threatening the plan by INEC to experiment electronic voting in the November Anambra off-season governorship election.
INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu who anticipated the quick passage of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill had expressed the determination of the Commission to deploy electronic balloting machines in future elections, beginning with the 2021 Anambra governorship election.
Consequently, the delay in the passage of this law has provoked the anger of concerned Nigerians, individually and collectively, who are afraid that the prospect of having a better poll in 2021 is uncertain.
Worried by the ugly situation, the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) and some civil society organisations (CSOs) last Tuesday besieged the entrance of National Assembly to protest the non-passage of the Act.
While expressing concern over the seeming lack of progress on the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, they said the development was worrisome “as Nigerians demand that their elected representatives respond to the urgent need for an electoral legal framework that genuinely strengthens the electoral processes and procedures, promotes inclusivity and addresses impunity”.
According to them, “The continued delay in concluding the process is reminiscent of the failed process in 2018 and attendant impact on the 2019 general election. Reforming the Electoral Legal Framework for Credible Elections is a top priority: NASS must pass the Electoral Act Amendment Bill now.
“In December 2020, the National Assembly held a Public hearing on the Electoral Act Amendment Bill which provided an opportunity for citizens and stakeholders to participate and make their input to the electoral reform process. The urgent need for reforming the Electoral Legal Framework is founded on the broad-based consensus by Nigerian citizens and electoral stakeholders on the need for a more credible and improved electoral process.”
A Political Science lecturer at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Christian Okeke said the Electoral Act Amendment currently before National Assembly is key to the success of the 2023 general election and it must be passed to allay the fears of Nigerians.
“There is growing fear already in many quarters about whether the 2023 general election is going to hold. And everyone understands why the apprehension mounts. That obviously has to do with the unimaginable level of insecurity in the country,” Okeke said.
According to him, “The electoral act and expediting action on its amendment is key. It is part of democratisation process. There is no doubt about that. It helps the course of legitimacy. Everyone knows that and expects the political class as represented by parliamentarians to do the needful”.
While Dukku, chairman of the House Committee on Electoral Matters, could not be reached to give clarification on the state of the Act at the time of this report, a member of the Committee who pleaded anonymity said the report of the public hearing is not ready as there are attempts to accommodate some suggestions made.
“You know many individuals, institutions and CSOs made a large quantum of presentations which we have to sieve through and embed in the proposed legislation. That requires a lot of time but we will soon lay the report for consideration,” the lawmaker said.
Clement Nwankwo, executive director of Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre and convener of Civil Society Situation Room (PLAC), while speaking on a Channels Television programme expressed concern that the National Assembly is dilly-dallying over the passage of the Electoral Bill.
“The Electoral Act that has not been passed is dragging back the INEC. The Commission has a lot of things to do, but without the Bill being passed into law, INEC cannot do anything,” he said.
He further said that the worsening insecurity in the country has affected demographics. Many registered voters have been displaced by attacks on their communities and they now live in internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps, and that the INEC must keep pace with such disruptions by way of tracing who is where.
Part of the things the Electoral Act is expected to do is to give the INEC the powers to deploy electronic means in capturing, collating and posting (transmitting) the result of elections.
If the bill is passed today, it would accelerate action at the INEC office. The Commission would earnestly begin to plan for the 2021 general election. It would begin to sensitise the political parties, most of which have slumbered away; then the parties will begin to prepare for nominations early 2022.
There must be a conscious preparations and planning for all these. They must not be done haphazardly; we must avoid rushing things.
It would also afford the INEC the opportunity of sensitising the voters and masses of Nigeria.
Recall that some recent elections have shown increasing cases of voter-apathy across the country.
Nigeria must avoid a repeat of the postponements that happened in 2011, 2015 and 2019 because the Electoral commission was not prepared enough.
Recall also that presidential election of 2011 was postponed from April 9 to April 16, 2011; that of 2015 moved from 14 and 28 February to 28 March and April 11, 2015. That of 2019 originally scheduled for February 16 and March 2, 2019 was shifted to February 23 and March 9, 2019.
These were attributed to lack of adequate preparations.
But some critics see the delay in passing the Electoral Act as deliberate.
Abdul-Azeez Olajide Adediran, initiator of the Lagos4Lagos movement and leader of Team Jandor, said: “As young people, we want the National Assembly to give us an Electoral Act that will enable us vote and see our votes count. But it is the same National Assembly where you have over 60 to 70 percent of them entering to that office via underage voting. Already, we know that underage voting is illegal; but they show it to us every time, all the time and nothing happens. So, you want them to pass an Act that outlaws it?”