• Wednesday, July 17, 2024
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New law shifts pressure on INEC

New law shifts pressure on INEC

Almost seven years after assuming office, President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday, February 25, 2022, signed the amended 2010 Electoral Act into law. The first time he would do so. The Bill was forwarded for assent by the Clerk of the National Assembly via a letter dated January 31, 2022.

The former law was signed into law by former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2010.

However, Nigerians have commended the president for taking a decisive action to sign the bill expected to ensure a credible electoral process in the coming Osun and Ekiti gubernatorial elections as well as the 2023 general election.

But the development may have shifted the pressure to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as Nigerians expect the electoral umpire to hit the ground running with preparations toward the elections.

The president had four times in the past rejected assent to the bill, a development that generated speculations. The first time was as a result of the re-ordering of election sequence. The president also declined to sign the bill on the account of drafting errors.

The president rejected the bill for the third time due to what his aides described as “some drafting issues” that were not addressed. And in December 2021 he declined to assent to the Electoral (Amendment) Bill for the 4th time

Interesting, Friday’s presidential assent came few days after a coalition of civil society groups protested in Abuja over the delay in signing the bill into law.

The substance of the Bill is both reformative and progressive as it comes with a great deal of improvement from the previous Electoral Bills.

As Buhari noted while signing the bill, “There are salient and praiseworthy provisions that could positively revolutionise elections in Nigeria through the introduction of new technological innovations. These innovations would guarantee the constitutional rights of citizens to vote and to do so effectively.”

The Bill is also expected to improve and engender clarity, effectiveness and transparency of the election process, as well as reduce to the barest minimum incidences of acrimony arising from dissatisfied candidates and political parties.

For instance, sections 3, 9(2), 34, 41, 47, 84(9), (10) and (11) among others, are noteworthy which will help to enhance the democratic efficacy of the Bill.

“These commendable efforts are in line with our policy to bequeath posterity and landmark legal framework that paves the way for credible and sound electoral process that we would all be proud of”, said the president.

Among the key provisions of the new electoral act are the following: Clause 50 gives INEC the legal backing for electronic transmission of election results.

Clause 94 allows for early commencement of the campaign season. By this provision, the campaign season will now start 150 days to the Election Day and end 24 hours before the election.

Clause 29(1) stipulates that parties must conduct primaries and submit their list of candidates at least 180 days before the general elections.

Clause 65 states that INEC can review results declared under duress.

Clause 3(3) states that funds for general elections must be released at least one year before the election.

Clause 51 says that the total number of accredited voters will become a factor in determining over-voting at election tribunals.

Clause 54(2) makes provisions for people with disabilities and special needs.

Clause 47 gives legislative backing for smart card readers and any other voter accreditation technology that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) deploys.

Clause 34 gives political parties power to conduct a primary election to replace a candidate who died during an election.

Clause 84 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.

The act also provides for consensus candidate with a proviso that for that to take place, all the aspirants in any given election must give written consent to the decision of the party

However, Clause 84 appears to be the most controversial. Even President Buhari stated so in his remarks before signing the law.

The Clause states 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 for the purpose of the nomination of candidates for any election.”

According to him, section 84(12), constitutes fundamental defect, as it is in conflict with extant constitutional provisions

“Section 84 (12) constitutes a disenfranchisement of serving political office holders from voting or being voted for at Conventions or Congresses of any political party, for the purpose of the nomination of candidates for any election in cases where it holds earlier than 30 days to the National Election.

“The provision has introduced qualification and disqualification criteria that ultra vires the Constitution by way of importing blanket restriction and disqualification to serving political office holders of which they are constitutionally accorded protection,” he said.

According to him, “The practical application of section 84(12) of the Electoral Bill, 2022 will, if assented to, by operation of law, subject serving political office holders to inhibitions and restrictions referred to 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

“Hence, it will be stretching things beyond the constitutional limit to import extraneous restriction 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.

“Arising from the foregoing, with particular regards to the benefits of the Bill, industry, time, resources and energy committed in its passage, I hereby assent to the Bill and request the Nationally Assembly to consider immediate amendments that will bring the Bill in tune with constitutionality by way of deleting section 84(12) accordingly,” Buhari concluded.

Another criticism of the new law is the financial burden it imposes on both politicians and the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC).

For example, the provision for direct primaries by the existing 18 political parties is seen by observers as imposing too much financial burdens on the parties. The difference between this and the general election is small because it allows for all Nigerians to come about and say their opinions.

Read also: Electoral Bill: Buhari meets Lawan, Gbajabiamila, Yakubu, swears in new INEC commissioners

This means that we would need to repeat the general elections 18 times. Today, INEC requires N305 billion for the 2023 general elections. Now if the general election, which is not the newly proposed electoral system, will cost this much, how much will it cost to do the same election in each of the two leading political parties the APC and PDP? It might cost a conservative N200 billion because it will involve everyone.

Although the good side of the law is that INEC is required to monitor it. Therefore, if it is assumed that every political party will spend N200 billion, how much will then be spent in conducting the same primary election in 18 political parties just to produce a qualified candidate?

Let’s assume there are about 60 million politicians in the country, what about the remaining over 160 million Nigerians who have nothing to do with politics? Are we fair to them?

All the people want are good projects, good roads portable drinking water, good education, school feeding programme and the rest of them.

Are we fair to the 160 million Nigerians using their wealth just to conduct primary elections to produce a party candidate, despite other demands by the public?

As rightly observed by Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) to spend a whopping N305 billion by INEC and the about N200 billion to be given to the political parties is not fair to the remaining 160 million Nigerians who have no business with politics and political appointments. Their business is just a better life in Nigeria.