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Wanted: credible electoral system for Nigeria

The Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth and Advancement (YIAGA) is a civil society organization dedicated to youth empowerment and mobilization for political participation, transparency, and accountability. It believes that one of the high points for the Electoral Act amendment currently before the National Assembly is ensuring that the inclusion of under-represented groups like women, youth, and people with disabilities (PWD) are well represented in future elections. It said this must be done in a way devoid of ambiguity and lack of compelling sanctions for anyone or group who chooses to do otherwise. The group said that, if these issues are addressed, it will be instrumental in restoring the confidence of citizens in our electoral process. The increasing cost of elections and contrasting drop in citizens’ confidence in the process are not good signs for Nigeria’s democracy. Thus, electoral policies must guarantee people’s participation, protect the sanctity of voters, and advance electoral justice. The group has sent a memorandum to the Joint Committee of the National Assembly for the repeal of the 2010 Electoral Act and the enactment of the 2020 Electoral Amendment Act taking into cognizance critical areas. The organization also believe that electoral reform is at the heart of democratic consolidation in Nigeria as it promotes the common good, social stability, and national development. It says “as an organization committed to the promotion of sustainable democracy through credible elections in Nigeria, we urge the National Assembly to give Nigerians an Electoral Act that will promote credible elections and support democratic development in Nigeria.

A truly free, fair, and credible election is a collective responsibility, we call on election stakeholders and citizens to hold the National Assembly accountable to the passage of an Electoral Act within the timeline of March 2021. The President is the determining factor for the passage of the Electoral Act, as with other legislations. He is required to assent to make it law, in the interest of national development”. One of the features in the new electoral act which has gone through a joint public hearing of both chambers of the National Assembly is to criminalise hoarding of membership of any political party by officers of the Independent National Electoral Commission. A provision in the new act states that “a person who, being a member of a political party misrepresents himself by not disclosing his membership, affiliation or connection to any political party in order to secure an appointment with the commission in any capacity commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of N5 million or imprisonment for a term of not less than five years or both.” If this provision sails through, it is expected to address the clamour for a non-partisan commission with non-political actors appointed or employed to carry out the functions assigned to the commission. It may also bring to an end allegation of partisanship on the conduct of elections.

The new electoral act seeks to limit campaign funds for all elected positions, with the presidential campaign attracting a whopping N5 billion as the limit of its campaign funds and N1 billion for the governorship election campaign. Campaign for Senatorial and House of Representatives election is expected to attract not more than N100 million and N70 million respectively; House of Assembly and local government chairmanship election is N30 million, while in the case of the councillorship election, the expenses shall not exceed N5,000,000.00. The law also seeks to halt the exploitation of aspirants by political parties through high and exorbitant nomination fees, which many believe has kept qualified persons out of the electoral contest for too long. The law, when passed will no longer allow political parties to collect more than N10 million for the presidential nomination form and N5 million for governorship candidates. Ahead of the 2019 Presidential election, the All Progressives Congress (APC) collected about N45 million for its presidential nomination form and N20 million for a governorship nomination form. Both parties have since settled for N20 million as nomination fees for the governorship nomination form. The law also fixes N2 million as nomination fee for senatorial aspirants, N1 million for House of Representatives aspirants, N500,000 for State Houses of Assembly aspirants N250,000 for Chairmanship aspirants and N150,000 for councillorship aspirants. It seeks to impose sanction on any party that contravene the law. While Section 52 (2) of the proposed law allow the commission to adopt electronic voting or any other method of voting in any election it conducts as it may seem fit, the proposed law also made provisions for eventualities such as the death of a candidate in an election, especially when the election has been conducted and results being awaited, with the party being allowed to present another candidate. It said: “If after that commencement of the polls and before the announcement not the final result and declaration of a winner, a candidate dies, the commission shall, being satisfied with the fact of the death, suspend the election for a period not exceeding 21 days. The political party whose candidate died may if it intends to continue to participate in the election, conduct a fresh primary within 14 days of the death of its candidate and submit the name of a new candidate to the commission to replace the dead candidate; and subject to paragraph a and b of this subsection, the Commission shall continue with the election, announce the final results and declare a winner”. The new law will no longer permit the use of incident form in places where the smart card readers fail to work, saying “where a smart card reader deployed for accreditation of voters fails to function in any unit and a fresh card reader is not deployed, the election in that unit shall be cancelled and another election shall be scheduled within 24 hours”.

When it comes into effect, the new law will make it difficult for political parties to impose conditions which are outside the provision of the constitution on their aspirants to disqualify them from contesting any elective office, while approving both direct and indirect primaries as the only mode of conducting primaries by the parties. It states that “a political party seeking to nominate candidates for elections under this act shall hold direct or indirect primaries or aspirants to an elective position which shall be monitored by the commission and the results of the primaries may be endorsed or certified by the Commission. A party shall not impose nomination qualification or disqualification criteria, measures or conditions on any aspirant or candidate for any election in its constitution, guideline or rules for nomination of a candidate for elections, except as prescribed under sections 65, 66, 106, 107,131, 137, 177 and 187 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended. Any requirement, criteria, measures or conditions for the nomination of candidates for elections outside the provisions of subsection 2 or 3 of this section shall be invalid”.

Until now, parties challenging the outcome of elections are expected to call oral evidence during hearing of their petitions. But the new law will take such a burden away from the litigants. It said, “It is necessary for a party who alleges non-compliance with the provisions of this Act and the published manuals, guidelines, regulations or procedures issued by the commission for the conduct of elections to call oral evidence of originals or certified true copies of Electoral documents or materials used by the Commission to conduct the election in the polling unit(s) where the non-compliance is alleged are listed in a petition and tendered at the trial of the petition in proof of the non-compliance complained of.” However, there is a clamour for the use of technology to transmit election results. This is supported by Speaker of the House of Representatives Femi Gbajabiamila, who insisted that “proper use of technology” in the delivering of credible election in the country was necessary at this time in the nation’s democracy. The Speaker is concerned over what he described as the weaknesses of party administration and nomination processes, which he said has distorted the nation’s electoral process. He said there was a need for Nigerians to work together to seek a permanent solution to the worrisome and increasing disruption of elections across the country using violence by politicians and their supporters, apprehension, and prosecution of electoral offenders to deter misconduct in the future. He argued that mere amendment to the Electoral Act will not address the ills in the electoral system in the country. He said: “Until we fix the way we do politics in Nigeria, we cannot fix the way we run the government. And we need to fix both politics and governance before we can hope to make real progress and achieve real prosperity in our country. A review of our electoral processes since 1999 till date will show that there has in fact been significant improvements in both process and outcomes. We have recorded incremental improvements over time. The challenge we face now is that for too many of our citizens, incremental change is no longer enough. It is expected that the National Assembly will lead the way in taking legislative action to deliver big, fundamental, and structural changes across the electoral process from nomination through to inauguration. This is not an unreasonable expectation – after 20 years of democracy, it is not too much to expect that we will have by now established an electoral process that is efficient, reliable, and capable of delivering democratic outcomes that are beyond reproach. Some of the reforms of our electoral system that we hope to achieve, will not be achieved only by amending the Electoral Act.” However, former General-Secretary of the pan northern socio-political organisation, Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Anthony Sani canvass the inclusion of electronic voting in the electoral act that is currently being made so that it can be used for future elections. He is among those who believe that multi-party democracy id what the nation needs. He said “in my view, the electoral process should include electronic processes which can inspire confidence in the credibility of our elections, considering the legitimacy of government is critical for a democracy to thrive. To that end, I wish the use of card reader be legalized by the electoral act, and not mere administrative guidelines by INEC.

Also, to promote multiparty democracy, which allows parties to represent distinct methods of solving national problems, unhinged defections from one party to another not based on what a party can do but more on which party has the capacity to win elections; and given the fact that the electoral mandate is to the political parties and individual candidates merely hold it in trust, I suggest anybody who defects should leave behind the electoral mandate. The electoral act should therefore strengthen this provision in the interest of multiparty democracy.” Director of Programme of YIAGA African, Cynthia Mbamalu said Nigerians yearn for an electoral process where votes count, a fair process where citizens can easily and freely participate and for elections where the rule of the majority does not result in the oppression of the minority. She argued that when passed, the new electoral act should strengthen the Independence of INEC to effectively administer credible elections empower the commission to deploy technology for elections, review the role of the courts in the electoral process, properly regulates both the process and cost of political parties primaries, reviews the power of Returning Officers to declare results, provides for the political inclusion of women, youth and persons with disabilities- gender being very important because we cannot build a democracy without women, we cannot continue a government where the society is not truly reflected and establish an Electoral Offences Commission. For her, when passed, the new electoral act must have the capacity to achieve a citizens-driven electoral reform process that meets the target of having a new Electoral Amendment Bill by March 2021.

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