By OKUNADE ADEKUNLE
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has called on the National Assembly to expedite passage of the bill for the Establishment of the National Electoral Offences Commission (NEOC), saying that the country can no longer afford to foot drag on the importance of the legislation which would provide the framework for dealing with impunity and brigandage in elections.
The electoral body made this call through its Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, in his opening remarks at the Retreat with members of the National Assembly on the review of the Electoral Legal Framework, held on Wednesday at the Radisson Blu Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos.
In his remarks, Yakubu explained that late last year the commission received from the Senate Committee On INEC the bill to amend the electoral act (No. 6) 2010, pointing out 26 Clauses the bill seek to amend which includes the neutrality of electoral officials, compilation, display and storage of the voters’ register.
Others include; legal recognition for electronic accreditation of voters; party primaries and the nomination of candidates for elective offices by political parties; and a new provision to address the recurrence of the ‘Kogi conundrum’.
He added that the new amendments also seek to empower the commission to deepen the deployment of technology in the management of the voters’ register as well as voting and result collation processes.
Yakubu stressed that the commission had proposed new areas of amendments to the Electoral Act based on their experience in managing elections.
” For instance, we should find a way to deal with a situation in which Returning Officers are compelled to declare winners under duress.
” With 809 pre-election petitions filed before the 2019 general elections, the electoral legal framework should provide clear procedures for party primaries and consequences for violation. Similarly, the right under the law to file pre-election cases in different categories of High Courts often leads to what lawyers call “Forum Shopping” by litigants and conflicting judgements by the courts of coordinate jurisdiction on the same case, sometimes even on matters already settled by superior courts”, said Yakubu
The Chairman also called for new definition of over-voting with emphasis on accredited voters rather than the number of registered voters in a polling unit, saying that doing so would make the management of the margin of lead principle easier and considerably reduced and totally eliminate the incidence of inconclusive elections and the cost associated with conducting supplementary elections.
” We are encouraged by the determination of the National Assembly to pass the Electoral Act amendment bill expeditiously. This is very important to the preparations for especially the next general elections. Where the passage of the bill is delayed, it will affect the formulation of regulations and guidelines as well as the review and publication of the manual necessary for the training of ad-hoc staff for elections because both documents draw from the legal framework.
” There is need to expedite the process, particularly because the bill under consideration at this retreat is the one emanating from the Senate. The House of Representatives is working on its own bill. Given the urgency of the situation, the two chambers of the National Assembly may wish to consider adopting the current bill and to organise a joint public hearing for the passage of the amendments into law in earnest”, said Yakubu
The Chairman, Senate Committee On INEC, Sen. Kabiru Gaya, in his remarks, explained that the retreat was to address serious electoral challenges that had been noticed in the existing electoral law, adding that failure to address the observed lacuna may affect effective organization of a rancour free and and acceptable elections.
Gaya added that the National Assembly had resolved to provide the required legislative support to make sure that the electoral system is reformed to guarantee peaceful future elections in Nigeria.
He stressed that the National Assembly firmly determined to review the entire provision of the electoral law in order to strengthen the electoral system.
” The Senate Committee On INEC met on Thursday 27th of March, 2020, to reconsider the proposed amendment of the Electoral Act No. 6, 2020 and decided to repeal the Electoral Act and carry out a holistic review of the entire provisions of the Act.
” In view of the above, committee members in consultation with the Office of the Deputy President of the Senate who sponsored the amendment bill, approved the repeal and enactment of the Electoral Bill, 2020 so that at the end of the exercise, the nation will have a Consolidated Electoral Law in place”, said Gaya.
Gaya said the repeal and re-enactment of the Electoral Bill would inject better ideas into the electoral system especially in the areas that could undermine the process of free, fair and credible elections.
He stated that the review of the Electoral Act would build citizens confidence, enhance transparency and credibility of the electoral process.
“It will also entrench internal democracy within the political parties, reduce violence, expand the political scope to include women, youth and people living with disability”, said Gaya
In her remarks, the Chairman House Committee On INEC, Hon. Aishatu Dukku, identified elections as major pillars of leadership selection in liberal democracies, saying that constant and un-seizing effort for the reformation of electoral laws and electoral process were imperative to any country practicing democracy.
Dukku added ” The need for the amendment of the Electoral Act 2010 becomes absolute necessity against the backdrop of election malpractice, widespread rejection of declared results by the people as well as loss lives and property that usually go along with such electoral flaws. More importantly, our electoral laws appear to be outdated and ill equipped to adequately address these concerns that the very foundation of our democracy calls for”
In his contribution, the Deputy Senate President, Sen. Ovie Omo-Agege, stated “The National Assembly has a unique constitutional gatekeeping role for our democracy. That sacrosanct constitutional duty of protecting our democratic order starts with ensuring that we provide the right electoral legal framework for the conduct of free, fair and credible elections by the Commission. Ultimately, our collective success as a constitutional democracy depends on truly credible electoral outcomes”
” Without question, the 9th National Assembly is firmly committed to electoral reform. We recognise across party lines that it is in our nation’s best interest to work together to strengthen our electoral laws and, consequently, better protect this very important and consequential democracy on the African continent”, said Omo-Agege