New Electoral Act Ready Before March 2021…Senate President

New Electoral Act Ready Before March 2021…Senate President

…Says We’re Committed to Giving Nigerians Transparent Elections …Law to Provide for Electronic Voting, Pegs Spending by Candidates Senate President, Dr Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan has promised that the new Electoral Act 2020 which will provide for electronic voting, will be ready for President Muhammadu Buhari to sign into law before end of the first quarter

…Says We’re Committed to Giving Nigerians Transparent Elections

…Law to Provide for Electronic Voting, Pegs Spending by Candidates

Senate President, Dr Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan has promised that the new Electoral Act 2020 which will provide for electronic voting, will 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 a transparent election.

Speaking at the Joint Public Hearing on the Electoral Act 2020, on Wednesday, organised by the Senate and House of Representatives Committees, on the Independence National Electoral Commission (INEC), Lawan also revealed that the National Assembly will 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 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.”

Also speaking at the event, Hon Peter Akpatason, deputy majority leader, House of Representatives, expressed the resolve of the Legislature to a wholesale electoral reform. Akpatason, who stood in for Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila, said that, “We are committed to create an electoral process that is different and efficient,” adding that it must also make for the apprehension of electoral offenders.

Human Rights Activist and Executive Director, Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC), Mr Clement Nwakwo called for early passage of the Electoral Act to give both INEC and the political parties enough time to be able to work around its provisions.

Cynthia Mbamalu, director, legal services, YIAGA Africa, who argued for the inclusion of women, youth and the persons living with disabilities (PLWDs), wanted the new Act to be gender sensitive and avoid language that reinforces male domination.

She also called for deployment of technology to ensure electronic voting and transmission of results. Mbamalu also advocated for early voting for election workers like journalists, security officials and observers and so on, to ensure that they are also able to vote before proceeding to their assignment so that no group is left out of the electoral process.

Popular Rights Activist, Ms Aisha Yesufu, who represented Fix Politics Initiative, argued that it was not justifiable not to provide voting rights to Nigerians in Diaspora, who are said to contribute over $20 billion as remittances, which the Central Bank says constitutes 6 per cent of the country’s GDP. She also pushed for more women representation in the election management body.

On the demand for Electoral Offences Commission to try electoral offenders, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, former Deputy Senate President cautioned that we have to careful not to overburden our fledgling country with too many bureaucracies that sucks huge funds. He also fears that they could become a tool for whipping the opposition into line.

“It is better to create an Electoral Offences Tribunal under the High Courts and prevent them from being answerable to the government which could use it as a tool of repression against the opposition,” he warned.

While calling for a technical session to iron out the conflicts between the Electoral Act and the Constitution to prevent the courts from voiding the different provisions, Ekweremadu, also a lawyer and visiting professor, wanted early conduct of primaries to give the political parties adequate time to prepare for electioneering. He also canvassed for electronic transmission of results from the polling units to guarantee transparency of our election.

“I was in Edo state for the last governorship election. The electronic transmission of results from the polling units ensured the credibility of the process,” the former Deputy Senate President said.

Chairperson, Senate Committee on INEC, Senator Kabiru Gaya, a former Kano State governor, and his counterpart in the House of Representatives, Ms Aisha Duku, a former Minister of State for Education, both expressed the readiness to reflect all amendments being canvassed by members and civil society to clean up the lacuna in our elections that makes it open to fraudulent practices.

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.

Prominent amongst those who graced the Joint Public Hearing include, Attorney General and Minister of Justice represented by Assistant Director, Legal, Mr Anthony Abba, Director General, Voice of  Nigeria, Mr Osita Okechukwu, Acting National Chairman of INEC, Mr Ahmed Mu’azu, a retired air vice marshal, INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Committee on Information and Voters Education, Mr Festus Okoye, Convener, Nigeria Situation Room, Ms Esther Uzuoma and Executive Secretary, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Mr Anthony Ojukwu represented by the Director of Legal Services, Mr Raji Awal, There were also members of the Senate and House Committees on INEC and members of civil society.

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