…Warn it May Negate Conduct of Free, Fair, Credible Elections …Say Nigerians Want an Electoral Legal Framework that Genuinely Strengthens the Electoral Processes …Implore NASS to Undertake In-depth Consideration of Citizens’ Priority Issues A coalition of 14 civil society groups working on electoral reforms, has decried the slow progress in the National Assembly over the
…Warn it May Negate Conduct of Free, Fair, Credible Elections
…Say Nigerians Want an Electoral Legal Framework that Genuinely Strengthens the Electoral Processes
…Implore NASS to Undertake In-depth Consideration of Citizens’ Priority Issues
A coalition of 14 civil society groups working on electoral reforms, has decried the slow progress in the National Assembly over the passage of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, contending that Nigerians demand that their elected representatives respond to the urgent need for an electoral legal framework that genuinely strengthens the electoral processes and procedures, promotes inclusivity and addresses impunity. It also warns that inability to pass the Bill on time may negate the conduct of a free, fair and credible election in the country.
“Elections remain the fulcrum and constant cardinal feature in a democracy. It is important to protect all conditions and instruments required to conduct free, fair and credible elections to ensure that “the sovereign will of the people” prevail always.
“The seeming lack of progress in the National Assembly on the Electoral Act Amendment bill is therefore worrisome. Nigerians demand that their elected representatives respond to the urgent need for an electoral legal framework that genuinely strengthens the electoral processes and procedures, promotes inclusivity and addresses impunity. The continued delay in concluding the process is reminiscent of the failed process in 2018 and attendant impact on the 2019 General Election,” the coalition argued at a press conference in Abuja on Tuesday.
At the last Joint Public Hearing on the Electoral Act 2020 held in early December, the Senate President, Dr Ahmad Lawan had assured an anxious nation that a new Electoral Bill would be ready for presidential assent by the end of March 2021. He also affirmed that both arms of the Legislature had resolved to give Nigerians a transparent election.
“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,” Lawan 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 year stay 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.”
Already flying a kite that some of the vital proposals by stakeholders to clean up the nation’s wobbling election may be side stepped, Lawan however implored the civil society not to be too expectant that all inadequacies in our electoral system would 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 electing our leaders is transparent, the Senate President affirmed that, “We are resolutely committed to giving Nigerians a transparent election.”
But frowning at the pussyfooting over the vital bill, the coalition says, “The Ninth National Assembly, under the leadership of the Senate President, Ahmed Lawal and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, promised Nigerians a people-responsive Electoral Act by the first quarter of 2021.
“We are now in the second quarter of 2021 and the Electoral Act Amendment Bill is yet to be presented for third and final reading in both chambers of the National Assembly. This process is required before the Bill can be transmitted to the President for his assent.”
It posits that, “In considering the Bill, NASS must undertake an in-depth consideration of the citizens’ priority issues to address identified gaps in the current electoral legal framework. These priority issues include:
* Strengthening the financial and operational independence of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC);
* Publication of Polling Unit level results by INEC to promote transparency in the result collation and transmission process;
* Protecting the voting rights of the blind and visually impaired voters;
* Reducing the cost of nomination of candidates to promote a level playing field for all contestants;
* Promoting the inclusion of women, youth, and persons with disability in politics;
* Legitimising the use of technology in the electoral process with particular emphasis on the biometric voter register, biometric accreditation of voters; electronic voting, electronic collation and transmission of results;
* Ending impunity for electoral offences by the establishment of the Electoral Offences Commission and Tribunal;
* Improving election security and promote professionalisation and non-partisanship in the conduct and behaviour of security personnel on election duty;
* Introduction of early/special voting for Nigerians on essential election duty;
* Eliminating the impact of judicial actions on citizens will and choices in elections.
Maintaining that these demands are germane aspirations of Nigerians, the coalition says that, “The Ninth Assembly has an obligation to work expeditiously on passing the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021 and pass same to the President for assent. This is an urgent national priority. Together with Nigerians, we firmly believe that if the current electoral legal framework is not reviewed and reformed, it will have negative impact and consequences for democratic consolidation.
“The NASS must recognise that passing the Electoral Bill in good time will engender expeditious action by the executive. The speedy enactment of the Bill will give the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the legal clarity to adequately plan and efficiently conduct future elections, particularly the Anambra governorship election scheduled for 6 November 2021.
“Consequently, we join our voices with millions of Nigerians to call on the National Assembly to speed up the process for the passage of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill. In the same vein, we call on the President to speedily assent to the bill and deliver a brand-new Electoral Act 2021 to Nigerians ahead of the 2021 democracy day celebration on 12 June 2021” the coalition assert.
“We commend the contributions and resilience of Nigerians, the Civil Society, political actors, development partners and other relevant stakeholders in their relentless pursuit for an Electoral Act that engenders participation, inclusiveness, transparency and credibility of the electoral process.
“We also commend the efforts of the Senate and House of Representatives’ Joint-Committee on INEC and Electoral Matters in ensuring that Nigeria gets a new and improved electoral legal framework.
“We remain hopeful that these collective commitments and partnership further translates to the passage and enactment of a new Electoral Act that works for all Nigerians. We remain resolute in our demand to the leadership of the Ninth Assembly to ensure it writes its name in gold by delivering to Nigerians a new Electoral Act that prioritises citizens demands,” it added..
The statement was jointly signed by Centre for Citizens with Disability (CCD), Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), CLEEN Foundation, Inclusive Friends Association (IFA), Institute for Media and Society (IMS), International Press Centre (IPC) and Kimpact Development Initiative (KDI). Others are National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Nigeria Women’s Trust Fund (NWTF), Peering Advocacy and Advancement Centre in Africa (PAACA), Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC), Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ), The Albino Foundation (TAF) and Yiaga Africa.
Jake Epelle, founder, Albino Foundation, who argues that persons living with disabilities (PLWDs) will be at the wrong end of the stick if a new Electoral Act is not enacted, is particularly upbeat that the National Assembly will hearken to their demands.
“We are upbeat that our demands will be met. Our demands are genuine. We’ll not stop until our demands are met. You have become the voice of the voiceless. You’ll hear us. The people that feel it the most are persons with disabilities. It must be inclusive of persons with disabilities. It must be inclusive of women, youth and the vulnerable in our society,” he says.
Cythia Mbamalu, programmes director, Yiaga Africa, wants the citizenry to collectively push for a new Electoral Act, revealing that several stakeholders are making efforts to make demands on the lawmakers.
“We have to keep making demands on the system until we have a new electoral law,” insisting that, “In the reform process, the priority issues are those that meet the needs of the citizenry and guarantee free and fair elections.”
However, Ezenwa Nwagwu, executive director, Peering Advocacy and Advancement Centre in Africa (PAACA), who’s mindful of “A leadership conspiracy that Nigerians do not have a credible electoral Act,” says “Nigerians have to keep pushing. A good enabling law is a response to credible elections.”
Photo: A cross section of members of CSOs at the press briefing.