The Nation (Nigeria)

A dubious law

Fears over smuggling of extraneous provisions into the Electoral Act bill

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CERTAIN controvers­ial provisions are alleged to have crept into the final draft of the Electoral Act Bill 2021, and the National Assembly has not been able to make a categorica­l rebuttal some two weeks on. With the bill about to be passed by both chambers of the assembly, the Senate only advised Nigerians to engage with lawmakers representi­ng them over clauses they aren’t comfortabl­e with, while the House of Representa­tives declined to entertain complaints ahead of its committee working on the bill submitting a formal report.

The controvers­ial clauses reported in the alleged final draft of the Senate’s version of the document are widely at variance with the consensus of stakeholde­rs at consultati­ons held by the lawmakers to source public input to the legislatio­n. These include Section 50(2) of the draft, which permits electronic voting at elections but purportedl­y prohibits the Independen­t National Electoral Commission (INEC) from electronic­ally transmitti­ng the results, and Section 65 of the draft by which INEC is declined the power to review election results in cases where a returning officer makes a declaratio­n contrary to electoral laws and guidelines or under duress. There is also Section 88 of the draft by which campaign spending limits are drasticall­y jerked up: from N1billion to N15billion for presidenti­al candidates, N200millio­n to N5billion for governorsh­ip, N40million to N1.5billion for Senate, N30million to N500millio­n for House of Reps, and from N10million to N50million for state houses of assembly.

The alleged clauses, if allowed, would hamstrung INEC in its conduct of elections while the new campaign spending ceilings would restrict access to power to only deep pockets with marginalis­ed groups like women, youths and persons with disabiliti­es finding it more difficult to run for office. Since news emerged about these alleged provisions, stakeholde­rs such as political parties, civil society and opinion leaders, including the Southern Governors Forum, have raised objections.

Neither chamber of the NASS has, however, categorica­lly ruled out the existence of the clauses. In the Senate, some members of the Kabiru Gaya-led Committee on INEC were reportedly discomfitu­red over how those provisions made it into the draft bill and they called for a review before its final submission and passage. Apparently alluding to the controvers­y last week, Senate President Ahmad Lawan said: The NASS is embarking on the amendment of the Electoral Act probably by next week or within the next two weeks. It is very important that those who feel very strongly about any amendment that they think should be effected contact or talk to their members of House of Representa­tives as well as distin(amendment) guished Senators. Speaking at the inaugurati­on of the chief commission­er and members of the Public Complaints Commission (PCC) in Abuja, he added:

I want to make categorica­lly clear here that presiding officers are not the ones to determine what is coming or what is not. For his part, House of Representa­tives Speaker Femi Gbajabiami­la would not accord cognisance to the controvers­y because the House Committee on Electoral Matters had not submitted its report. Reacting at plenary last week to an observatio­n by Ugouna Ozurigbo representi­ng (APC-IMO) that electronic transmissi­on had reportedly been changed to manual transmissi­on in the draft bill, the Speaker dismissed the speculatio­n as unfounded, saying when he enquired from committee chair Aisha Duku (Apc-gombe), he was assured there’s been no alteration as speculated. Besides, he really didn’t

want to speak on a report that has not yet been submitted to the House.

Before the committee reports are tabled in respective chambers of NASS, it is important to warn that the alleged clauses would not be acceptable should they be found in the official drafts. The alleged Section 50(2), for instance, could upend advances already made by INEC that piloted electronic transmissi­on of results in recent elections, notably the September 2020 Edo State governorsh­ip poll, to the admiration of many. Also, the palpable desire in the citizenry is for more inclusiven­ess of the political process, which the purported new campaign spending ceilings fly against. To be relevant, emergent laws must reflect the general aspiration of a people and not contradict those aspiration­s.

‘Before the committee reports are tabled in respective chamber of NASS, it is important to warn that the alleged clauses would not be acceptable should they be found in the official drafts’

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