Electoral Act Requires Deeper Surgery

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The nation’s Electoral Act, as it is, requires a thorough review and amendment, writes David Onuoha-Bourdex

It was with much relief that one observed the recent attempt by the Nigeria Senate to tinker with Electoral Act 2010 as previously amended. However, desirable as the amendment to the Act is, particularly regarding what happens in the event of the death of a candidate before elections are concluded, the piecemeal approach to the amendment may not produce far-reaching results.

By its action, the Senate has shown that it is not only alive to its responsibilities, but also responsive to the yearnings of Nigerians. Nonetheless, in view of the observed electoral hiccups, I think the 2010 Electoral Act requires a deeper surgical procedure to address the multifarious challenges facing the country’s electoral system.

That being the case, I think what the two chambers of the National Assembly should do is to compile these noticeable flaws in the Act against the background of what transpired in the elections, starting from the 2015 general election through Kogi, Bayelsa and recently, Ondo governorship polls.

In tackling this very crucial assignment, it would be most beneficial for both chambers to liaise with the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Non-governmental organisations and other critical stakeholders in the electoral processes in the country. The federal lawmakers should also take a deep and searching look at various pronouncements by Election Petition Tribunals and Courts on elections issues with a view to plugging all loopholes that enemies of genuine democracy exploit to undermine the right of the people to choose their representatives.

Those are some of the steps to be taken, but the issues to be tackled are many. One appalling aspect of Nigerian democracy, especially the electoral system, is the delegate system. It is hard to understand why a few individuals in a political party should be the ones choosing the candidates only for the voters to be invited to confirm their choice. This is arbitrary.

The correct interpretation of democracy and a good democratic process is that it should involve the people all the way. What this means in the context of candidate selection is that the people should lead the way. For instance, selecting the standard bearers of various political parties for State and National Assembly election, the primary election should be at the ward levels involving card carrying members of the parties.

The importance of this approach is that it gives power to the people; the authentic members of the party who know what it means to choose a wrong candidate that would go to the main election and lose out to a better candidate.
Furthermore, this method would enhance the revenue base of the political parties. How do I mean? Simple, the ward register of members of the party would reveal those that have been up to the minute in paying their membership fees and renewing their membership periodically.

This process would serve as a check on dubious party executives that are wont to trade with the party ticket or even transforming the party to automatic teller machines (ATM) during elections. It would also challenge the political parties to elect well-meaning individuals with credible sources of income and not gamblers, idle hands and touts.

Any political party that derives pleasure in bribery, money politics or corruption can allow aspirants to buy the votes of its members at the ward, but they should also recognise that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), would be happy to hold it accountable on the sources of income of the money bag as well as charge it for political corruption.

By taking the candidate selection process to the wards, the process also ensures that the prospective candidate is known by the members of the party and that they are responsible for his selection. What this entails is that the beauty of democracy would be seen and appreciated by the people, as they begin to take active part and authority over their representatives.

Spreading out the primary election time-table in this way would also ensure that only those fully committed to serving the people get involved in politics, as opposed to the current system, where a few individuals acting as delegates gather to auction the parties’ tickets to the highest bidder.
This method, which is similar to what obtains in the United States of America (US), enables the people to carry out intensive and extensive background checks on the various candidates that are aspiring to represent them.
One other area the federal lawmakers should help Nigeria’s electoral system is in the area of ensuring that candidates, whose elections are being challenged in the courts do not get into that office until final resolution of the matter. In this regard, the onus of proof of electoral outcome should be on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

If INEC knows that it is going to bear the cost of litigation in disputed elections, it would have no option than to do a thorough job, instead of the present system where it quickly aligns with the beneficiary of a dubious mandate to delay trial or obfuscate justice. I had in an earlier intervention suggested that lawmakers, whose elections are subject to legal contestation should be entitled to half of their monthly stipend and allowances until the cases are dispensed.

But experience has shown that just like lawmakers facing election petitions fall back on the free and unmerited income to make the legal challenge so burdensome on the injured party, state governors use their huge security votes to ensure that they cobble the election petitions through inducement and payment of mouth-watering legal fees to their counsel, who in turn introduce time wasting technicalities to suspend justice.

In view of the foregoing – making INEC bear the onus of proof of electoral outcome, denying holders of disputed mandates from accessing the office in question – it would also be helpful if politicians that defect from one political party to another for reasons not connected with disagreement with policies or ideologies are not allowed to contest election in alternate platforms until a specific period of time not shorter than two years.
The legislators could also explore the possibility of fixing the amount of money a political party should make available to its candidates in an election. This would help to address the inherent corruption that trails campaign funding and excessive use of money as inducement to voters during elections.

With the above few points, I know that the National Assembly will see with me that the Electoral Act deserves greater attention than the one item amendment the Senate has tried to address. There is a sense of urgency to rejig the electoral system now that the next general election is barely three years away, instead of waiting for the eleventh hour to rush through another legal document full of loopholes.

Finally, this is about the best time to harmonise all views about the card reader, incident forms and permanent voters’ card and voting outside the original domain of voters. It has been argued that if Adamu, Kolawole and Okoroafor could access their bank account through the ATM at any part of the country, the voters card could equally be programmed in such a manner to ensure that voters are not disenfranchised merely be changing their location during an election.

The time is ripe for the country to imbibe full electronic voting, just like South Africa and Ghana are perfecting. The era of leaving room for human manipulation should be over and not allowed re-entry through the backdoor.

As a telecom expert, I know the power of technology to solve physical challenges, particularly those concerning space and distance. If banks could get it right with verification numbering and biometrics, our PVCs could be programmed in such manner. We can exploit the benefits of technology in reforming our electoral system in full. The wonderful innovations of Professor Attahiru Jega, could not only be sustained, but also improved upon.
-Onuoha-Bourdex, a telecom expert and politician, wrote from Abiriba, Abia State