#One Year To 2023 Polls: INEC Waits, Tension Mount’s Over Unsigned Electoral Bill.

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With barely one year to the 2023 general elections, Nigerians have continued to express worry over the continued delay in the signing of the Electoral Act 2010 Amendment Bill 2021.

More than any other thing, the delay has kept the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) waiting and guessing on how best to plan ahead of the 2023 general elections.

President Muhammadu Buhari had in December last year, refused assent to the 2010 Electoral Act (Amendment ) Bill 2021 passed by both Chambers of the National Assembly on account of mandatory provision of direct primaries for political parties in choice of candidates for general election as contained in section 87(2) of the rejected bill .

In the letter of refusal of assent dated December 13, 2021, the president said the provision was undemocratic and also a serious infraction on Constitution of the various political parties which offers various  options of direct, indirect and consensus arrangement for such elections.

Reacting to the delay in a joint position Monday, the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) said the Bill reflects the wishes of Nigerians and key electoral stakeholders for a legal framework that promotes the use of technology and other innovations to stem electoral manipulation, strengthen INEC’s financial independence, and empowers the Commission to reject falsified election results.

Besides, they said further delay to conclude work on amendment process is also inimical to the preparations for Ekiti and Osun off-cycle governorship elections and the 2023 general elections.

They spoke at a joint press conference Monday in Abuja on the need for the National Assembly to act on the Bill with dispatch upon resumption from recess.

The CSOs comprised Yiaga Africa, International Press Centre (IPC), Centre for Citizens with Disability (CCD), Albino Foundation, CLEEN Foundation, Institute for Media and Society (IMS), Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF) and Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ).

Other CSOs in attendance include the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC), Nigeria Network of Non-Governmental Organizations (NNNGO) and Inclusive Friends Association (IFA).

Speaking at the event, Board member, Yiaga Africa, Ezenwa Nwangwu, said a new legal framework is central to the integrity of 2023 General elections, future elections and the advancement of Nigeria’s democracy.

Nwangwu emphasized the imperative of a speedy enactment of the Bill to strengthen the Electoral legal framework.

He said: “This is required to facilitate early preparations for the 2023 general elections and to eschew legal uncertainties that make the electoral process susceptible to manipulation.”

The activist said “the opportunity to test the operability of the new legislation and functionality of the new innovations will be lost if the amendment process is not concluded expeditiously.”

“Today, with only 398 days to the 2023 general election, it is crucial for the National Assembly and President to conclude the electoral amendment process by 31 January 2022.

“The National Assembly should remove the contentious clause of direct primaries, resolve all the identified drafting errors and cross-referencing gaps and re-transmit the bill to the President for assent within a week of resumption,” he said.

Also, Executive Director International Press Centre (IPC) Lanre Arogundade said as the nation awaits the resumption of the National Assembly Tuesday 18 January 2022, Nigerians expect that work on the Electoral Amendment Bill would be the priority issue on the order paper.

“The leadership of the National Assembly should therefore conclude this process as any further delay will undermine public confidence in the reform process.

“The Senate and House of Representatives should upon resumption on Tuesday, 18 January, 2022, take legislative action at its first sitting to conclude the process and re-transmit the Bill to President Buhari by Friday, January 21, 2022.

The National Assembly should ensure proper scrutiny of the bill to resolve all drafting errors and cross-referencing gaps before re-transmitting the bill for Presidential Assent.

“Civil society groups, media, and development partners sustain the effort to safeguard the Electoral Bill from policy capture, manipulation, and subversion of the people’s will,” Arogundade further said.

SAN rules out fear  

While commenting on the development in an exclusive interview with Headlinenews, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Ahmed Raji, said there should be no cause for alarm over the Electoral Act Amendment Bill.

He said: “I am not nursing any fear. Well, if there is no amendment, then we can use the old law, I think there is no problem. Have we not been having bye elections before now? So what is the matter this time?

“I think they will resolve it. I also don’t think vetoing Mr President is the best thing to do.

“They said they want direct primary, so what?”

APC

In a reaction, the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) expressed support for the president on the issue, saying it expects same of its lawmakers in the National Assembly.

National Secretary APC Caretaker Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) Senator John James Akpanudoedehe stated this Monday in a chat with our correspondent.

He said: “By convention, I am not supposed to make comments about the Senate openly because I am a former Senator. You do not expect me to start castigating anyone when we have a channel of communication.

“Two, the party is expected to stand behind the President and we expect all our members, including lawmakers, to do that. That is what is meant by party supremacy.”

PDP govs

In a position at the end of their meeting in Port Harcourt, Rivers state, governors elected on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Monday charged the National Assembly to delete areas of complaints in Electoral Act Amendment Bill, noting that an early concluded electoral act is vital to credible elections.

As contained in a communiqué signed by 11 of the PDP governors, the meeting once again reviewed the state of the states and the state of the nation.

The communiqué reads: “The PDP Governors congratulated the entire PDP family for conducting a smooth and credible National Convention that led to the emergence of the highly acclaimed Dr. Iyorchia Ayu-led National Executive Committee and commended the new PDP NWC for hitting the ground running with respect to repositioning the PDP into a credible vehicle for rescuing and rebuilding Nigeria which has been battered by bad economy, insecurity, unemployment and other social ills  by the incompetent and inept APC Administration.

“The PDP Governors requested the National Assembly to quickly conclude deliberations on the Electoral Act Amendment Bill either by overriding Mr. President’s veto or deleting areas of complaints.

“The meeting advised that the option of sustaining Mr. President’s veto would lead to a quicker resolution and would deny Mr. President the opportunity to once again truncate a reformed Electoral jurisprudence for Nigeria. An early concluded Electoral Act is vital for credible elections.

“The meeting lamented the continued state of insecurity in the country, the persistent and ceaseless flow of Nigerians’ blood on a daily basis in many parts of Nigeria, the near collapse of the security situation in Nigeria. The strategy to confront terrorists, kidnappers, bandits and other criminals is still a major problem of the APC administration.”

NASS

But speaking ahead of Senate resumption of plenary Tuesday, Senate Leader Yahaya Abdullahi (APC Kebbi North) declared Monday that the rejected clause 87 of the Electoral Bill by President Buhari would be reviewed in line with opinions of constituents.

Fielding questions from journalists in his office on what would be the next line of action by the Senate on the contentious provision, the Senate Leader said aggregate opinions of constituents already gathered by each of the senator would determine the decision of the Senate.

“Senators have consulted with their constituents and the outcome of their discussions will be reflected during debate on the floor of the Senate,” he said.

The lawmaker said the Senate would also interact with the House of Representatives for common position on the clause.

“Since no single chamber can take decision on such an issue , as declared by the President of the Senate , Ahmad Lawan , last year , both chambers shall collaborate for harmonisation of position on the contentious clause.

“Whatever position that would be taken on the controversial electoral bill would be in line with the provision of the 1999 Constitution as amended”, he stressed.

When probed further, he said   he cannot predict what the final decision of lawmakers would  be on the electoral bill.

Aside Electoral Bill, the leader added that report on Constitution review exercise carried out separately by Ad-hoc Committees set up to that effect by both chambers, would  also be considered in meeting up with time for such legislation.

On security challenges facing the country, Senate Leader Yahaya   commended  Buhari for approving the declaration of bandits as terrorists, which according to him,  vindicated the Senate’ s resolution  to  that effect  November last year.

INEC

Meanwhile, the INEC has expressed its desire to have the new Electoral Act 2021 Amendment Bill signed into law at the earliest possible time.

However, the commission said, in event the Bill was not signed, it  would have to rely on the extant laws of the land- The Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) and the 1999 Constitution (as amended) to conduct the elections.

Chief Press Secretary to the INEC Chairman, Rotimi Oyekanmi, stated this Monday in a chat with our correspondent.

He expressed the hope that the area(s) of disagreement between the Presidency and the National Assembly on the Bill would be resolved quickly.

“It is the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) desire that the new Electoral Act Amendment Bill is signed into Law at the earliest possible time.

“This will give the commission enough time to plan for the 2023 General Election as well as other off cycle elections. It will also enable the commission to update its regulations and guidelines.

“There are many good things in the new Bill that would, without doubt, assist the commission to further improve the conduct of election and the electoral system.

“We do hope that the area(s) of disagreement between the Presidency and the National Assembly over the Bill will be resolved quickly.

“However, if eventually, the bill is not  signed, the implication is that the Commission would have to rely on the current laws-The Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) and the 1999 Constitution (as amended) to conduct the elections.”

In a similar reaction, Director Information and Voter Education INEC, Ayo Victor Aluko, said the commission would not speculate or pre-empt the National Assembly on this controversy.

He said: “We are waiting for the legislature the executive to finish their jobs so as to do our job. However, the commission will rely on existing relevant laws to do our job if eventually the Electoral Act Amendment bill was not signed into law. We cannot speculate or pre-empt the two arms of government.”

 

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