After a tortuous journey through the legislative mill with dizzying twists and turns, the Electoral Amendment Bill 2021 was eventually passed last week by the two chambers of the National Assembly. The bill is the ultimate outcome of several efforts at amending the Electoral Act 2010 and is expected to introduce far-reaching reforms in the country’s electoral system, to wit providing for credible, free and fair elections whose results will be easily acceptable by both winners and losers in any polls exercise.
Traditionally, the core challenges faced by electoral umpires in the country had ranged from man-made problems such as faulty voters registration exercises including fake voters identities, unreliable voters’ registers, ballot box snatching during electoral exercises, voters’ intimidation, ballot box stuffing and breaches of votes collation exercises. These ills and others not mentioned justified the need for an amendment to existing Electoral Acts, with the recent amendment being the fourth with an equal number of electoral acts. However, from the circumstances surrounding the eventual passage of the new bill and reactions from cross sections of the public, the bill may be suffering from a high dose of credibility deficit, courtesy of some of its clauses.
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The first sign that it may not enjoy widespread endorsement by critical sections of the Nigerian public was the prolonged misgivings in the chambers of the National Assembly, over a most critical clause 52(2), which vitiated the expectation that polls results will be transmitted mandatorily by electronic means. Against the expectation of well-meaning Nigerians, section 52(2) of the bill assigns the discretion of whether manual or electronic means will be deployed to transmit poll results, to the Nigeria Communication Commission and the National Assembly. Meanwhile, the trite argument had always been that the success factor to credible polls in Nigeria rested with the reduction or minimisation of human intervention in the transmission of results from the polling centres upwards. This clause, therefore, vitiates the entire logic of reforming the electoral act and therefore constitutes in the view of a wide cross section of Nigerians, a betrayal of public trust by the National Assembly.
Against the backdrop of winner takes all politics in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious Nigerian federation, the country’s dilemma had featured in the main, the challenge of providing a balance of interests among the constituent ethnic nationalities numbering in hundreds. The country is presently plagued by a complement of existential challenges with the matter of imbalance weighing heavily on political permutations and sundry considerations, leading to a rash of centrifugal tendencies tearing at its seams. It is in that context that expectation built up that the new bill will offer the prospects of taming some of these tendencies.
It is, therefore, in the context of promoting national interest, even if it is through availing the country a new deal of stabilising and improving the electoral culture that President Muhammadu Buhari needs to see himself standing on the threshold of history to write his name in gold, by declining assent to the new electoral bill, whenever it comes to him. To assent to the new electoral bill in its present state is to endorse a dispensation that has not only disappointed a wide cross section of patriotic Nigerians but also instituted a factor that will yield the country nothing but sustained discord among the peoples.
In exercising discretion over whether to assent to the bill or not, the president should be guided by the history of several instances where the National Assembly had its resolutions reversed as such failed to address the overriding public interest.
To put it succinctly, the new electoral amendment bill 2021, in its present state is a booby trap for the country and should be returned to the National Assembly for restructuring. Whatever is worth doing is worth doing well.