Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Chuks Okocha in Abuja
The National Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu, has expressed hope for an expeditious passage of the bill for an Act for the establishment of the National Electoral Offences Commission, sponsored in the Senate by Senator Abubakar Kyari and Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, which recently passed second reading.
Also, the Electoral Offences Commission (Establishment) Bill 2020, which was sponsored in the House of Representatives by Hon. John Dyegh, has passed first reading.
Meanwhile, as part of preparations for new electoral laws to govern elections and electoral processes in the country, the INEC boss proposed new electoral laws that would aid the conduct of elections in Nigeria.
The proposal was disclosed by Yakubu at a meeting with stakeholders, where he stated that he had hoped that the 2019 election would be the last manual election in Nigeria.
Speaking at the opening of a two-day INEC retreat with members of the National Assembly on the Electoral Legal Framework in Lagos yesterday, Yakubu said: “The country can no longer afford to foot drag on this important legislation which will provide the framework to deal with impunity and brigandage in elections which are becoming more brazen essentially because violators of electoral laws are not effectively prosecuted.”
Tracing the recent history of attempts at electoral reforms in the country, Yakubu recalled the Uwais Committee on Electoral Reform of 2009; the Lemu Committee on the 2011 Post-election Violence and the Nnamani Committee on Electoral Reform of 2017.
He regretted, however, that 11 years after the Uwais recommendation, “we are still talking about the prosecution of electoral offences.”
Yakubu, therefore, urged the ninth National Assembly to make history by passing “this important bill” into law, adding: “It’s time to walk the talk.
Other critical areas of electoral reform being considered included deployment of technology in elections.
On this issue, Yakubu was hopeful that the 2019 national elections would mark the end of mainly manual voting in Nigeria.
He said: “Already, the commission has an electronic register of voters. Similarly, voters’ accreditation has also gone electronic. It is time for a new legislation to remove all encumbrances to the deployment of technology in the electoral process, especially in the accreditation of voters and transmission of election results.”
Drawing from the experience of the election management body, Yakubu alerted lawmakers on the need to find a way to deal with a situation in which Returning Officers are compelled to declare winners under duress.
He said: “The electoral legal framework should provide clear procedures for party primaries and consequences for violation. Similarly, the right under the law to file pre-election cases in different categories of high courts often leads to what lawyers call ‘forum shopping’ by litigants and conflicting judgments by courts of coordinate jurisdiction on the same case, and sometimes even on matters already settled by superior courts. We also need a new definition of over-voting with emphasis on accredited voters rather than the number of registered voters in a polling unit. Doing so will make the management of the margin of lead principle easier and considerably reduced.”
He restated that there is need to expedite the process, particularly because the Bill under consideration at this retreat is the one emanating from the Senate.
The INEC chairman stated further that where the passage of the bill is delayed, it would affect the formulation of regulations and guidelines as well as the review and publication of the manual necessary for the training of ad-hoc staff for elections because both documents draw from the legal framework.
According to him, “The House of Representatives is working on its own bill. Given the urgency of the situation, the two chambers of the National Assembly may wish to consider adopting the current bill and to organise a joint public hearing for the passage of the amendments into law in earnest.”
Also speaking at the event, the Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege, who represented the Senate President, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, reiterated his conviction that the National Assembly has a unique constitutional gatekeeping role, which is “that sacrosanct constitutional duty of protecting our democratic order.
He said: “We should start by ensuring that we provide the right electoral legal framework for the conduct of free, fair and credible elections by the commission. Ultimately, our collective success as a constitutional democracy depends on truly credible electoral outcomes.”
Omo-Agege further assured INEC on the determination of the ninth National Assembly to carry out electoral reform. “We recognise across party lines that it is in our country’s best interest to work together to strengthen our electoral laws and, consequently, better protect this very important and consequential democracy on the African continent,” he said.
Chairman of the Senate Committee on INEC, Senator Kabiru Gaya, on his own, expressed confidence that the repeal and re-enactment of the Electoral Bill will indeed inject better ideas into the Nigerian electoral system, especially in areas that could undermine the process of free, fair and credible elections.
Those in attendance at the retreat included former Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu; Senator Teslim Folarin, National Commissioners and Resident Electoral Commissioners of INEC, the leadership of States Independent Electoral Commissions and representatives of INEC’s development partners, the European Centre for Electoral Support (ECES) and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES).