The two chambers of the National Assembly had commenced the amendment of the Electoral Act since last year, and a major amendment sought initially was to alter elections sequence.
The proposal provided that the elections into the 109 Senate and 360 House of Reps seats would hold first, to be followed by the governorship and state assemblies’ elections, while presidential election would come last.
However, the amendment suffered a setback in March this year, when President Muhammadu Buhari declined assent to the bill.
The president had said in a letter to the two chambers of the National Assembly that, “The amendment to the sequence of elections in Section 25 of the principal act, may infringe upon the constitutionally guaranteed discretion of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to organize, undertake and supervise elections provided in Section 15(A) of the third statue to the Constitution;
“The amendment to Section 138 of the principal act to delete two crucial grounds upon which an election may be challenged by candidates, unduly limits the rights of candidates in elections to a free and fair electoral review process;
“The amendment to Section 152 Subsection 325 of the Principal Act may raise Constitutional issues over the competence of the National Assembly to legislate over local government elections,” he said.
This development forced the National Assembly to rework the bill, based on the president’s observations, by removing the issue of altering election sequence.
After both chambers worked on a fresh amendment bill, the president once again declined assent to it.The president said he declined assent to the bill due to some errors and the burden the amendment would put on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and political parties should it become law.
“Mr. President is declining assent to the Electoral Amendment Bill due to some drafting issues that remain unaddressed following the prior revisions to the Bill,’’ a statement by Sen Ita Enang, senior special assistant to the president on National Assembly Matters (Senate) said at the time.
Thus, the National Assembly went for another round of amendment, considering the president’s observations, after which the lawmakers transmitted the bill once again to the president on November 7.
But the president once again declined assent to the bill and communicated same to the legislature on December 6.
“I am declining assent to the bill principally because I am concerned that passing a new electoral bill this far into the electoral process for the 2019 general elections, which commenced under the 2015 Electoral Act, could create some uncertainty about the applicable legislation to govern the process.
“Any real or apparent change to the rules this close to election may provide an opportunity for disruption and confusion in respect to which law governs the electoral process.
“This leads me to believe that it is in the best interest of the country and our democracy for the National Assembly to specifically state in the Bill, that the Electoral Act will come into effect and be applicable to elections commencing after the 2019 General Elections, Buhari said in the letters dated December 6, 2018.
The president also made observations on some technicalities contained in the bill, saying Section 5 of the bill, which seeks to amend Section 18 of the principal Act should indicate the subsection to which the substitution of the figure “30” or the figure “60” is to be effected.
“Section 11 of the bill, amending Section 36, should indicate the subsection in which the proviso is to be introduced.
“Section 24 of the bill, which amends Section 85 (1) should be redrafted in full as the introduction of the “electing” to the sentence may be interpreted to mean the political parties may give 21 days’ notice of the intention to merge, as opposed to the 90 days provided in Section 87 (2) of the Electoral Act, which provides the provision for merger of political parties.
“The definition of the term “Ward Collection Officer” should be revised to reflect a more descriptive definition than the capitalised and undefined term “Registration Area Collation Officer.”
Major amendments in the Electoral Act bill
Daily Trust on Sunday reports that one of the major amendments in the Electoral Act amendment bill as approved by the National Assembly late October was the inclusion of the card reader as part of the elections process.
However, the card reader would only by deployed for accreditation of registered voters at the various polling units across the country.
Where the card reader malfunctions and another one is not deployed within three hours to the end of voting, the Senate said, election in such a polling unit shall be cancelled and a new card reader be deployed within 24 hours for a fresh election.
The fresh amendment was as a result of certain observations made by President Muhammadu Buhari in the earlier bill passed and transmitted to him by both chambers of the federal legislature.
The president had said he declined assent to the bill due to some errors and the burden the amendment would put on the INEC and political parties should it become law.
The inclusion of the card reader was through an amendment to Section 49, by inserting a new subsection (2) ,which states that: “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.”
A new subsection (4) of 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 proviso under the same subsection says: “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.”
Similarly, against the N1 billion and N200 million provided for as the maximum campaign fund for a presidential and governorship candidate respectively, the Senate approved N5bn and N1bn in the new amendment.
As for senators and members of the House of Representatives, the campaign fund has been pegged at N250m and N100m respectively from the current N40m and N20m.
As for donations to candidates, an amendment provides that no individual shall donate more than N10m, and that any candidate that knowingly accepts an amount above that shall pay one percent of the amount permitted or be imprisoned for a period not exceeding 12 months.
Another major amendment is a new provision that states the sequence for primary elections of political parties, which says it should be in the following order: National Assembly, State Houses of Assembly, Governorship and Presidential.
The dates for the primaries shall not be earlier than 150 days and not later than 90 days before the date of elections.
Yet another amendment provides penalty for an INEC official responsible for the omission of a political party’s name or logo from the ballot paper.
The amendment states that if at the point of display or distribution of ballot papers by INEC, a candidate or his agent discovers that his name, name or logo of his political party is missing, he shall notify the commission.
INEC shall then postpone the election to rectify the omission and fix another date to conduct the election, not later than 90 days.
“Where the election is postponed due to omission of a political party’s name or logo, the commission’s officer responsible for such printing of party names or logo commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for 2 years or a fine of N2,000,000.”