INEC, AGF, DSP okay Electoral Act amendment

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ALL appears set for the much-anticipated review of the nation’s electoral laws ahead of the 2023 general election.

Deputy Senate President Ovie Omo-Agege as well as Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Justice Minister Abubakar Malami pledged on Monday to support the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)’s quest for Electoral Reform.

They spoke in Abuja during the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room (NCSSR) stakeholders’ forum on elections. NCSSR is a coalition of civil society organisations led by Clement Nwankwo of   the   Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC).

INEC chairman Prof Mahmood Yakubu, said electronic voting systems could only be introduced into the nation’s electoral process when the nation was sure of the appropriate technologies, provide infrastructure, to address cyber security, among other challenges.

According to him, the country was not there yet. He expressed confidence that his agency could achieve electronic collation of results (e-collation) and electronic transmission of results(e-transmission) during the 2023 elections.

Represented by INEC National Commissioner Festus Okoye, Mahmood stressed the need for any review of the Electoral Act to further strengthen his agency’s regulatory capacity and independence.

He said: “The commission (INEC) must be the major driver in the introduction of new technologies in our electoral process.

“Electronic voting systems are dynamic and the appropriate time for the introduction of each aspect must be clearly thought out taking into consideration the appropriate technology, the state of infrastructure in the different parts of the country, environmental issues, cyber security matters, procurement challenges, the level of literacy in the country and other sundry matters.

“Towards these, the legal framework for the adoption of such technologies would be the first most important step before any other steps.  We acknowledge the introduction of a bill to establish an Election Offences Commission and Tribunal and state unequivocally that we support it.

“Our country must break the cycle of impunity in the electoral process and bring to justice the violators of the sovereign right of the people to clean elections.

We urge you to critically examine aspects of the Constitution and the Electoral Act, 2010(as amended) that will strengthen the electoral legal framework and enhance the power of the vote.

“It is also important to emphasis the collective nature of electoral reform, and draw attention to the fact that electoral reforms should not end at the level of retooling the legal framework, but should also extend to attitudinal issues bordering on curbing impunity and the development of a culture of tolerance and sportsmanship.

“The commission will remain transparent and accountable in its dealings with the Nigerian people and will continue to consult with critical stakeholders on major policy issues and issues around its regulations, guidelines and manuals.

“However, the commission will not share its constitutionally and legally guaranteed regulatory powers with any individual, Political Party, groups or organizations. Rather, the commission will approach the National Assembly with new proposals to further enhance its regulatory powers and the provision of clarity on grey areas that have been exploited to whittle down its powers.

“The commission will be shirking its constitutional and regulatory powers if it cannot enforce the qualifying threshold in section 177 and 187 of the Constitution and other equivalent provisions.

“The implication is that the Commission can close its eyes to the nomination of non-Nigerians and infants by Political Parties to contest Governorship and other elections. The commission will robustly and expansively implement and interpret its powers within the compass of constitutionally allowed window.

“The commission will also make proposals that will clarify and strengthen its powers in relation to declaration and returns by Collation and Returning Officers. Declarations and Returns must be made voluntarily and not through duress and other unwholesome practices.

“To this extent, the commission must retain the discretion to take urgent and remedial actions in clear cases of the violation of its regulations and guidelines in the conduct of elections.

“The commission is irrevocably committed to the enhancement of the power of the Smart Card Reader as the dominant procedure for verification, accreditation and proving over voting in the electoral process.

“The commission will therefore seek the incorporation of the Smart Card Reader in section 49 of the Electoral Act, 2010(as amended). The individuals holding the Permanent Voters Cards must be the ones voting and not the cards.

“The Smart Card Reader is now part of our national asset and the Commission will not allow any individual or groups to undermine it. Rather, the Commission will guard it jealously and make for its robust usage,” the INEC Chair said.

Omo-Agege said the National Assembly had heeded calls, particularly from the Judiciary, via it many pronouncements for amendments to the Electoral Act.

“It is for these reasons and much more that we are coming up with very clear provisions amending the principal Act to give unambiguous effect to Electoral Guidelines, Regulations and Manuals duly issued by the Commission in strict compliance with section 160 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

“Pervasive non-compliance with the Guidelines, Regulations and Manuals will carry clear consequences for people, who think violating electoral due process is a rewarding exercise,” Omo-Agege said.

He identified the many amendments being proposed to include: “focusing on resolving issues surrounding INEC’s introduction of modern technologies into our electoral process, particularly accreditation of voters.; ensuring that the Act clearly forbids members of political parties from taking up employment in INEC; and mandating INEC to suspend an election in order to allow a political party that lost its candidate before or during an election to conduct a fresh primary to elect a replacement or new candidate.”

Also being planned is the provision “defining ‘overvoting’ to include situations where ‘total votes cast’ also exceed ‘total number of accredited voters’ and “overhauling Section 87 on Nomination of Candidates by Parties for Elections by prescribing maximum fees payable by aspirants and restricting nomination criteria strictly to relevant provisions of the Constitution.”

Malami noted that elections in the country have “become much more contentious than ever before,” a development he attributed to “the desire to win election at all cost as well as weak electoral structures that are not accountable to voters at all levels of governance”.

Represented by the Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on Justice Sector Reform,  Juliet Ibekaku-Nwagwu, Malami argued that it was” imperative that our electoral laws are reformed to ensure the efficient and legitimate conduct of elections in Nigeria, as the credibility of elections impacts our global outlook and eventually lead to economic growth, shared prosperity and a secured nation.

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