The hope of transparent and rancour-free elections in 2019 may be fading into despair. Last Tuesday, President Muhammadu Buhari, for the third time, declined to assent to the bill. According to a Senior Special Assistant to the President, Senator Ita Enang, the president returned the Bill to the National Assembly on account of irregularities.
It is disturbing that errors could still be identified in a bill that has been in the works in the National Assembly since 2017. This Bill had been debated by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Committees of the House of Representatives and the Senate; there was a public hearing on it; the outcome has been harmonized by experts in the committees; the president’s legal experts have pointed out errors on two previous occasions, yet the Bill is error-ridden. This is unfortunate.
There are over a dozen crucial and relevant issues to the next general elections which are being trampled upon by the hide-and-seek politics being played by the Executive and Legislature. They include the need to empower INEC to do full biometric accreditation of voters with smart card readers and other technological devices. This is to forestall a repeat of excuses in 2015 elections in which incident forms were used massively to such a monstrous extent that in some parts of the country those who voted outnumbered registered voters. Also, if signed into law, the amendment would empower INEC to transmit the list of those accredited for elections electronically to INEC’s server at the headquarters. Also, when elections results are collated at the polling units they would be electronically sent to Abuja.
Another provision is that relating to death of candidates in elections, as was the unfortunate case of Prince Abubakar Audu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) of Kogi State who died in November 2015, while the governorship election results were being compiled. Under the amendment, political parties whose candidate dies before the conclusion of an election has a 14-day window to conduct a fresh primary, while INEC has 21 days to conduct a fresh election.
Other provisions include the elimination of a technicality that gives the leeway to politicians to sack elected persons on the basis of qualification. The new amendment says that the winner of an election shall not be challenged on grounds of qualification. The Bill, if signed into law, would also forestall the profiteering of political parties from election nomination forms. The Bill says parties can no longer impose nomination fees on aspirants and provides the followings are fees: Councillorship (N150,000); Area council chairmanship (N250,000); House of Assembly (N500,000); House of Reps (N1 million); Senate (N2 million); Governorship (N5 million); President (N10 million). There are many other crucial provisions in the Bill.
Senator Ita Enang claims that “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.” He alluded to Sections 31, 34, and 85 that have to do with the number of days between when political parties should submit the list of their candidates to INEC and the date of elections. As Enag said, these amendments could be done within weeks.
We call on the Executive and Legislature to do what it takes to pass this Bill into law. Nigerians have high expectations as the 2019 elections draw closer. The Presidency and National Assembly should not frustrate the process through complacency and buck-passing.
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