Buhari, sign Electoral Amendment Bill now – The Punch
Politics

Buhari, sign Electoral Amendment Bill now – The Punch

IT is never an easy task picking up the pieces after an acrimonious electoral season, but President Muhammadu Buhari can give the healing process a huge lift by signing the Electoral Amendment Bill 2018 into law before his own first term and the tenure of the Eighth National Assembly end shortly. In the run-up to the 2019 polls, the President spurned the bill on different occasions. Now that the elections have more or less been concluded, he should quickly dust it off and sign it.

In all, Buhari rejected the bill on four occasions, despite the significant provisions contained therein. Among other salient inputs, the bill prescribes the announcement and pasting of results at each polling unit, and the electronic transmission of results from the polling unit straight to the headquarters of the Independent National Electoral Commission. In Nigeria’s tainted elections, these provisions are crucial in attaining credible outcomes. The bill outlaws the use of incident forms in polling units where the Smart Card Reader does not work. In the new Section 53 (2), it deals with over-voting: results at any polling unit where the final figure is more than the number of accredited voters are automatically cancelled. In the 2015 elections, this was a major impediment to reliable polls. Such inflation of votes occurred in some states like Akwa Ibom and Abia then. Contentiously, the Supreme Court decided to legitimise these flawed elections.

Besides, the amendments prescribe the digital storage/archiving of election results at INEC headquarters. When results are stored and archived manually, there is a high probability they can be tampered with or deliberately destroyed by arsonists. This creates difficulty for litigation.

Sections 30, 44 and 99 of the amended bill are similarly well-intended at improving the electoral process. In Section 30, INEC must issue the notice of election at least 150 days to the polls.  Currently, the law permits the umpire to do so just 90 days before an election. This constricts the preparation of the parties and their candidates.

In line with this, Section 99 states that candidates and parties can commence their campaigns 150 days (or five months) to the polls. In contrast, the current Act stipulates 90 days for campaigns. With 774 Local Government Areas, 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, it enables candidates to cover a lot of ground and present their manifestos to the electorate. In Section 44, it deals with pre-election objections by parties. Sometimes, parties complain that their logos are not represented on the ballot paper, leading to expensive delays and litigation. Now, after a notice by INEC, all parties must inspect and sanction their logo on the ballot paper. INEC is empowered to delist any party that fails to do so within the stipulated time. In the 2019 elections, the All Progressives Congress litigated around this pre-election rigmarole for the governorship and state House of Assembly polls in Zamfara and Rivers states.

As of April 16, aggrieved politicians had filed 766 petitions over the 2019 elections, the Court of Appeal said. This is considerably high. The huge list is evidence that the system is tenuous.

Yet, Buhari, in his wisdom, rejected the bill. Every legal input that will drive a clean electoral process must be given a pride of place. Initially, the President refused his assent primarily because of his objection to Section 25, which reordered the sequence of elections. The devious politics of election sequence occurred ahead of the 2015 polls. The National Assembly reversed the order, apparently thinking that the Peoples Democratic Party candidate and then incumbent, Goodluck Jonathan, would reap from having his election held first. He lost to the APC’s Buhari. Apparently, this prompted the federal lawmakers to return to the status quo ante.

Just as the jostling for the 2019 polls was about to commence, the lawmakers rolled out the amended bill, which altered that section, with their own election to hold first. Instead of elections on two separate weekends, the lawmakers extended elections to three different Saturdays. Buhari cited the reversal for rejecting the bill. It was an act of self-preservation, but by doing so, all the excellent provisions in the bill have been put in abeyance. For instance, the manual collation of results has become a sore in our elections. Inflated results, once signed, are legally binding. The electronic transmission of results will help to address this.

All around the world, elections are being properly managed. Take the case of India, the world’s largest democracy. As far back as 1998, elections there went digital, the Election Commission of India said. At first, the umpire there registered 620 million voters. Significantly, the printed electoral rolls, as well as the CDs containing these rolls, are available for sale to the general public, it said. This is transparency. In the current elections, in which 900 million are eligible to vote, technological input to the electoral system has made it possible for the results to be declared in a single day. Nigeria ought to aim for nothing less.

As the general election is over, Buhari should assent to the bill because failing to do so before the tenure of the current National Assembly expires early in June, the bill will start de novo in the Ninth parliament.

Ultimately, the electoral system has to implement other measures, particularly electronic voting, and tracking and punishing of vote-buying, which marred the last polls. In addition, election violence perpetrators have to be prosecuted swiftly, by setting up special courts. The law should be amended to ensure that no election winner is sworn in until litigation has been concluded. The inordinate desire to win at all costs should be tempered by reducing the benefits attached to public office.

Copyright PUNCH.               


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