NATIONAL ASSEMBLY PLEDGES COMMITMENT TO ELECTORAL REFORMS AS INEC CALLS FOR SPEEDY PASSAGE AMENDMENT BILL.
The Leadership of the 9th National Assembly has affirmed its commitment to speedy passage of the Electoral Reform Bill.
President of the Senate, Senator Ahmad Lawan, made the pledge today at the opening of a two-day Retreat with the National Assembly organized by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), with support from the European Union Centre for Electoral Systems (ECES) and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) Holding in Lagos.
The Retreat, a sequel to the earlier two-day internal retreat by the Commission, is a historic event which presents the opportunity for INEC to present its input to a draft of the proposed amendment to the Electoral Act to the National Assembly and also create an avenue for exchange of ideas the electoral laws of the country.
Represented by the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, the Senate President acknowledged the constitutional role of the NASS in protecting the Country’s democracy. He said “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”.
The Senate President pledged that “the 9th National Assembly is firmly committed to electoral reform. We recognize 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”.
He added: “reforming our electoral legal framework at this time is an extremely important and necessary national assignment. It is consistent with a plethora of our Supreme Court’s decisions directly or indirectly tasking the National Assembly to make vital electoral reforms in this country by amending or even overhauling the extant Electoral Act.
“It is responsible for the National Assembly to take the apex court’s constructive guidance. By amending the Electoral Act responsibly, we would be strengthening our electoral system to deliver more credible elections. It is right to do this for the betterment of our democracy”.
Chairman of INEC, Professor Yakubu Mahmood said the Commission was ready to present its comments on the draft bill sent to it last year by the Senate Committee on INEC titled: “A Bill for an Act to Amend the Electoral Act (No. 6) 2010 and for Related Matters, 2019”. He explained that INEC after its internal retreat had highlighted areas of agreement and areas it believes the National Assembly may wish to reconsider some of its proposals.
According to the INEC Chairman, there are 26 Clauses the Bill seeks to amend in several sections of the Electoral Act ranging from the neutrality of electoral officials; compilation, display and storage of the voters’ register; 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” where a Governorship candidate died between the commencement of polls and the declaration of winner. a situation not envisaged and clearly without any legal remedy under the Constitution, the Electoral Act or even the Commission’s regulations and guidelines”.
The INEC Chairman expressed optimism and confidence in the Leadership of the 9th NASS to expedite the passage of the Bill. His words “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 election. 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 (Senate and House of Representatives) 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”.
The Chairman, Senate Committee on INEC, Kabiru Gaya, observed that if observed lacunas in the electoral process are not effectively addressed, “we may not be able to organize a rancorous-free and acceptable elections”.
He said his Committee “strongly believes that the review of the Electoral Act will build citizens confidence, enhance transparency and credibility of the electoral process. It will also entrench internal party democracy within the political parties, reduce violence, expand the political scope to include women, youth and People Living with Disabilities”.
On her part, the Chairperson, House Committee on Electoral Matters, Aishatu Jubril Dukku further stressed the need for an amendment to the Electoral Act. She said “the need for the amendment of our Electoral Act 2010 becomes absolute necessity against the backdrop of election malpractice, widespread rejection of declared results by the people as well as loss of 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”, she added.
Hon. Dukku recommended that the efforts of the 8th National Assembly in amending 41 clauses of the Electoral Act 2010 should not be jettisoned. She suggested that it should be a guide to all suggestions towards improving the electoral process in the country.
ELECTORAL REFORM: INEC EXPRESSES OPTIMISM FOR NON-MANUAL ELECTIONS
Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Yakubu Mahmood, has urged the National Assembly to expedite action on the passage of the Electoral Amendment Bill to allow for full deployment of technology in elections, saying “it is our hope that the 2019 general elections will be the last generally manual elections”.
The INEC Chairman made the call today, at the opening of a Two-day retreat with the National Assembly, holding in Lagos.
Professor Yakubu, said “already, the Commission has an electronic register of voters. Similarly, voter accreditation has also gone electronic. It is time for a new legislation to remove all encumbrances to further deployment of technology in the electoral process, especially in the accreditation of voters and transmission of election results”.
“Sections 49 and 67 of the draft Bill deals with these twin issues. These sections will be thoroughly discussed at this retreat”.
Professor Yakubu further harped on the need for the creation of a Commission that would deal with electoral offenses in order to reduce the burden on INEC. He said “Let me now briefly touch on a critical area of reform that has dragged on for far too long. Here I am referring to the prosecution of electoral offenders. The Commission is aware that this matter is being handled separately by the National Assembly and therefore not part of the Bill to be considered at this retreat”.
He continued: “However, we look forward to the expeditious passage of the Bill for an Act for the Establishment of the National Electoral Offences Commission, sponsored in the Senate by Senator Abubakar Kyari and co-sponsored by Senator Ovie Omo-Agege which passed second reading yesterday Wednesday 4th March 2020. It is also on record that the “Electoral Offences Commission (Establishment) Bill 2020” sponsored in the House of Representatives by Hon. John Dyegh passed first reading on Thursday 27th February 2020”.
“The nation can no longer afford to foot drag on this important legislation which will provide the framework for dealing with impunity and brigandage in elections which are becoming more brazen essentially because violators of electoral laws are not effectively prosecuted. The Commission appreciates the efforts of members of the National Assembly in spearheading the passage of the Bill into law. We also note the commitment of the executive to the matter. The Uwais Committee on Electoral Reform recommended it in 2009. The Lemu Committee on the 2011 post-election violence made a similar recommendation which was accepted in the Government White paper on the report.
“Most recently, the Nnamani Committee on Electoral Reform made the same recommendation in 2017 which was also accepted by Government. However, eleven years since the Uwais recommendation, we are still talking about the prosecution of electoral offenses. We would like the 9th National Assembly to make history by passing this important Bill into law. It’s time to walk the talk”, he charged.
Commenting on the unending litigation’s arising from the conduct of elections witnessed in the electoral space, the INEC Chairman said “the Commission is proposing new areas of amendments to the Electoral Act, drawing from our experience in managing elections, including matters arising from litigations.
“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 election, the electoral legal framework should provide clear procedures for party primaries and consequences for violation”, the Chairman said.
Professor Yakubu continued: “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 judgments by courts of coordinate jurisdiction on the same case, sometimes even on matters already settled by superior courts”.
“We also need a new definition of over-voting with emphasis on accredited voters rather than the number of registered voters in a polling unit. Doing so will make the management of the margin of lead principle easier and considerably reduce, if not totally eliminate, the incidence of inconclusive elections and the cost associated with conducting supplementary elections which in most cases merely validate the outcome of the first ballot”.
Professor Yakubu advanced the implications of delay or non-passage of the review to the Electoral Act. His words: “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 election. 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”.
He added: “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 (Senate and House of Representatives) may wish to consider adopting the current Bill and to organize a joint public hearing for the passage of the amendments into law in earnest.
“ This is more so because some of the far-reaching amendments proposed by the National Assembly would require the procurement of new equipment, training of election officials and piloting of new procedures ahead of the general election. Early and adequate preparation is critical. Late deployment disrupts preparations and in an electoral process governed by fixed timelines provided by law, postponement must be avoided because of its far-reaching consequences as we have witnessed a number of times in our recent history”.