By Onyebuchi Ezigbo
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has appealed for the fasttracking of the processes leading to the passage and signing into law of the Electoral Act amendment Bill.
With only 484 days to the 2023 general election, INEC said that time is of the essence if it will be able to put necessary guidelines in place for the elections in line with the provisions of the amended Electoral Act (2021).
In his remarks at the meeting of the Senate and House of Representatives Conference Committee on the Electoral Act amendment bill 2021 held at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja Thursday in collaboration with Policy, Legislative and Advocacy Centre (PLAC), the Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, said that without the passage of the bill on time, the commission cannot make the regulations and guidelines to give effect to the provisions of the law.
Yakubu said: “The commission looks forward to the conclusion of the process without which we cannot make the regulations and guidelines to give effect to the provisions of the law.
“Without the regulations and guidelines, we cannot finalise on the manuals for the training of officials that will conduct elections. There are extensive provisions in the current bill that requires clear guidance by the commission.”
Yakubu also said that the early enactment of the electoral law will enable the commission to test run procedures and pilot innovations ahead of the 2023 general election.
The bill, which is now at the last stage before the passage by the National Assembly and submission to the executive for assent, provides amongst others, the use of electronic device for transmission of election results.
Yakubu said that in addition to the Anambra State governorship election holding on November 6, 2021, the commission has already scheduled three major elections to be conducted next year.
“First is the Area Council election in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) holding on 12th February, 2022, followed by the Ekiti governorship election on 18th June, 2022 and the Osun governorship election a month later on 16th July, 2022. The commission also has five pending by-elections made up of three federal constituencies and two state constituencies to contend with.
“I want to assure you that in a proactive manner, the commission has been studying aspects of the amendment bill and identifying areas that require the formulation of regulations and guidelines as well as the review of prescribed forms for implementation.
“This will enable the commission to test run procedures and pilot innovations ahead of the 2023 general election. The speedy passage of the bill will be in the best interest of our electoral process,” he said.
While highling the fundamental roll of the Electoral Act in the conduct of the election, Yakubu said that the Act is one of the most important laws in any democracy.
He stated that one of the unique aspects of the current amendment of the Electoral Act is that it started well ahead of the forthcoming general election, unlike previous exercises which came too close to elections.
The INEC boss solicited further co-operation from the National Assembly to make broad provisions of the law that will empower the commission to continue to innovate without necessarily restricting it to a specific technology such as the Smart Card Reader, which could in due course become obsolete, inapplicable or irrelevant as was the case in the recent introduction of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) by the commission.
“Election is a process anchored on a legal framework. First is the constitution, followed by the Electoral Act. In all jurisdictions, the Electoral Act provides more detailed provisions to govern the conduct of elections and the electoral process.
“The importance of starting early is that it allows for a thorough debate by citizens on aspects of the Bill long after the conventional public hearing as witnessed recently. Clearly, the Electoral Amendment Bill 2021 is one of the most extensively debated Bills in Nigeria.
“Understandably, the issue of technology in elections has dominated recent public discussions in Nigeria. The commission appreciates the decision of the National Assembly to empower INEC to determine and deploy appropriate technology in future elections.
“For us in INEC, this is one of the progressive decisions by our National Assembly. As you finalise on the Electoral Amendment Bill, I urge you to continue to endow the commission with power to determine what technology to deploy in our elections at the appropriate time,” he said.