Electoral act amendment: Doubts over better elections
In this piece, JOHN ALECHENU takes a look at the controversy over the ongoing amendment to the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) and concerns being expressed about the 2023 general elections
elections, which are considered one of the most crucial parts of democracy, are a serious business. In functional democracies, the electoral process culminates in the election of men and women who occupy public office to make decisions on behalf of fellow citizens.
For most countries, the electoral process and elections provide a sneak peek into how democracy is practised.
Over the years, Nigerians have suffered the misfortune of putting up with a flawed electoral process which sadly appears to enjoy legal backing.
This, according to the Head of secretariat of the National Consultative Forum, Olawale Okunniyi, has led to a substantial erosion of the confidence of Nigerians in the electoral process.
He said, “since the military criminally annulled the June 12, 1993 elections, Nigerians have had difficulty in believing in the system.
“The trust deficit can be seen in the number of people who come out to vote in each election. This is due largely to the perception that the outcome is predetermined as such voting on election Day is a worthless ritual.”
This perception heightened with the 2007 general elections when the greatest beneficiary of the electoral heist, the late President Umaru yar’adua, admitted that the process which brought him to power was flawed.
He promised reforms and matched his words with action by empanelling the Justice Mohammed Uwais Committee on electoral Reforms.
The committee, made up of eminent Nigerians from the academia, judiciary, civil society, security agencies, and the executive, received memoranda, sat and considered the same and made recommendations which were considered sweeping but necessary.
Most Nigerians yearn for a transparent process which will make their votes count.
The executive Director of the Civil societies legislative and advocacy Centre, auwal Musa, recalled, “The panel recommended a number of constitutional amendments to insulate the election management body, the Independent National electoral Commission, from political interference, especially from the executive.
“It also recommended that the power to appoint the INEC board should be taken from the President and given to the National Judicial Council, while its funding should be included among items to be included on the list of items on first line charge.”
some of these changes were responsible for the success recorded during the 2011 elections, which both local and international observers considered a marked departure from the electoral heist of 2007.
However, the clamour for greater reforms has not abated since loopholes in the electoral act have consistently been exploited by politicians and their collaborators in the temple of justice.
several issues such as the compulsory use of card readers, the duration of the period allowed for the submission of name/substitution of candidates by political parties, the ceiling for campaign expenses, omission of name and logo of political parties, gender inclusion and the prosecution of electoral offenders among others have attracted the interest of stakeholders in the political space.
It was in response to these agitations that the 9th National assembly, under the leadership of senator ahmed lawan, promised to give legal backing to recommendations which would improve transparency, thus restoring public confidence in the process.
after separate meetings, members of the committee in both chambers agreed to form a joint committee to speed up the legislative process.
The Chairman of the senate Committee on INEC, Kabiru gaya, and his counterpart in the House, aishatu Dukku, and their colleagues swiftly set to work.
several meetings were held with stakeholders from the executive, civil society groups and security agencies among others.
a technical committee made up of all major stakeholders was set up to look into the finer details of the report before submission.
everything went well until disputed copies of the technical committee’s report suggesting that 20 alterations were smuggled into it became public.
The campaign and the intense scrutiny which this action brought upon the activities of the committee prompted some to step back and go for greater consultations.
On her part, the House Committee Chairman on electoral Matters, Dukku, invited her colleagues to an emergency meeting which was held on Monday, 6 July, 2021 at the House of Reps New Building.
a member, who was at the meeting but spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media on the matter, said, “It was a tense meeting at first. Angry members however became calm when the chairman denied knowledge of the insidious alterations.”
However, members who were privy to the alterations saw nothing wrong with them while insisting that they were prepared to do what was legally permissible to ensure that the alterations scaled through despite concerns being raised by other members.
The proposed amendment to section 50 (2) of the electoral act which reads – “Voting at an election under this bill shall be in accordance with the procedure determined by the commission, which may include electronic voting, provided that the Commission shall not transmit results of elections by electronic means” – is the most contentious.
Members of the opposition went up in arms against such a provision, arguing that it was a ploy by the ruling party to rig the 2023 elections.
The National Publicity secretary of the main opposition, Peoples Democratic Party, Kola Ologbodinyan, expressed the view that the desperation by the ruling all progressives Congress to hang on to power was responsible for the attempt to make laws that would hinder the smooth conduct of the elections.
He said, “as a political party, we in the PDP are not in the least surprised by the shameless and desperate attempt by the ruling APC to subvert the will of the people by tailoring our electoral laws to fit into their agenda to rig the vote in 2023.
“How can anyone who is interested in the success of future elections be opposed to the electronic transfer of results in this age and time?”
However, a former National Publicity secretary of the APC, yekini Nabena, berated the PDP for crying wolf where there was none.
He said, “The PDP is afraid of its shadows. It was under a PDP government that the worst election in history was conducted in 2007.
“Now, we have a National assembly led by patriotic Nigerians who want to make the process more transparent and they are complaining. Nigerians will vote for the APC come 2023. Has the proposed bill they are talking about been passed into law. What are they saying?”
Civil society groups mounted a sustained campaign to draw the attention to what they observed was an attempt by interested parties to frustrate an otherwise laudable legislation.
The member representing Ijumu/ Kabba-bunu Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, Teejay yusuf, expressed his disappointment in an interview with our correspondent.
He said as a politician, he felt proud when INEC used the edo governorship election in 2020 to test the waters with electronic transfer of results.
according to him, the seamless transfer of results from the polling unit to the control room in record time not only added credibility to the process, but also increased Nigeria’s rating among democratic nations.
yusuf said, “One cannot help but salute the courage and efforts of members of the House and senate committees on electoral Matters, and Technical Committee members who sacrificed a great deal, their time, energies and comfort to ensure that we meet the yearnings and aspirations of Nigerians.
“However, I was shocked when words went round alleging that about 20 clauses were surreptitiously inserted into the report by unknown persons.
“If this allegation turns out to be true, some persons are not only trying to rubbish the good work done by the Joint Committee on electoral Matters, in collaboration with INEC, civil society organisations and other major stakeholders, but may have taken illogical, unrealistic and unpopular steps to overheat the polity unnecessarily.
“I’ll like to use this medium to appeal to the conscience of all leaders in the executive and legislature, as well as those in key positions, to toe the path of honour, credibility and integrity to allow the electoral act to pass through the required legislative processes without any interference.”
yusuf appealed to stakeholders to work towards ensuring that the electoral process was cleaned up to ensure that elections, beginning from 2023, set the stage for greater transparency.
a former National Chairman of the defunct United Peoples Party, Chief Chekwas Okorie, on his part noted that the reforms required to make the electoral process transparent must include “public enlightenment and a deliberate policy to encourage greater participation and the use of technology.”
He said, “We cannot shy away from using technology to improve our system in a technological age. I also don’t see why smaller parties cannot be allowed to coexist with larger ones.
“In the United Kingdom, for example, we have the green Party, which has its focus on promoting environmental issues. It exists side by side with the Conservative, labour and other parties. Why can’t we have such in Nigeria?”