Civil society organisations (CSOs) in the country have raised the alarm over a fresh plot to scuttle the passage of the 2021 Electoral Act Amendment Bill when the National Assembly returns the corrected version to President Muhammadu Buhari for assent.
The CSOs said apart from uncovering the plot, they could also decipher from the moves by different interest groups promoting unhealthy communications between the executive and the legislature to sabotage the smooth passage of the bill.
The new efforts, they alleged, is for the timeframe of assent by the President ahead of the 2023 general to elapse.
It was gathered that despite identifying errors in the bill sent to President Buhari for his assent on November 19, interest groups within the presidency ignored it in their communication to the National Assembly.
While Nigerians were expecting Buhari to sign the electoral act amendment bill into law or communicate to the National Assembly before or on November 19, which is the stipulated time by law for the president to act, there was no communication until December 21 when the Senate officially received and read the president’s communication rejecting the electoral bill.
Buhari’s letter dated 13 December, 2021 was read on the floor of the Senate on December 21.
This raised questions about the sincerity of both the executive and the judiciary on the new electoral legal framework many said will help the country’s electoral process to be credible.
In his letter to the National Assembly rejecting the electoral act amendment bill, the president raised concern majorly on the mode of primary to be conducted by political parties, insisting direct primary will limit right of choices, make the electoral process expensive, increase violence and insecurity.
He however declined comment on several errors observed in the bill.
In August 2018, President Buhari declined assent to the 2018 Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill presented to him by the 8th Assembly on the ground that there were errors and cross-referencing gaps in the bill, including the time it was presented to him to sign, which he said was too close to the 2019 general elections.
The CSOs who spoke with LEADERSHIP alleged that the same delay game appears to be playing out with the full support of some elements within the government who don’t want the 2021 electoral act amendment bill to see the light of the day.
While the executive is quiet on the errors found in the bill, and in case the National Assembly didn’t abandon the proposed electoral legal framework, the CSOs said they have identified errors in 11 sections of the bill, similar to what happened in 2018.
The CSOs that spoke with our correspondent include Yiaga Africa, International Press Centre (IPC), Centre for Citizens with Disability (CCD), The Albino Foundation, CLEEN Foundation, Institute for Media and Society (IMS) and Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF).
Others are Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ), Partners for Electoral Reform (PER), Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC) and Nigerian Network of Non-Governmental Organizations (NNNGO).
They insisted that the National Assembly should correct the errors and send the bill back to Buhari for his assent, saying the entire process should be done so that the new electoral legal framework can be tested in the forthcoming FCT Area Council elections, as well as the Ekiti and Osun gubernatorial elections before the 2023 general elections.
Speaking at a press conference yesterday on behalf of the CSOs, the executive director, Yiaga Africa, Samson Itodo, said they undertook an in-depth and comprehensive review of the bill to ensure all editorial, drafting and cross-referencing gaps are addressed but found out errors in 11 sections of the bill.
He said the review identified drafting errors, repetition and cross-referencing gaps in eleven sections of the bill.
“Cross-referencing errors were identified in five sections of the bill, grammatical errors in two sections, duplicate provisions in three sections and conflicting provisions in one section of the bill.
“Without doubt, these errors will occasion controversies and legal complications in the implementation of the bill when enacted,” Itodo said.
As it happened in 2018 when Buhari declined assent to the electoral act, the CSOs said it was imperative for the National Assembly to ensure due diligence before transmitting the bill back to the president for assent to prevent the current bill from suffering the same fate.
Itodo stated: “As part of civil society’s contributions to the ongoing reform process, a detailed memorandum was submitted to the leadership of the National Assembly on December 29, 2021.
“The memorandum highlights the affected sections and specific recommendations for addressing the errors.
“As the nation prepares for the off-cycle elections in the FCT, Ekiti and Osun and the 2023 general elections, a new legal framework is required to safeguard the integrity of these elections. The Electoral Bill 2021 is replete with provisions that address electoral manipulation and the intractable and protracted problem of poor election logistics. Furthermore, the bill strengthens INEC’s financial independence and it also empowers the commission to reject falsified election results. The newly introduced timelines for key electoral activities in the bill will facilitate early electoral preparations and promote issue-based political engagement.
“Therefore, it is imperative for the National Assembly and the President to ensure the electoral reform process is concluded expeditiously. Any further delay in concluding the process of enacting the Electoral Bill 2021 will directly impact preparations for the 2023 General Election.
“As noted earlier in our previous statement, a climate of legal uncertainties will befall upcoming elections and Nigeria will lose the opportunity to test the efficacy of new innovations introduced in the electoral Bill, especially during the off-cycle elections in Ekiti and Osun, before deployment for the 2023 General Elections.”
The CSOs urged the National Assembly to address the identified drafting errors in the eleven sections of the bill before re-transmitting the Electoral Bill 2021 for presidential assent.
“We reiterate our earlier call on the National Assembly to expeditiously conclude this process and re-transmit the Electoral Bill 2021 to the President for assent within 30 days from 21st December 2021.
“The president (should) assent to the Bill within a week upon receipt from the National Assembly. Civil society groups, media, and development partners (should) sustain the effort to safeguard the Electoral Bill from policy capture, manipulation, and subversion of the people’s will,” Itodo noted.