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Issues as House of Reps begins fresh amendment of Electoral Act

Since its previous amendment in 2022, many observers had pointed out the loopholes contained in the Electoral Act prior to the 2023 general elections. They…

Since its previous amendment in 2022, many observers had pointed out the loopholes contained in the Electoral Act prior to the 2023 general elections.

They emphasized that the elections and their aftermaths echoed the need to amend some of its sections to weed out major bottlenecks observed as well as major flaws that gave rise to the major court verdicts; many of which were seen as controversial or a travesty of justice.

Civil Society Organisations and several other stakeholders in the electoral process had therefore, immediately after the 2023 General Elections, began advocacy to make major amendments in the Electoral Act to further promote democratic reforms in the country.

“We want to deepen the electoral reform in this country. You can see that by last year (2022), we were all happy that we have one of the best Electoral Acts but after the Supreme Court ruling, we found that there are many loopholes, so we need to address those challenges that we observed since the 2023 General Elections,” Y. Z. Ya’u, the Convener of Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, said in an earlier interview.

Acting on these concerns and demands, it was therefore not surprising when a bill to kickstart the amendment process scaled the second reading in the House of Representatives last week.

The bill sponsored by Francis Ejirogene Waive was titled, “A Bill for an Act to Amend the Electoral Act, 2022 and for Related Matters (HB. 37)”.

In its explanatory memorandum, the Bill “Seeks to amend selected sections of the Electoral Act, CAP E6, LFN, 2004 to provide for the pre-registration of voters, same day elections, electronic transmission of results as well as punishment for frivolous election petitions”.

Some sections proposed for amendments were; the Principal Act; Sections 10;28 (1);47; 60(5) and Section 130(2) of the Principal Act.

While presenting the bill at the plenary, Waive echoed the sentiments of many stakeholders in the electoral sector that there were numerous flaws and gaps in the Electoral Act 2022, adding that amending the law would give a lot of strength to the electoral process as well as the country’s democracy.

Prominent among the clauses of the amendment was the provision for allowing electronic transmission of results as election results are being announced.

It could be recalled that in Section 60(5) of the Electoral Act, INEC was given discretionary prerogative on the mode of transmission of results.

It reads: “The presiding officer shall transfer the results, including the total number of accredited voters and the results of the ballot in a manner as prescribed by the Commission.”

But many observers have suggested that this leeway given to the INEC on mode of transmission was an avenue that provides a leverage for politicians to rubbish the process and have their ways, which brings many litigations challenging elections results, especially the Presidential election.

The issue became controversial during the 2023 elections when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) who gave the assurance of transmitting the results on its IREV portal, especially as it relates to the presidential election, reneged on its assurance.

It could be recalled that after opposition political parties’ candidates challenged INEC on its failure to transmit results during the presidential elections and called for its cancellation, the Supreme Court later ruled that the non-transmission of polling unit results in real-time did not affect the outcome of the election.

This interpretation of the powers of the electoral commission had therefore increased the agitations for the amendment of its enabling Act; hence, the proposed bill to amend section 60(5) of the Act to make electronic transmission of elections results mandatory.

The proposed amendment reads, “The presiding officer shall transfer and or transmit the results including total number of accredited voters and the results of the ballot electronically.”

In his argument for the amendment of the Section, the sponsor of the bill said, “In the 2022 Act, the issue of electronic transmission of results was not definite. I think we should not make laws that would be vague.”

Conduct of all elections on same day

Another major amendment sought to be introduced into Electoral Act is the amendment of section 28 to allow all elections to be conducted on the same day.

The proposed amendment reads, “Subject to paragraph (a) of this section, and without prejudice to other sections of this act, election into the office of the President, National Assembly, State Governors and State Houses of Assembly shall be conducted on the same day.”

The bill further seeks to amend Section 47 of the Act that will make accreditation mandatory so that only voters duly accredited can vote.

It stated, “Where the process of accreditation specified in sub-section (2) above fails, such a voter is automatically disqualified from voting, that is to say, no accreditation, no voting.”

Furthermore, the bill proposed an amendment that will ensure a periodic update of voters register after every 10 years in order to clean the register, to weed out dead persons and to include people who have come of age and became eligible voters within the period.

It reads, “without prejudice to the provisions of this section and subject subsection (2), every 10 years the Commission shall carry out a re-registration exercise of all eligible voters in preparation for the next general elections.”

Punishment for frivolous electoral petitions

INEC had while appraising its own performance in the 2023 General Elections said the dismissal of 74.4 percent (891 out of 1,196) of the petitions brought against the election confirmed the credibility of the elections it conducted.

But observers noted that even with this, the total number of petitions filed against the election showed that the election was over-litigated with many of such petitions turning out to be frivolous and a waste of time and resources.

Thus, the proposed amendment to Section 130(2) of the Act seeks to penalize persons that bring frivolous petitions to election petitions Tribunals.

The section was to be amended to provide a new subsection (2) and the old sub-section (2) in the Act becomes sub-section 3.

It stated, “(2) notwithstanding the provisions of sub-section (1) above, any person who presents a frivolous petition to the tribunal shall be liable to pay a huge fine to the Respondent, if the court so determines the petition to be frivolous and a waste of time.”

CSOs speak

Speaking on the development, spokesman of Yiaga Africa, Mark Amaza, said that the development was an excellent move in the efforts to amend the Electoral Act now.

“Yiaga Africa has always been of the belief that reform has to be an ongoing activity and the earlier, the better. It’s also important that citizens are involved in this amendment process and in every step of the way so that they can also propose amendments to Nigeria’s electoral legal framework for the purposes of improving our elections.

“This is what we started doing last November with our Citizens Town Hall on Electoral Reforms which saw numerous ideas being presented by various citizen groups and civil society organisations,” Amaza said.

Also, Tunde Salman, the Team Lead/Convener Good Governance Team (GGT) Nigeria, agreed with those who cautioned against hyping the need for electoral reform without first undertaking thorough audit of the 2023 general elections and other past electoral reforms the nation has had previously.

“Hence, before we start dissipating energies on the House of Representatives proposed amendment of the Electoral Act, it is imperative to carry out a stocktaking of the 2023 general elections in its entirety. Normally, multi-stakeholders’ stocktaking and post-election auditing of the electoral processes should be an integral part of an election cycle.

“This was the practice in the abortive third republic when the then electoral management body assembled a multi-disciplinary academia largely drawn from the social sciences to undertake pre and post-elections empirical studies on its behalf, which the late Directorate General of INEC Electoral Institute (Professor Abubakar Momoh) attempted to resuscitate convening an international conference on the conduct of 2015 General Elections,” Salman said.

He said that whatever mischiefs the proposed amendments seek to address may be defeated if an honest stocktaking and or auditing is sidestepped.

He said, “Nonetheless, looking at the proposals from their face values, how is continuous voters’ registration different from the proposed pre-registration of voters? With data interoperability, I think INEC and other identities databases such as National Identity Management Commission (National Identity Numbers) and National Population Commission’s census vital demographics data alongside existing voters registered can give credible voters’ register.

“While there may be merits in both same-day elections and electronic transmission of results, the logistics and impacts of conducting all the elections on same day should be thoroughly examined, given the low level of political education in spite of voter sensitization over the decades.

“Digital democracy is the future but a gradual incremental approach would be pragmatic as experience of many maturing democracies indicated.”

 

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