The last amendment of the Electoral Act was not signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari. His arguments were hinged on the fact that there were spellings errors in the document forwarded to him.
The president also blamed the lawmakers for not finishing their work on time, saying he won’t sign a document that would guide an election taking place within weeks.
While pundits commended the work done in the last amendment, President Buhari said he would sign such an amendment for future elections but not that of 2019.
Given the president’s excuse in signing the last amendment to the Act, it was expected that this 9th Assembly would commence the process as soon as they are sworn in.
Apart from the Electoral Act, Nigerians are expecting the upper legislative chamber to settle contentious issues in the much talked about Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) and the fifth alteration to the Constitution of the country.
These issues are part of the legislative agenda for the 9th Senate.
Last December, Senate President Ahmad Lawan had said the 9th Assembly would take the issue of the Electoral Act amendment seriously, stating that there had been different issues in every election conducted since 1999.
“I have participated in several elections since 1999 and none of them has been the same. I have had different experiences. It means we always have some new emerging problems,” Lawan had said, signalling the fact that contentious issues observed in the 2019 elections would be addressed in the amendment,” he said.
The amendment bill was introduced last week by the spokesman of the senate.
The bill, according to the chairman, Senate Committee on Media And Public Affairs, Senator Surajudeen Ajibola Basiru (Osun Central) provides that where the votes cast at an election in any polling unit exceeds the number of accredited voters on the voters register and card reader in any polling unit, the result of the election in that polling unit shall be declared void and another election conducted where the result at that polling unit may affect the overall result in the constituency.
If it scales through, the Electoral Act will now make it compulsory for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to make available to a political party or candidates in any election, upon request, the details of the number of accredited voters for the election on both the card reader and voters register used for the election.
According to Basiru, the proposed amendment will be a major innovation that will provide legal backing to the use of card readers for elections in Nigeria.
The bill seeks to alter the period for accreditation and voting as well as providing for the compulsory use of card readers for accreditation.
Among other provisions, the bill makes provision for separate periods for accreditation and voting, with further provision that accreditation commences by 8:00am and closes by 1:00pm.
It was gathered that by the provisions of the proposed amendment, voting commences immediately after accreditation; however, this is without prejudice to the fact that all voters who are already on the queue by 1:00pm shall be accredited.
In the proposed amendment to the Electoral Act, the accreditation process shall comprise the verification of voters using the Card Reader and Register of Voters.
The chairman of the constitution amendment in the red chamber who is also the deputy senate president, Ovie Omo-Agege, had hinted that the National Assembly would ensure that the electoral law provides for electronic voting, a similar provision passed to Buhari for assent in 2019.
INEC deployed the card reader for the 2015 and the 2019 elections even though there were no such provisions in the constitution and the Electoral Act at the time.
The inclusion of the card reader in the Act was done through an amendment to Section 49 by inserting a new subsection (2) which states: “The Presiding Officer shall use a Smart Card Reader or any other similar technological device that may be prescribed by the Commission, for the purpose of accreditation of voters, to verify, confirm or authenticate the particulars of the voter in the manner prescribed by the Commission.”
Subsection (4) of the act provides that “where a Smart Card Reader deployed for accreditation of voter fails to function in any unit and a fresh card reader is not deployed 3 hours before the close of the election in that unit or units, then the election shall not hold but be rescheduled and conducted within 24 hours thereafter.”
However, a provision under the same subsection states: “Provided that where the total possible votes from all the affected card readers in the unit or units does not affect the overall result in the constituency or election concerned, the commission shall notwithstanding the fact that a fresh card reader is not deployed as stipulated, announce the final results and declare a winner.”
Such were some of the provisions in the last amendment that was not signed.
“Most Nigerians want the National Assembly to finish their work on time so that there won’t be an excuse from the president in signing it,” a political analyst, Alex Kwasu, said, adding that the card reader must be granted some kind of legitimacy this time.
“If there are proper laws guiding the electoral process, the system will be credible. You won’t see people with questionable character venturing into politics. But when the laws are weak and can’t be implemented, it affects the entire process,” Tikikus Yusuf, a political economist, said.
While Nigerians want the process of the 2023 general elections to be transparent, there is a lot the lawmakers must do in the Electoral Act amendment.
“The issue of diaspora voting should be addressed in this new amendment. If neighbouring countries like Niger can do it, why not Nigeria? Also, whether INEC has a server or not, the lawmakers must ensure that future elections in Nigeria are done electronically. That is the only way Nigerians can feel the transparency in the electoral process,” a social commentator, Abubakar Sadiq, said.
The executive director of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, said laws should be made to compel security agencies and political parties to do corruption and criminal checks on all those contesting for political offices.
According to Rafsanjani, politicians with issues of corruption and criminal charges should not be allowed to stand for an election, urging the National Assembly to ensure that a law is passed on that.
“If the political parties allow that, there will be credibility problem in their party and if there are serious cases, it will hamper the effectiveness of these public office holders,” Rafsanjani said while calling on the National Assembly to make a law preventing people facing criminal or corruption charges from contesting in an election.
“They will not be able to concentrate and do their work because every now and then, there will be court cases that will be distracting them,” Rafsanjani said while calling on the National Assembly to make stringent laws that would sanitise the electoral process.