By Nseobong Okon-Ekong
The National Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC), Prof. 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 co-sponsored by Senator Ovie Omo-Agege which recently passed second reading, while noting that the ‘Electoral Offences Commission (Establishment) Bill 2020’ sponsored in the House of Representatives by Hon. John Dyegh has passed first reading.
Speaking at the opening of a two-day ‘INEC Retreat with Members of the National Assembly on the Electoral Legal Framework’ in Lagos on Thursday, Yakubu said, “The nation can no longer afford to foot drag on this important legislation which will provide the framework for dealing 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 9th National Assembly to make history by passing this important Bill into law. “It’s time to walk the talk,” he enthused.
Other critical areas of electoral reform being considered include 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. According to him, “Already, the Commission has an electronic register of voters. Similarly, voter accreditation has also gone electronic. It is time for a new legislation to remove all encumbrances to further 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 the 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 judgements by courts of coordinate jurisdiction on the same case, 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 reduce, if not totally eliminate, the incidence of inconclusive elections and the cost associated with conducting supplementary elections which in most cases merely validate the outcome of the first ballot.”
Also speaking at the event, Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege who represented Senate President, Dr. Ahmad Lawan reiterated his conviction that the National Assembly has a unique constitutional gatekeeping role. “That sacrosanct constitutional duty of protecting our democratic order,” he said, “starts with 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.”
Senator Omo-Agege further assured on the determination of the 9th National to carry out electoral reform. “We recognise across party lines that it is in our nation’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,”
Chairman of the Senate Committee on INEC, Senator Kabiru Gaya expressed confidence that the repeal and re-enactment of the Electoral Bill, will indeed inject better ideas into our electoral system especially in areas that could undermine the process of free, fair and credible elections.
In the same vein, Rt. Hon. Aishatu Dukku, Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on INEC said, “It is instructive to note that in today’s modern world, eye turns are the major pillars of leadership selection in liberal democracies, therefore, constant and un-ceasing effort for the reformation of electoral laws and electoral processes is imperative to any country like Nigeria where there is a long history of poorly conducted elections since our return to democratic rule in 1999.”
In attendance at the retreat were the likes of former Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, Senator Teslim Folarin, National Commissioners and Resident Electoral Commissioners of INEC, the leadership of States Independent Electoral Commission and representatives of INEC’s development partners, the European Centre for Electoral Support (ECES) and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES).