By Chuks Okocha
Ahead of town hall meetings and public hearings by the two arms of National Assembly, Coalition of Civil Societies operating under the aegis of Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth and Advancement (YIAGA) Africa have listed areas of expected electoral reforms before the next general election and other scheduled elections.
According to Samson Itodo, the Executive Director of YIAGA, the town hall meetings are being organized within the framework of the EU Support to democratic governance in Nigeria (EU-SDGN) programme with the following EU-SDGN partners; the Albino Foundation, International Press Centre (IPC), Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF), CLEEN Foundation, European Centre for Electoral Support (ECES), Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC), Westminster Foundation, National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), BBC Media Action, Institute of Media and Society (IMS) and Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ).
In a copy of the recommendations made available to THISDAY, YIAGA Africa is urging the National Assembly to accelerate the consideration of the electoral amendment bills and ensure their quick passage before the end of 2020. The group also called on the National Assembly to consolidate and harmonize all electoral amendments into a Repeal and Re-enactment Electoral bill.
The National Assembly was urged to set December 2020 as a definite timeline for concluding all reforms to the electoral legal framework.
It also urged the parliament to consider the following key electoral reform priorities:
*Strengthen the financial autonomy of INEC by providing legal timelines for the release of funds to INEC to conduct elections;
*Provide legal recognition for electronic accreditation of voters, e-voting, e-collation and electronic transmission of results;
*Review timelines to allow the conduct of early primaries, campaigns and submission of list of candidates as well as prescribe limits to fees, charges, and dues imposed by political parties on aspirants
*The provision of legal grounds for the rejection of list of candidates submitted by parties to INEC as well as conditions for cancellation of elections;
*Review the duality of jurisdiction between Election Petition Tribunals and regular courts, and harmonize timelines for the determination of pre-election matters so pre-election disputes can be resolved well before the date of elections;
*Subject declarations and returns made by Returning Officers under duress or controversial circumstances to further review by the Commission;
*Establishment of an electoral offences commission to prosecute electoral offenders;
*Political inclusion of women, youth and persons with disability in the electoral process
YIAGA Africa and it’s associate called upon the executive arm to as a matter of urgency leverage the harmonious working relationship with the National Assembly to ensure expeditious passage/assent of electoral amendment bills currently being considered by the National Assembly.
Accordingly, the group said, “The President should demonstrate intolerance for electoral impunity by directing the Attorney General of the Federation and Inspector General of Police to investigate and prosecute all suspects involved in all forms of criminality and violence. This should include an executive order preventing the Attorney General from entering nolle prosequi in the prosecution of electoral offences”.
On the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the civil society group said that a comprehensive audit of the Bayelsa and Kogi governorship elections was required given the high level of incidents and malpractice.
It said that findings of the audit must be shared with the public and sanctions imposed on culpable INEC officials.
The group said that given the sensitive nature of elections, INEC should ensure clarity in its regulations and guidelines, explaining that ambiguity in electoral guidelines creates room for manipulation and fraud.
It called on the Commission to maintain consistency in its decisions and uphold the values of integrity, neutrality and accountability in the management of future elections, while polling unit level results of elections should be posted online to facilitate public access to election results.
On the security of elections, YIAGA Africa called on the INEC’s Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) to audit the performance of the security officers in previous elections, particularly in areas where elections were disrupted by violence.
In addition, ICCES said that INEC should investigate the allegations that some police officers refused to deploy to polling units thereby giving political thugs and those in fake security uniforms an unobstructed path to disrupt the electoral process.
“For credible elections, security agencies must remain impartial, neutral and professional in the management of election security. Loyalty must be to the Constitution not individuals,” YIAGA Africa recommended.
On the side of political parties, it called for the building of national consensus on priority issues for electoral reforms through an inclusive and collaborative process.
It said, “Political parties should ensure a transparent and democratic candidate nomination process and allow independent observation of the process. Parties must comply with their own internal guidelines and electoral laws in nomination of candidates.
“Political parties should remove members who undermine elections and promote violence through sanctions and withdrawal of membership”.
On the side of the CSOs and Citizens, YIAGA Africa called for massive citizens mobilization to advocate and promote electoral reforms at the local, state and national level as well as hold the executive and legislature to account for their commitment on electoral reform.
They urged CSOs not to despair or be deterred from their mandate of civic engagement despite the attacks and fatalities suffered during the elections in Kogi and Bayelsa, urging them to remain resilient in providing oversight on the electoral process and voter education.
According to YIAGA Africa. “For democracy to thrive, citizens must remain committed and strive continuously to defend it despite the challenges. Not participating in the electoral process creates greater opportunities for poor governance to thrive and accountability to fail”.