…Say it Contains Several Progressive Amendments That Will Positively Impact Elections, Deepen Democracy in Nigeria Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, a coalition of CSOs, has urged President Muhamadu Buhari to sign the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021 into law as an end of the year gift to Nigerians. It says the Bill contains several progressive
…Say it Contains Several Progressive Amendments That Will Positively Impact Elections, Deepen Democracy in Nigeria
Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, a coalition of CSOs, has urged President Muhamadu Buhari to sign the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021 into law as an end of the year gift to Nigerians. It says the Bill contains several progressive amendments that will impact positively on our elections and contribute to deepening democracy in Nigeria.
The push by the CSOs is coming on the heels of the report by The Punch that the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Mr Abubakar Malami has advised the President not to sign the Bill insisting that the section that made direct primaries mandatory for all political parties is a recipe for confusion.
However, making the appeal on the President to assent the Bill at a news conference in Abuja on Friday, Ms Ene Obi, the group’s convener, says the Bill has provisions that will address gaps in the current law on use of technology, electronic voting, collation and transmission of election results.
She said that it would also address the cost of campaigns, process for party primaries and many other critical issues in the electoral process.
Obi said the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room was concerned that Buhari was yet to sign the Bill into law long after it was passed by the National Assembly, stating that the current 2010 Electoral Act had been amended three times – 2010, 2011 and 2015, adding that a fourth attempt by the 8th National Assembly before the 2019 elections failed.
“In March 2018, Buhari rejected the Bill on the grounds that it will usurp INEC’s powers on electoral matters.
“similarly in September 2018, he rejected the Bill on the ground that some clauses needed adjustments and mechanical revision.
“In December 2018, he rejected the bill on the account that it was too close to the 2019 general elections. Nigerians were left with the Electoral Act 2015 to conduct the 2019 general elections.
“Now this current National Assembly re-opened conversations on the reform of the Act ending up with a total repeal and re-enactment after putting in a lot of work to achieve this,’’ she said.
Obi said Nigerians had expected a new Electoral Act in 2021 that would create the atmosphere for free, fair and credible elections.
“There have been several progressive amendments to the Bill that will impact positively in our elections and contribute to deepening democracy in Nigeria.
“It will be a great disservice to the country if the Bill is not assented to in time for the 2023 general elections. We urge the President to sign the Bill into law without further delay”, she said.
The Punch reported that the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), has written a letter to the President Muhammadu Buhari, highlighting the problems with the inclusion of mandatory direct primaries in the Electoral Act amendment bill.
It was learnt on Thursday that the AGF’s letter on the amended Electoral Act bill was received by the President two weeks ago.
When Punch contacted on the telephone, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, confirmed that the President had received a communication from Malami on the bill.
He however said he was not privy to the content of the letter.
“Yes. I can confirm that the President has received a communication from the honourable minister on the matter but honestly, I am not privy to the content of the communication. I have not been briefed,” the presidential aide said.
But the paper said a source at the Ministry of Justice told one of its correspondents that Malami informed the President that making direct primaries mandatory for all political parties could cause confusion.
An impeccable source in the ministry said, “The AGF has sent his advice on the Electoral Act amendment bill to the President. He has highlighted the problems of the bill.
“The AGF, however, did not quote any section of the law that makes it illegal which is unlike the previous letters he writes to the President.”
Also, source in the AGF office confirmed to The PUNCH that indeed Malami had written to the President.
He explained that the AGF was worried that forcing all parties to adopt the direct mode of primary would mean that all existing parties would have to change their constitutions.
The source stated, “The office of the AGF sent its position two weeks ago. They raised a number of issues. For instance, if you are asking political parties to run direct primaries, from a strictly legal point of view that would mean that only new political parties will be bound by the law.
“Existing political parties will not, because they have registered their parties, they have filed their constitution long time ago on the basis of what is contained there. And most of it is a mixture, if you check the parties, direct and indirect primaries are stated.
“So, are you going to change their constitutions for them? So, this is the legal opinion. But this is just one. There are several other legal positions which favours and disfavours the bill because, as the Minister of Justice, his duty is to tell the president the pros and the cons. It is now up to the President to decide on which way to go.”
The Spokesman for the AGF, Dr Umar Gwandu, when contacted, told The PUNCH that he was not in a position to confirm the development.
“The Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice is attending the 2021 United Nations Conference of State Parties on Anti-Corruption currently holding in Egypt.
“I am not in a position to confirm whether any opinion has been proffered by the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice over the Electoral Act amendment bill. I cannot ascertain the veracity of your claims at this moment.”
The PUNCH had reported last month that Governors in the All Progressives Congress had lobbied Malami, asking him to convince the President not to sign the bill.
The Special Adviser to the President, Femi Adesina, had confirmed last week that the President was seeking the advice of the AGF on the electoral bill.
Adesina said there are certain decisions the President will not make without the input of the AGF.
Responding to a question, he said, “There are certain things that never get done without the counsel of the attorney-general. You can be sure of that. And this falls right within the purview of the attorney-general. So you can be sure that every bit of the way, the attorney-general will be carried along.”
Buhari, who received the bill on November 19, has until December 19 to sign it or communicate to the National Assembly his feelings and comments about the bill.
But if after 30 days, the President refuses to sign the bill and the National Assembly is not in support of the President’s amendments, the Senate and the House of Representatives can recall the bill and pass it. If the bill is passed in the form it was sent to the President by two-thirds majority votes in both chambers, the bill automatically becomes a law even without the signature of the President.
The President had a few weeks ago also written a letter to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) seeking the Commission’s view over the matter.
Several Civil Rights Organisations have been putting pressure on the President to sign the bill mainly because it empowers INEC to transmit election results electronically.
Also, some have argued that mandatory primaries would create a level playing field for all including women and youths.
However, Governors of the All Progressives Congress have openly opposed the mandatory primaries including Governor Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi State and Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State.
The Nigerian Democratic Report (NDR) reports that a group of civil society organizations had early in December called on President Buhari to urgently give assent to the Electoral Bill 2021, which they say, is in tandem to the will of the Nigerian people for a free and fair elections, in order to seamlessly fastrack preparations for the next General Elections holding in 2023.
Urging the President to honour his avowed commitment to bequeath an electoral system that will guarantee credible, inclusive and peaceful elections, they maintain that the Bill contains specific provisions that are directed at enhancing the quality and credibility of the country’s elections and address certain lacunas in the existing electoral legal framework.
Such provisions in the Bill, according to the group, include: Legal backing for the use of electoral technologies for the purpose of voter accreditation and electronic transmission of election results; extension of restrictive timelines for electoral activities, concise definition of over voting and the conferment of legal authority on INEC to review questionable election results.
While welcoming the President’s decision to ask for the advise of certain ministries, department and agencies, the group expressed the hope that in making their inputs to the Bill, the respective officials will be guided by the overriding public interest to strengthen our democratic process.
They posit that the Bill in its current state will not only encourage increased citizens’ participation in the electoral process, but it will also further enhance the capacity of the democratic institutions to improve the transparency and legitimacy of electoral outcomes.
Their statement signed by eight civil society organizations that have spearheaded the campaign for a credible and more transparent elections, and released in Abuja on Thursday December 3, stated in parts:
“The Presidency on 19th November 2021 acknowledged the receipt of the Electoral Bill 2021 from the National Assembly for Presidential assent.
“The Bill contains specific provisions that are directed at enhancing the quality and credibility of elections and address certain lacunas in the existing electoral legal framework.
“Such provisions in the Bill include: Legal backing for the use of electoral technologies for the purpose of voter accreditation and electronic transmission of election results; extension of restrictive timelines for electoral activities, concise definition of over voting and the conferment of legal authority on INEC to review questionable election results.
“The undersigned Civil Society Organizations welcome the decision of the President to invite the comment of relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government on the Bill. In this regard, the input from the Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Minister of the Interior, Minister of Finance and the Inspector General of the Police are probably the most crucial.
“In their consideration of the Bill, these Office Holders should be guided by the overriding public interest to strengthen our electoral process and the consolidation of our democracy.
“It is our firm belief that the Bill in its current state will not only encourage increased citizens’ participation in the electoral process, but it will also further enhance the capacity of the democratic institutions to improve the transparency and legitimacy of electoral outcomes.
“Furthermore, the timely assent to the Electoral Bill 2021 will facilitate early preparations and efficient election administration of the 2023 General Election, which is just 443 days away.
“It must be emphasized that the successful conduct of any elections is predicated on the certainty and clarity of the election legal framework, amongst other factors. This is to preclude any legal uncertainties that may occasion manipulation and subversion of the electoral process.
“It is for this reason that the African Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Good Governance and the ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance requires that any amendment to the electoral legal framework must be concluded at least six months to the date of election.” the group argue.
The group also made the following recommendations:
* The President should timeously assent to the Electoral Bill 2021 which is in congruence with the will and aspirations of the Nigerian people.
* President Muhammadu Buhari must continue to pursue and honour his commitment to bequeath to Nigerians an electoral system that guarantees the conduct of credible, inclusive and peaceful elections.
* Further amendments to the Electoral Bill 2021 by the National Assembly should be undertaken in the
next electoral cycle based on real and perceived lacuna identified in the implementation of the current Bill.
The statement was signed by Yiaga Africa, International Press Centre (IPC), Centre for Citizens with Disability (CCD), Albino Foundation, CLEEN Foundation, Others are the Institute for Media and Society (IMS), Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF) and Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ).
Responding to the fears that the President may not give assent to the Bill because of his decision to ask for the comments of some ministries, departments and agencies, Executive Director, Yiaga Africa, Mr Samson Itodo says, the President’s action is not new but urge the officials concerned to be guided by the overriding public interest to strengthen the country’s democratic process.
“If the President refused to give assent and decides to return the Bill to the National Assembly, we’ll be urging the National Assembly to defend and veto the Bill,” quips David Obinna Anyeale, executive director, Centre for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD).
On whether the country was not surrendering its electoral process to machines and that INEC was not being given too much powers, Mr Lanre Arogundade, executive director, International Press Centre (IPC), contends that technology deployment kickstarted 10 years ago by the Commission has enhanced the credibility of the country’s elections. He also said the INEC needed to be empowered to carry out its functions of delivering a fraud free elections.
“The media is there to play its oversight role on INEC and check any misuse of powers,” Arogundade says.