The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has expressed worry over the non-passage of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill by the National Assembly with about one year and nine months to the next general election. Chairman of INEC, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, who stated this during a public hearing on Electoral Offences Commission Bill, said: “INEC is anxious to know the legal framework to govern the conduct of the 2023 general election.” Already, the 2023 general election has been scheduled to hold on Saturday, February 18, 2023. Yakubu also disclosed that the timetable would be released immediately after the Anambra State governorship election scheduled to hold on November 6, 2021.
In March 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari declined assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, saying that doing so would be tantamount to usurping the constitutional powers of INEC to decide on election matters. It was re-presented to him in September 2018, and again he withheld his assent, stating that there were unaddressed drafting issues. He further said in a letter to the National Assembly that he was concerned that passing a new Electoral Act so close to the 2019 general election could create uncertainty about the applicable legislation to govern the process.
He claimed that he did not want new additions to the Act to disrupt or interrupt the upcoming elections. In November 2018, the National Assembly passed an extensive new Electoral Act Amendment Bill, which was transmitted to the president for assent within the constitutional time frame of 30 days. However, he did not sign it into law. The Bill was to address issues associated with elections in the country. It included, for example, the compulsory use of card readers, and allowance to citizens and party agents to record proceedings at polling stations. It also stipulated jail terms and fines for officials who were found guilty of omitting logos of parties from ballot papers. The Bill further prescribed the steps to be taken in the case of the death of a candidate midway into an election as happened in Kogi State in 2015. Despite the lofty ideals of the Bill, the 2019 general election was conducted without the amended Bill.
Certainly, INEC does not want what happened in the 2019 poll to affect the conduct of the 2023 general election, hence the early alarm by the INEC boss. Having an electoral law in place now will enhance the transparency of the electoral process. It will also give the president the ample time to appraise the Act before it is signed into law. One of the best ways to ensure free, fair and credible election is having the electoral law in place before the exercise.
Apart from INEC, many other stakeholders and civil society organisations, including the Centre for Liberty, have raised concerns over the delay in the passage of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill. Having a credible electoral process will ensure the election of credible leaders who will deliver good governance that Nigerians are yearning for. Since the 9th National Assembly has reintroduced the Bill and it has passed the first and second reading, we urge them to expedite action on the Bill and send to the president for his assent. Since President Buhari will not be contesting again, it is our hope that the Bill, if presented to him early, will also be speedily assented to. The National Assembly has the resources and manpower to complete the post-public hearing process. The March 2021 deadline for its passage has already passed, and having missed the initially anticipated December 2020 target, it is imperative that a fresh workable timeline should be quickly determined so that it can be tested during an off-cycle poll such as the Anambra governorship election coming up on November 6, 2021. Having the legal framework in place will rekindle the hope of Nigerians in the democratic process and also give INEC ample time to prepare for other off-season elections. The integrity of our elections can only be guaranteed by having good electoral laws as well as patriotic electoral officials. Therefore, we urge all the stakeholders in the nation’s electoral system and especially the federal lawmakers to urgently pass the Electoral Act Amendment Bill. Having the law in place will make Nigerians have trust and confidence in the democratic process. The deluge of litigations that trail our elections should make the lawmakers work to speedily pass the Bill into law. The determination of our electoral outcomes by the courts is not helping our democracy and therefore will not be allowed to continue. The ugly narrative can only be changed if the right laws are put in place now.