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Electoral Act 2022, implication and developmental trend it brings to electoral process in Nigeria

Introduction

The electoral process is an ideal and integral part of the democratic process, whether in developed or developing nation. A malfunctioning electoral system inadvertently produces maladministration or bad governance. President Muhammadu Buhari signed into law the much awaited and somewhat controversial Electoral Act Amendment Bill on 25th February, 2022.This article would review the innovations and implication of the key provisions of the new Electoral Act and conclude on the developmental trend its implementation would bring to the electoral process in Nigeria.

Key provisions introduced in the new Act

Electoral Act 2022 introduced a lot of changes that will immensely impact on the electoral process in Nigeria. This innovation will go a long way in reducing manipulation of the election process or rigging of elections in Nigeria, according to experts. Key Changes shall be reviewed below.

Financial independence of INEC and early release of election funds to INEC

The Electoral Act 2022 has established the Independent National Electoral Commission Fund. The new Act has created room for INEC to have financial autonomy by receiving funds for the conduct of elections directly as opposed to getting funds subsequent to vetting by the Ministry of Finance. Section 3(3) of the electoral act 2022 provides that funds for general elections must be released at least one year before the election.

Early conduct of primaries and submission of candidates list

The New Act[1]stipulates that political parties shall hold a primary and submit the list of candidates not later than 180 days before the date appointed for a general election. The change in the timeframe to submit the names of party candidates from 60 days to 180 days makes it mandatory for parties to conduct primaries early enough.

Aspirants have power to institute action for false information

Section 29(5) of the Electoral Act 2022 provides that only aspirants who took part in a primary election can challenge candidates who submits false information to INEC. Unlike the repealed Act where any member of the public can challenge a candidate with false information, the new Act has restricted that to those who participated in primaries wherein the candidate with false information emerged.

Legal backing of electronic voting and transmission of result

Section 47 and 50(2) Electoral Act 2022 gives legal backing for the use of smart card readers, electronic accreditation of voters and any other voter accreditation technology that INEC deploys. Where the card ready deployed by INEC fails to function and a fresh card reader or technological or technological device is not deployed the election shall be cancelled and another election scheduled within 24 hours.

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Timeframe for publication of election notice extended

Nigeria’s electoral commission has been given more time to publish the date of the election and the place at which nomination papers are to be delivered. The Electoral Act 2022 in Section 28 and 30 stipulates that the Commission shall not later than 360 days before the day appointed for holding of an election under this Act, publish a notice in each State of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory.

Political appointee not eligible as a voting delegate or aspirant

Section 84 of the Electoral Act 2022 makes provision for the nomination of Candidates by political parties. One of its provision is the exclusion of Political Appointee from acting as a Voting Delegate. Subsection 12 provides that no political appointee at any level shall be a voting delegate or be voted for at the convention or congress of any political party.

Virtually impaired, special need and vulnerable voters

People living with disability are recognised and given a sense of belonging in exercising their inalienable right notwithstanding their physical disability. The Commission shall take reasonable steps to answer to ensure that persons with disabilities, special needs and vulnerable persons are assisted at the polling place by the provision of suitable means of communication, such as braille, large embossed print, electronic devices, sign language interpretation, or off-site voting in appropriate cases.

Provision for Central Electronic Voters Database

The Electoral Commission will keep the Register of Voters at its National Headquarters and other locations. Section 9(2) of the new Act provides that the Register shall be kept in electronic format in addition to being kept in manual, printed, paper-based or hardcopy format. This provision is laudable as it will promote transparency and effectiveness in the Commission’s record-keeping.

Redefinition of overvoting

Section 51(2) of Electoral Act 2022 provides that where the number of votes cast at an election in any polling unit exceeds the number of accredited voters, the Presiding officer shall cancel the result of the election in that polling unit. This is an improvement on the repealed electoral law which provided that the number of registered voters, as opposed to accredited voters, shall be the factor in determining over-voting at election tribunals and only the commission can declare the election at the polling unit as null and void.

The Commission’s power of review of involuntarily declared result

Under the Electoral Act 2022[2], INEC now has the power to review within Seven(7) days 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.

Early commencement and longer period of campaign

Section 94 of the Electoral Act 2022 provides that the period of campaigning in public by every political party shall commence 150 days before polling day and end 24 hours prior to that day. This affords political parties and their candidates ample time to market their party and candidates to the populace.

Death of candidate before or during election

The new Act has put the controversy usually generated by the death of a Candidate before or during election to rest, as the death of a candidate in elections had generated lots of conflicts among political parties and political actors in the. The new Act provides that where before the commencement of polls a candidate dies, the election shall be postponed and shall appoint some other convenient date. Section 34 of the new Act in its proviso states that in case of presidential or gubernatorial or federal capital territory area council election, the running mate shall continue with the election and nominate a new running mate. If after the commencement of polls and before announcement of final winner/ announcement of final result and declaration of a winner, a candidate dies, the election will be suspended for not more than 21 days.

The implication and developmental trend of Electoral Act 2022 brings

Lawmaking is one of the developmental process of any state. When new laws are made, it brings or introduces new regulation of conduct and this is applicable to the new Act which has the tendency if properly applied or implemented to revolutionise our electoral system. One of the major development that the new Act brought is that it has queued into the digital or computer age by creating an electronic database and also electronic transmission of result. This will reduce rigging or manipulation of election process and ensures eligible voters are not disenfranchised based on disability amongst many others innovations.

Conclusion

The Electoral Act 2022 is a laudable effort to keep the Nigerian electoral process up to standard practice with that of other democratic countries all over the world, especially as we approach the 2023 general elections. If well applied or implemented, it will go a long way in bringing sanity and transparency to Nigeria’s electioneering process.

.Gabriel is Associate II, Olisa Agbakoba Legal

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