With Election Season Approaching, INEC Still Awaits Relevant Electoral Amendments

0

Onyebuchi Ezigbo and Damilola Oyedele in Abuja

With less than one and a half years to the next general election in 2019, the Independent National Electoral Commission is still expecting relevant amendments to the electoral laws. The non-passage of the amendments by the National Assembly has left the commission in a dilemma.

INEC had initiated moves to introduce innovations meant to improve the electoral process and proposed key amendments to the electoral laws to give legal backing to the initiative. But the bills to effect the alterations, both to the 1999 Constitution and the 2010 Electoral Act, are dragging in the National Assembly.

THISDAY learnt that some of the bills for the amendment of the Electoral Act had been passed by the Senate and were awaiting concurrence by the House of Representatives. But the ones requiring constitution amendment are currently bogged down in the lingering constitution amendment process.

A source close to the National Assembly, however, exonerated the federal legislature from the delays, insisting it is the turn of the Houses of Assembly to take action on the constitution amendment.

“The buck has since been passed to the state assemblies, which are yet to revert,” the source stated, expressing optimism, however, that the relevant amendments to the constitution relating to elections would be done before the 2019 polls.

The proposed amendments to the constitution include alterations to the following sections: 65(2), which deals with qualifications for election; 66. (1), disqualifications; 68. (1), tenure of seat of National Assembly members;76 (1), time of election to the National Assembly; 77(2), direct election and franchise; 91, composition of the House of Assembly; 106, qualifications for election; 107(1), disqualifications; 109 (1), tenure of seat of House of Assembly members; 112, state constituencies; 113, size of state constituencies; 116 (1), time of elections to Houses of Assembly; 117(2), direct election and franchise; 131, qualification for election as President; 132 (1), election of the President: general; 134. (1), election: two or more presidential candidates; 137 (1), disqualifications from presidential election; 177, qualification for election as governor; 178 (1), election of governor: general; 179 (1), election: single candidate and two or more candidates; 182 (1), disqualifications from governorship election; and 225 (3), finances of political parties.

There is also a proposal to add new sections to the constitution, dealing with the death of a presidential or governorship candidate before his/her declaration and return after an election, and the timing of pre-election litigations.

INEC has also proposed alterations to the following sections of the 2010 Electoral Act: 18, power to issue duplicate voters’ cards; 25, days of election; 27(1) (b), 2(a), announcement of election results; 30 (1), notice for election; 35, withdrawal of candidate; 47, hours of poll and the question of diaspora voting; 48, display of ballot boxes; 49 (1), issue of ballot papers; 52, conduct of poll by Open Secret Ballot; 53, over voting; 63 (1), counting of votes and forms; 78(4), power of the commission to register political parties; 99, seeking increase in the time for campaign for election; 100 (1), rules governing campaign for election; and 105 (1), delineation of electoral wards.

INEC also proposed amendments to correct observed discrepancies between Paragraph 51(1) and 51(2) of the First Schedule of the 1999 Constitution and Section 137 (3) of the Electoral Act.

The commission proposed new sections to provide for stay of execution in pre-election matters and legalise E-collation and transmission of election results.

Findings by THISDAY show that out of the 25 items contained in the proposed amendment to the constitution, only about six have been considered while 20 others are pending.

Chairman of INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, recently appealed to the National Assembly to expedite action on the passage of the relevant bills expected to guide the conduct of elections to give the commission ample time to prepare for the 2019 general election.

The amendments are critical to the elections, from the electioneering to the declaration of results. For instance, while the extant provision, section 30 (1) of the Electoral Act, provides that INEC shall publish the notice of election not later than 90 days before the day of an election, 150 days is being proposed in the amendment. There is also the issue of electronic voting and transmission of results, which require constitution amendment. INEC says the use of technology would help to increase transparency in the electoral process and enhance the integrity of the country’s elections.

Meanwhile, some important bills seeking to amend the Electoral Act, which were passed by the Senate in March, are yet to get concurrence from the House of Representatives. They include the bills seeking to legalise the use of smart card readers for authentication of accredited voters, and approval for the use of electronic voting for future elections. The smart card readers were deployed for the 2015 polls. But amendment of the Electoral Act 2010 is still required to legalise their use.

THISDAY gathered that the amendments passed by the Senate had all undergone second reading in the House. They have, however, not been subjected to public hearing before they could be brought for third reading. After the amendments are passed by the House, they would be subjected to harmonisation by the Joint Committee of both chambers.

Other major amendments passed by the Senate include those on the electronic transmission of results from the polling units in encrypted and secure form, and death of a candidate after the commencement of elections and before the declaration of a winner by INEC, as happened during the November 2015 governorship election in Kogi State.

The Senate’s amendment also gives political parties the right to adopt direct or indirect primaries in choosing their candidates, while qualification or disqualification of candidates for elections will be solely based on the provisions of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.

THISDAY could not get an update on the amendment bills from Chairman of the Senate Committee on INEC, Senator Suleiman Nazif, as he did not keep his interview appointments. Other members of the committee, who were contacted for their reactions, also failed to respond to enquiries, except Senator Mao Ohuabunwa, who confirmed that the passed amendments were awaiting concurrence from the House of Representatives.

In the meantime, six of the amendments to the Electoral Act have been referred to the National Assembly constitution review committee. They include review of Section 294 (1) of the Constitution for accelerated hearing of pre-election matters; review of Sections 65 (2) (b), 106 (d), 131 (c) and 177 (c) with 142 (1) and 122 of the constitution with respect to independent candidacy; review of Section 285 of the constitution on timelines for the determination of election petitions and appeals; and review of section 174 (c) of the constitution for the Attorney General of the Federation’s power of nolle prosequi not to be exercisable in respect of electoral offenses.

Others are review of Section 134 (4) and (5) of the Constitution with respect to the number of days within which INEC is to conduct a rerun presidential election if a winner did not emerge, taking into account logistical challenges involved in organising a fresh election within seven days as currently provided in the constitution, and review of sections 15 (c) (d) and (f), 225, 226 and 228 of the constitution to support the unbundling of INEC with regard to regulation of political parties.

The issue of independent candidacy was passed during the constitution amendment vote in both chambers.