The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and Yiaga Africa on Friday said that the National Assembly was yet to consider some major proposals in the ongoing Electoral Amendment Bill.
The organizations stated this at a Stakeholders’ Reflection Roundtable on Electoral Reforms, organised by Yiaga Africa in collaboration with the European Union Support to Democratic Governance in Nigeria Project (EU-SDGN) in Abuja.
INEC’s National Commissioner, Festus Okoye, represented by Oluwatoyin Babalola, Deputy Director, Legal Drafting and Clearance, INEC, said that the commission recognised some gaps in the electoral amendment bill although they were some progressive improvement.
Okoye said that based on this, the commission proposed about 98 amendments to the Electoral Act but not all were considered, although some progress was made like the early disbursement of funds, an early timeline for voter registration, among others, were yet to be considered.
“The bill empowered us to use smart card readers and other technological devices and electronic voting except for the fact that the bill by the Senate is not giving us right to transmit election results.
“In spite of all these, there are some areas that were not considered and we believe that if considered, will improve the integrity of the election.
“In Section 68 of the Electoral Act, the commission sought consideration of a proposal to review declaration and return by returning officers which are not made according to the provision of the law, like declaration made under duress to review it but this was not taken into consideration.
“Secondly, we requested that we should have a variant of section 143 of the electoral Act which allows whoever is the beneficiary of an election that was nullified to remain in office until the determination of appeal so that we don’t keep giving certificates of return and return.
“The commission also sees the transmission of election result as a very key issue, technology is developing, if the election result is transmitted, it will improve the integrity of the election and reduce interference but these were not considered.’’
Director of Programmes, Yiaga Africa, Cynthia Mbamalu, commended the bill for some progressive improvement made in certain areas like the gender-inclusive pronoun of he or she, early release of funds to ensure INEC’s operational efficiency, flexible format for registering voters, the inclusion of persons with disability among others.
Mbamalu, therefore, called on the leadership of the two Chambers to quickly constitute conference committees for harmonisation of the Electoral Amendment bill as separately passed.
Mbamalu said that in doing this, the legislators are encouraged to reconsider their positions on certain suggestions made by citizens and stakeholders, some of which were overlooked, politicised or became contentious.
She said that importantly, the Conference committee should also make decisions in line with citizens’ demands in adopting amendments where both chambers adopted different versions toward transparent and credible elections.
“Some of these include: the committee should adopt the Senate version of Clause 43 that recognises “voting devices” alongside election materials.
“They should also adopt the Senate version of Clause 49 that recognises “other technological devices” alongside Smart Card Readers for voter accreditation.
“The House of Representatives Version of Clause 52 that gives INEC the power to determine the procedure for voting and transmission of elections results should be adopted because the Senate proposal is problematic and unconstitutional.
“The conference should adopt the Senate Version of Clauses 63 and 76 which increases the penalty for sanctioning a presiding officer who contravenes the Electoral Act with respect to counting, accounting for votes and announcement of results.
“It should also adopt the Senate version of clause 87 which gives political parties the option to adopt either direct or indirect primaries; the focus should be on strict adherence to the guidelines for each mode of party primary adopted,’’ she said.
Mbamalu however called for the need to allow INEC to exercise its power on electronic voting rather than being subjected to NCC’s approval by the Senate in sub-clause 4 which requires the Commission to seek the approvals of both the NCC and the National Assembly before deploying electronic means to transmit results.
She called on the executive to as a matter of urgency to assent to the bill as soon as it was transmitted by the legislature to avoid the mistake made during the 8th assembly when it was not assented to.
She said that this would help the nation to deploy it and test run it in off-cycle elections before the 2023 general election and it would also help towards identifying grey areas that might require further legislative actions.
Dr Ajibola Basiru, Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, commended Yiaga Africa for the initiative, adding that the only way to sustain democratic governance was to ensure that there was integrity and general acceptability in terms of the democratic process that brought people into leadership.
“It is relieving that we are talking about stakeholders’ reflection because it is a matter of sadness for me because some of the key issues that we need to work up to be able to further advance electoral reforms have been glossed over by the unnecessary controversy.
“This is of just a clause in the electoral Act which is section 52 subsection 3, so I think this is a good effort to really focus on what has been achieved so far in electoral reforms and what can be achieved.’’
Basiru, however, advised that the draft of the amendment bill should be carefully read to understand some of the clauses being disputed so as to avoid misunderstanding them.
Dr Aisha Adbullahi, Board Member, Yiaga Africa, said that the objective of the stakeholders’ reflection meeting was to bring stakeholders together to examine the extent to which the electoral Amendment bill as passed by both chambers met the desires of citizens.
Abdullahi also said that the objective of the meeting was to outline major features of the bill and interrogate the main concerns and its implication for future elections, adding that it was to also sensitise the public on prospects of revisiting the contentious provisions while exploring future engagement with the National Assembly. (NAN)