…Says it Violates Country’s Constitution, UN Convention on Rights of the Child …Calls on State Assemblies that Have Not Domesticated Child Rights Act to Do So …Demands End to Marriage of Girls Below 18 Years Across Nigeria A coalition of civil society groups have strongly opposed moves by the House of Representatives Committee on the
…Says it Violates Country’s Constitution, UN Convention on Rights of the Child
…Calls on State Assemblies that Have Not Domesticated Child Rights Act to Do So
…Demands End to Marriage of Girls Below 18 Years Across Nigeria
A coalition of civil society groups have strongly opposed moves by the House of Representatives Committee on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) chaired by Ms Aisha Dukku, to endorse the voting rights for underage married girls in the new Electoral Act, arguing that this contravenes not just the Nigerian Constitution but the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
In a statement endorsed by 13 civil society groups, the coalition says, “We, the under-signed Nigerians and civil society groups, have read with utter dismay the unfortunate proposal by certain members of the House Committee on Electoral Act amendments to push for voting rights for underage married girls.
“To give the vote to underage girls purely as a result of marriage under the globally accepted age of 18, other than being itself undesirable is highly discriminatory and for that reason unconstitutional. Our laws are meant to be rational and based on reason and logic. The proposers of this provision have entirely failed to show any reason for this proposal.
“We would like to commend and stand by the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, for pointing out to the Committee that their requested amendment would violate the Nigerian Constitution.
“We note that the requested amendment would legitimize the marriage of persons under the age of 18, in contravention of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which Nigeria ratified in 1991.”
Noting that some states in Nigeria are yet to domesticate and implement the Child Rights Act, the coalition urge the House Committee and the National and State Assemblies to focus on amendments and bills to end the marriage of persons under the age of 18 across Nigeria.
“Mindful of the abysmal indicators of the abuse and neglect of the girl-child in Nigeria, we expect and demand that our law makers direct their energies and efforts towards the promotion of the well-being, education and advancement of the girl child for the good of our country,” the coalition says.
The coalition statement was endorsed by Dr. Nkechi Eke Nwankwo, director, Women’s Leadership Group Nigeria, Prof. Ngozi Osarenren, University of Lagos, Ms Amina Oyagbola, WISCAR Founder/Chairperson, Ms Hafsat Abiola-Costello, president, Women in Africa Initiative, Ms Ladi Daniella Aku, Gender Advocate and Ms Asmau Benzies Leo, executive director, Center for Nonviolence and Gender Advocacy in Nigeria. Others include Ms Mary Isong, Gender Based Violence Expert, Ms Felicia Onibon, national coordinator, 100 Women LobbyGroup, Ms Mirabel Edozie, general secretary, South South Professional Women Association, Prof. John O. Aiyedogbon, Bingham University, Karu, Ms Ifeoma Okafor, Gender Advocate, Ms Cordelia Onu, managing editor, PowerHouse Manuscript Managers and Mr Rasheed Rahman, Fernside & Associates.
The Senate President, Dr Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan had promised that the new Electoral Act 2020 envisaged to provide for electronic voting, would be ready for President Muhammadu Buhari to sign into law before end of the first quarter of 2021. He also affirmed that both arms of the Legislature have resolved to give Nigerians transparent election..
Speaking at the Joint Public Hearing on the Electoral Act 2020, penultimate Wednesday, organised by the Senate and House of Representatives Committees, on the Independence National Electoral Commission (INEC), Lawan also revealed that the National Assembly would ensure that the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), which has been gathering dusts for several years, is passed before the second quarter of 2021.
“We’ve resolved to abide by the legislative targets and agenda that we’ve set for ourselves. We shall work assiduously to pass the Electoral Act 2020 before the first quarter of 2021. We also intend to pass the PIB before the second quarter of 2021.” he said.
Showering encomiums on the civil society for its push for a new Electoral Act to mitigate the deficiencies in our elections and for “keeping everyone on its toes,” the Senate President pleaded with the civil society not to “push us too much” but to “pray and partner with us to achieve our targets”.
Recalling his more than 20 years sorjourn in the Senate, he quips, “As an active participant in the Electoral System since 1999, my experiences in the six elections (1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019), that I’ve contested and won have been different. What is perhaps common is the demands of our people that their votes should count. Even when they lose, they want to see that the game is fair.”
Lawan however implored the civil society not to be too expectant that all inadequacies in our electoral system will be corrected in the new law.
“Even from the experiences of the societies that have practised democracy longer than us like the US and Britain, we can glean that we may not get everything right at a go. We must appreciate that we are in a long distance race. We need to continue to refine our political process. We need to work to get it right. But we are also human beings. Be fair to assess our contribution and work. Give us accolades when we get it right. And assail us when things are awry,” he said.
Restating that nothing can be more important than ensuring that the process of election our leaders is transparent, the Senate President affirmed that, “We are resolutely committed to giving Nigerians a transparent election.”
The new Electoral Law which seeks to repeal Electoral Act No 6, 2010 has more than 85 amendments from members of the Legislature and civil society and covers areas such as Electronic Voting, Inclusion of women, youth and people living with disabilities (PLWDs), cost of elections, Diaspora Voting amongst others.
In order to abate the heavy monetisation of our elections, it also pegs election spending for presidential candidates to N5 billion. governorship N1 billion, senatorial seat N!00 million, House of Reps N70 million and House of Assembly N30 million. chairmanship of local governments and councillors also have a limit of N30 million and N5 million respectively. Donations by individuals and groups to campaign is also pegged at N10 million.
While the 2015 amendment of the Electoral Law signed by President Goodluck Jonathan gave INEC the discretion to determine the procedure for voting, the new law being worked on seeks to further amend the provision to allow the Commission to conduct elections by electronic voting or any other method of voting as it deems fit. A new section 52 (2) says “The Commission may adopt electronic voting or any other method of voting in any election it conducts as it deem fit”.
The new section 49(2) mandates the presiding officer to use the smart card reader or any other technological device prescribed by the Commission for accreditation, verification and authentification of voters. Section 49(3) says that, “where a smart card reader deployed for accreditation of voters fails to function in any unit and a fresh card reader is not deployed, the election in that unit shall be cancelled and another election shall be scheduled within 24 hours.”
In order to prevent the hijack of election victories by undeserving candidates in the case of death of the winning candidate like it happened in Kogi State, where late Ibrahim Audu’s mandate was inherited by Yahaya Bello, generally perceived as unprepared for governorship, a new subsection 3 has been added to section 36.
The new subsection 3 seeks to empower the Commission to suspend elections in cases where a nominated candidate dies after commencement of polls but before the announcement of result and declaration of winner for a period of not exceeding 21 days upon being satisfied of the death.
The proposal further allows the affected political party a period of fourteen days from the death of the candidate to conduct new primaries to replace the deceased.