* INEC holds emergency meeting today on implementation
Deji Elumoye, Chuks Okocha, Udora Orizu in Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday signed into law the reworked Electoral Act Amendment Bill transmitted to him by the National Assembly on January 31, 2022, with a call on the legislative arm to amend Section 84 (12) of the Act which bars political office holders from participating in their parties’ primaries.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was jolted into action by the signing and summoned an extraordinary meeting of the Commission for today in Abuja, to discuss how to swiftly implement the Electoral Act 2022.
Speaking shortly before signing the document at a brief ceremony at the Council Chambers of the State House, Abuja, witnessed by the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan; and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila; among other top government officials, President Buhari said the amended Electoral Act “holds a lot of promise” for improving the election processes in the country, with introduction of new technology, and efforts to engender clarity and transparency.
He, however, stressed the need to amend section 84 (12), which contravenes the rights of political office holders to vote or be voted for in political party conventions and congresses.
Buhari said: “From the review, it is my perspective that the substance of the Bill is both reformative and progressive. I am making this bold declaration because I foresee the great potentials of the Bill. Worthy of note include the democratic efficacy of the Bill with particular reference to sections 3, 9(2), 34, 41, 47, 84(9), (10) and (11), among others.
“This, however, cannot be said about one provision as contained in the proposed Bill, which constitutes fundamental defect, as it is in conflict with extant constitutional provisions.
“Section 84 (12) constitutes a disenfranchisement of serving political office holders from voting or being voted for at conventions or congresses of any political party, for the purpose of the nomination of candidates for any election in cases where it holds earlier than 30 days to the national election.’’
Quoting section 84(12), “No political appointee at any level shall be voting delegate or be voted for at the convention or congress of any political party for the purpose of the nomination of candidates for any election,” the President noted it had introduced qualification and disqualification criteria that ultra vires the Constitution by way of importing blanket restriction and disqualification to serving political office holders of which they are constitutionally accorded protection.
According to him: “The practical application of section 84 (12) of the Electoral Bill, 2022 will, if assented to, by operation of law, subject serving political office holders to inhibitions and restrictions referred to under section 40 and 42 of the 1999 Constitution as amended.
“It is imperative to note that the only constitutional expectation placed on serving political office holders that qualify, by extension, as public officers within the context of the constitution is resignation, withdrawal or retirement at least 30 days before the date of the election.
“Hence, it will be stretching things beyond the constitutional limit to import extraneous restrictions into the constitution on account of practical application of section 84 (12) of the bill where political parties’ conventions and congresses were to hold earlier than 30 days to the election.
“Arising from the foregoing, with particular regards to the benefits of the Bill, industry, time, resources and energy committed in its passage, I hereby assent to the Bill and request the Nationally Assembly to consider immediate amendments that will bring the Bill in tune with constitutionality by way of deleting section 84 (12) accordingly.’’
President Buhari commended the National Assembly for its commitment and dedication to improving the previous Electoral Bill 2021.
He said: “It is gratifying to note that the current Bill comes with a great deal of improvement from the previous Electoral Bill 2021. There are salient and praiseworthy provisions that could positively revolutionise elections in Nigeria through the introduction of new technological innovations. These innovations would guarantee the constitutional rights of citizens to vote and to do so effectively.
“The Bill would also improve and engender clarity, effectiveness and transparency of the election process, as well as reduce to the barest minimum incidences of acrimony arising from dissatisfied candidates and political parties.
“These commendable efforts are in line with our policy to bequeath posterity and landmark legal framework that paves the way for a credible and sound electoral process that we would all be proud of.”
The two chambers of the National Assembly had on January 25, passed the harmonised version of the Bill.
Buhari had withheld his assent to the earlier version of the Bill in November 2021, citing the cost of conducting direct primary elections, security challenges, and possible manipulation of electoral processes by political players as part of the reasons for his decision.
But the president gave some conditions to give his assent – an action that prompted the lawmakers to re-work the Bill.
Lawan: We Will Consider Buhari’s Request to Amend Section 84 (12)
The President of the Senate, Lawan yesterday gave an assurance that the legislative arm will look into President Buhari’s request for the amendment of the clause in the Electoral Act which bars political appointees from participating in their parties’ primaries.
Speaking with newsmen at the State House, Abuja after the signing of the Electoral Bill into law, Lawan said the National Assembly would be willing to consider President Buhari’s request as soon as a Bill to that effect was brought before them.
He said: “You know, this is a legitimate request. And that is why we commend the president. I will commend him for so many things, but let me also qualify it that even though he had a disagreement with the Section, especially clause 84 (12), that talks about public political office holders, he still went ahead to sign the Bill into law and that is to show his commitment and desire to have an electoral law that will ensure that we have better outcomes when we do election.
“So we will look at what he is asking for, I hope that they will send the request for the amendment in good time. Because time is of essence, INEC is waiting; and because we don’t want to spill over some of these dates, unnecessarily. We will be expecting a communication from Mr. President with respect to this. And then the National Assembly in both chambers will look into the request for amendment, but on the whole I think this is a wonderful development for this administration, for Nigeria, for the evolution and development and growth of democracy in Nigeria.”
The Senate President said with the Electoral Act in place, INEC should hit the ground running and ensure that successful elections are conducted in Osun and Ekiti states this year and the general elections nationwide in 2023.
Atiku, Saraki Hail Signing of New Electoral Law
Former vice president and the presidential candidate of the PDP in the last general election, Atiku Abubakar has commended the signing of the Electoral Act into law by President Buhari.
In his verified twitter handle, the former vice president said: “Now that the legal framework for the 2023 elections is in place following President Muhammadu Buhari’s assent to the Electoral Bill, INEC needs to roll-out the election guidelines in earnest so that the political parties and Nigerians can fully commence the journey to choose their leaders in 2023.”
On his part, former President of the Senate, Abubakar Bukola Saraki commended Buhari for finally signing the Electoral Act (amendment) Bill 2022, while also hailing the National Assembly, Civil Society Organisations and other Nigerians who remained persistent in insisting that Nigeria deserves a new law that will guarantee free, fair and peaceful poll in 2023 and beyond.
Saraki, in a statement signed by Yusuph Olaniyonu, Head of Abubakar Bukola Saraki Media Office, noted that while President Buhari deserves commendation for working with the federal legislature and rising above partisan interest to give the country a new law that could reform the electoral process, the big applause should go to the members of the civil society organisations who for the past one year have kept up the pressure and continuously agitated for the passage of the new Electoral Act.
INEC Holds Emergency Meeting
Meanwhile, INEC will hold a meeting today over the implementation of the Electoral Act 2022.
In a statement by Festus Okoye, National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, INEC said the signing of the bill was historic.
“It contains many progressive provisions that will facilitate the conduct of free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria.
“The nation now has the Electoral Act 2022 which replaces the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended). Together with the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the new Act constitutes the principal law to govern the conduct of future elections, including the 2023 General Election.”
INEC said given the tight timelines contained in the new law, it fully appreciates the importance of proceeding with their implementation in earnest.
“Consequently, an extraordinary meeting of the Commission is scheduled for Saturday 26th February 2022. Thereafter, a statement will be issued on the way forward,” the statement said.