Electoral Act Amendment Bill Passes Second Reading in Senate

Ovie Omo-Agege

Deji Elumoye in Abuja

The Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2019, sponsored by Deputy Senate President, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, wednesday passed through second reading.

The bill, which has 26 clauses and co-sponsored by Senator Abubakar Kyari, seeks to amend the Electoral Act to strengthen and protect Nigeria’s democracy, as well as cure specific mischiefs plaguing the nation’s elections and electoral processes.

A key aspect of the bill is its provision for electronic voting as section 52(2) of the bill, which seeks to introduce a new subsection reads: “The commission may adopt electronic voting or any other method of voting in any election it conducts as it may deem fit.”

Leading the debate on the bill, Omo-Agege said though the process under the Eighth Senate was fraught with mutual suspicions and bitterness, electoral reform for the Ninth National Assembly remains a priority in its legislative agenda.

He added that the bill to amend the Electoral Act seeks to enact a new Section 87 on the Nomination of Candidates by Parties for Elections by prescribing maximum fees payable by aspirants and restricting nomination criteria strictly to relevant provisions.

The bill, according to him, also seeks to make clarification under Section 38(1)(a) of the principal Act which states that “a person shall be deemed to be qualified for an elective office and his election shall not be questioned on grounds of qualification if, with respect to the particular election in question, he meets the applicable requirements of Sections 65, 107, 137 or 182 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.”

“In compliance with Order 77(3) of our Standing Rules, I state that this bill has no financial implications. Accordingly, there is no accompanying financial compendium. For the greater good of this great republic, I hereby humbly move for the second reading of this bill to be taken.”

Contributing to the debate, Senator Ibikunle Amosun noted that improving on the nation’s electoral experience required serious amendments to the electoral law.

The bill also compelled INEC to operate an electronic database into which all results in an election should be transmitted.

It also stipulates that data of accredited voters must be transmitted to the central data base upon the conclusion of the accreditation of voters, which would be done through the use of the card reader.

“At the end of accreditation of voters, the presiding officer shall transmit the voter accreditation data by secure mobile electronic communication to the central database of the commission kept at the national headquarters of the commission.

“Any presiding officer who contravenes this provision shall be liable, on conviction, to a minimum of imprisonment of at least five years without an option of fine,” the bill also stipulates.

It prevents INEC from shutting down the central data base until all petitions arising from the elections are determined by a tribunal or court.
“In respect of data of accreditation of voters, including polling unit results, for an election, the commission shall not shut down its central database kept at its national headquarters until all election petitions and appeals pertaining to that election are heard and determined by a tribunal or court.”

Senate President, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, after the general debate on the bill, referred it to the Senate Committee on INEC headed by Senator Kabiru Gaya for further legislative work within one week.

The Eighth National Assembly had attempted to amend the law but failed to get the presidential approval at the end of the day.

President Muhammadu Buhari, had while refusing to sign the bill, said: “I am declining assent to the bill principally because I am concerned that passing a new electoral bill this far into the electoral process for the 2019 general election, which commenced under the 2015 Electoral Act, could create some uncertainty about the applicable legislation to govern the process.

“Any real or apparent change to the rules this close to the election may provide an opportunity for disruption and confusion in respect of which law governs the electoral process,” the president had explained.