…As INEC’s Use of Electronic Voting in Anambra 2021 May be in Jeopardy There’s increasing worry and unease amongst stakeholders on electoral reform in the country that the tardiness of the National Assembly in passing the reworked Electoral Act, may seriously impinge on the use of technology by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to
…As INEC’s Use of Electronic Voting in Anambra 2021 May be in Jeopardy
There’s increasing worry and unease amongst stakeholders on electoral reform in the country that the tardiness of the National Assembly in passing the reworked Electoral Act, may seriously impinge on the use of technology by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to deliver a transparent election in 2023. It may also scuttle the use of electronic voting which the Commission had initially slated its pilot project for the Anambra State gubernatorial election, holding in November this year.
At the last Joint Public Hearing on the Electoral Act 2020 held in early December, the Senate President, Dr Ahmad Lawan had assured an expectant 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.”
Flying a Kite
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.”
The Public Hearing called by the Joint Senate and House of Representatives Committee on INEC and Electoral Matters to give fillip to the resolve to midwife a new Electoral Act, was attended by civil society organisations, INEC chieftains, political parties, professional bodies, women organisations, youth, persons living with disabilities (PLWDs) and security agencies.
But we are already close to the end of April without the National Assembly lifting a finger on the Bill, raising fears about some contrived move to frustrate Electoral Act 2020. Can the nation really be hopeful that NASS which had initially hinged the delay on passing the Bill on the just concluded registration exercise by the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC), will deliver on this issue? Some actors in the civil society say the NASS assurance on the Electoral Act should be taken with a pinch of salt.
“Hopeful? My doubts are expanding day by day. This is the middle of April and we have not seen any increased pace in action,” says Dr Akin Akingbulu, executive director, Institute for Media and Society (IMS), one of the partners in the European Union sponsored democracy and governance project for Nigeria
“I don’t see much on the horizon to support their commitment. If they were genuinely committed, we will see acceleration in their approach, at the various levels,” he says.
A Little Upbeat
But Ms Mufuliat Fijabi, chief executive officer, Nigerian Women Fund is a little upbeat. “Yes, we should be hopeful. I know that there seems to be an unusual silence on the part of the National Assembly but we need to keep hope alive especially, since the National Assembly also made a commitment to enact the electoral reform bill in good time before the 2023 elections.
“It will be good to be hopeful; but this has to be with continuous engagement with stakeholders to encourage the National Assembly to fulfil its commitment to the electorates. I will like to draw our attention to the attempt by the 8th Assembly to amend the law before the 2019 elections, however the President of the country refused to sign the bill on the premise that it was too close to the elections.
“We therefore believe and hope that they will keep their words to amend the bill in good time ahead of the 2023 elections. The need for electoral reform cannot be over emphasized as it will promote electoral credibility,” she says..
On whether they believe that the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, the ruling party, APC and the leadership of the NASS are genuinely committed to giving Nigerians a new Electoral Act?
Akingbulu does not think so. He however, suspects some insidious attempts to even torpedo the gains of the electoral reform. “If we apply history as our guide, we should begin to suspect that the current exercise could be made to go the way of its immediate predecessor: drag, delay, end up not completing the process.”
Said Fijabi: “Well, I don’t think it’s about what I believe. Rather, it should be about whether the President, the ruling party and the leadership of the National Assembly are willing to give Nigerians true democracy and an enabling environment for civic participation. They made a promise when elected to make Nigeria better and so, we need to hold them accountable to that. I mean, we all are aware about the need for electoral reform of which the Electoral Act is part of and its importance for a credible and sustainable electoral process.
“The National Assembly should be responsible and responsive to the yearnings of the Nigerian people for a credible electoral system. Our legislators should be conscious of the historical and national imperative for electoral reforms. If they are not committed to giving Nigerians this, it then means that we may not move as much as we expect to in the build up to the 2023 elections.
“The flaws and malfeasance that characterised the 2019 general elections were too apparent and pervasive to ignore. The onus is on the National Assembly and the President to expedite actions towards the reform of the electoral system.”
On whether there’s a contrived attempt to scuttle the new Electoral Act, Fijabi quips that Nigeria is a country of anything is possible.
“Again, unfortunately with the way the political class is in Nigeria, anything is possible. We cannot completely rule out this scenario. There appears to be a stalemate which has halted further legislative action on the bill. There are many aspects of our electoral laws and system that require urgent legislative attention.
“The issues are multifaceted; ranging from pre-election, election to post-election anomalies. Without disputation, the current electoral system in Nigeria does not inspire much confidence in the electorates. Many Nigerians are understandably disenchanted with the poignant culture of electoral process, violence, inducement of voters, militarisation of elections, partisanship and so on that has bedevilled our electoral process.
“The reason I believe that this scenario cannot be completely taken away is that like I mentioned above, before the 2019 general elections, the Eighth National Assembly made spirited efforts to effect significant changes in the electoral system by further amending the extant Electoral Act.
“It is saddening that two years after the inauguration of the Ninth National Assembly, the National Assembly as the law-making organ of the Federal Government of Nigeria has not amended the 2010 Electoral Act to cure observable irregularities that have plagued successive elections in Nigeria,” she says..
Although Akingbulu wants stakeholders to push hard for electronic voting, he does not believe that the political class is ready for it. “Stakeholders need to push hard on electronic voting. I am not sure the political class is seriously ready for it.”
Fijabi however argues that electronic voting takes a long process and does not think INEC would have enough time to prepare for roll out.
“Globally, the general process for setting up electronic voting takes time, especially with education, sensitization, and research. Even deciding the kind of technology to use is another time-consuming factor. So electronic voting is a good one that Nigeria can also embark on only if well thought through and planned for.
“INEC does not have enough time to execute all these before 2023 which is by the corner which means, shift to electronic voting may not be near for implementation in Nigeria’s electoral process,” she argues.
Doubts on NASS Commitment
One of the stakeholders, who is very close to INEC but prefers anonymity, is particularly doubtful about NASS commitment to the vision of a new Electoral Act.
“We sincerely hope so. But the former Senate President also made the same promise in 2016 and nothing came out of it”.
On whether he believes there’s a genuine commitment by President Muhammadu Buhari, the ruling APC and the leadership of the National Assembly to give Nigerians a new electoral Act, he says, “I guess so given the known lacuna in the existing electoral legal framework. But they all need to cooperate and work together to pass and enact desired amendments to strengthen and enhance the integrity and credibility of the electoral process.”
Some of the vital proposals include electronic voting which many say holds the key for ridding the country’s elections of fraudulent outcomes and manipulation of election results. The INEC had planned to do a pilot project with Anambra 2021 and later with the gubernatorial elections in Ekiti and Osun states in 2022 before a full roll out in the 2023 general elections.
Other envisaged changes away from Electoral Act 2010 include financial autonomy for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), tighter regulation of campaign funding as well as Diaspora voting.
New Electoral Act
A coalition for constitutional and electoral reforms has called on the lawmakers to be bold and courageous in bequeathing to Nigerians an enduring new Electoral Act that will stand the test of time.
According to the coalition comprising Centre for Liberty, Millennials Active Citizenship, Advocacy Africa, NESSACTION, Raising New Voices, ReadyToLeadAfrica and Yiaga Africa, Nigerians have spoken through their memoranda submitted at the public hearing on the proposed electoral amendment bill on December 9, 2020.
The coalition said Nigerians deserve a new Electoral Act that truly strengthens the capacity of the INEC to conduct free, fair and credible elections.
It said such Electoral Act will improve the quality of elections by ensuring citizens’ participation and transparency in the process, inclusion of women, youth and persons with disabilities thereby guaranteeing electoral integrity.
“We reiterate that Nigerians deserve a process that ensures inclusion and limits the role of money in our process. As such, the recommendation proposing both a limitation on cost of nomination for political party primaries and proper regulation of the party primary process remains fundamental in this process of electoral reform.
Deployment of Technology
“In addition, the recommendation proposing the deployment of technology in our elections remains vital in promoting transparency in our process and ensuring that votes truly count. We therefore call on the Joint Committee to ensure that the proposal legalising the electronic accreditation, electronic voting, and electronic transmission of results are adopted.
“It is important to note that introducing electronic collation and transmission of results in our Electoral Act to complement the manual process will ensure transparency, real-time reportage and build citizen confidence in the election results collation process,” the coalition stated.
It encouraged the National Assembly to do the right thing as it sits to decide over these amendments. “We are very interested in the success of this process and that we have a new Electoral Act to regulate the conduct of the 2021 Anambra and the 2022 Ekiti and Osun states Governorship Elections before the 2023 General Elections. As such, we rely on the leadership of the National Assembly to ensure that this goal is achieved, it added.
It said, “We hold the National Assembly to its commitment to release the proposed bill this first quarter of 2021. Posterity will be good to the 9th National Assembly if they give Nigerian’s a new Electoral Act that truly captures the needs of the people and supports democratic development in Nigeria. Nigerians are watching.”
Failure of NASS
Some youth groups and civil society organizations (CSOs) have however asked the Senate President, Dr Ahmed Lawan to resign or be impeached over the failure of the National Assembly to pass the Electoral Act amendment ahead of the 2023 General Elections.
The organisations include Ariyo-Dare Atoye, Center For Liberty (CFL); Deji Adeyanju, Concerned Nigeria (CN); Princess Hamman-Obels and Chinenye Agwuna The Electoral Hub (TEH); and Jude Feranmi, Raising New Voices Initiative (RNVI) made the call on Thursday in Abuja at a news conference.
According to them, in the last 15 months, they have consistently engaged the lawmakers and appealed to the 9th National Assembly to make the passage of a new Electoral Act a major priority.
“As at today, the National Assembly has failed to meet two dates and deadlines set for the passage of the Electoral Bill being December 2020 and 31 March 2021.
“The President of the Senate, Senator Ahmad Lawan and the leadership of the joint committee of the National Assembly on Electoral Matters, have betrayed the solemn pledge made to Nigerians on 9 December 2020, at the public hearing conducted on the electoral bill,” a statement jointly signed and read by the organisations said.
They also urged Nigerians to get ready to peacefully Occupy the National Assembly and prevail on the lawmakers to immediately pass a reformed Electoral Act that will bring integrity to the elections, embrace technology and open the process to transparency and accountability.
“We are worried that the 9th National Assembly appears unperturbed about passing a bill that could give them lasting legacies and etch their names and session in gold.
“It is also troubling that the ruling All Progressive Congress and the main opposition People’s Democratic Party are less concerned about electoral reforms.
“Equally disheartening is the nonchalant attitude of the smaller parties and political stakeholders to the passage of a new electoral act. They always prefer to lament without any coordinated action,” Atoye said.
He added that the time has come for young members of the political parties in Nigeria, women, activists, journalists and other concerned Nigerians to join them in Occupying the National Assembly (#OccupyNASS) to demand for the passage of a reformed Electoral Act.
He said, “Except the bill is tabled and passed, we shall be left with no option than to Occupy NASS after the Ramadan.
“We deserve free, fair and credible elections; we deserve good leaders that credible polls will throw up; we deserve good governance that good leaders will bring; Nigeria deserves the best.”
He also said that they have written letters to some Nigeria’s foreign partners on democratic governance to alert them that the 9th National Assembly appears unready to pass a new Electoral Act.
He said, “We have equally informed them to review their partnership with the National Assembly and predicate future support on the passage of the Electoral Act.”
They said that the Bill must be passed into law now to give the INEC sufficient time to implant, internalize and implement the Bill.
This, they said was to draw lessons from the outcome of the 2017 Kenya general elections, marred by violence and logistical problems and which the USAID in its report said the late adoption of an electoral legal framework impacted negatively on the outcome of the election.