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Inside the forsaken 2018 Electoral Bill rejected 4 times by Buhari. Why 2023 polls may be a sham

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Following the violence and deaths that characterized the November 16 Bayelsa and Kogi States governorship elections, the calls for President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the 2018 Electoral Act amendment bill has gathered momentum. It is believed, in different quarters, that signing the Electoral bill into law would go far in primarily addressing the diverse recurring commotions that usually play up prior, during and after elections in the country.

The bill which is famed to reduce the cost of politics, internal democracy, broaden political participation and the conduct of free, fair and credible elections with the assistance of  technological innovations and an electronic database, had been rejected by the President, four times. The last time he declined his assent to the bill – as passed by the then 8th National Assembly led by Bukola Saraki – was on December 7, 2018. The Electoral Act had, previously, been amended in 2004, 2006 and 2010 by the National Assembly.

Saraki, while he and his then colleagues in the Senate had worked on the Electoral Act, had noted: “We started work on this law since 2016 to prevent a situation where it would become part of the election controversies. What we have done with the bill is to raise the level of transparency, credibility and acceptability of our electoral process. We made sure that if the law is assented to and honestly applied by INEC and all those concerned, it will give us an election that will be better than what we had in 2015.”

However, Buhari’s rejections of assent to the bill practically ensured that their efforts remained fruitless.

All the intrigues

The President’s rejections of the Electoral Act have not been bereft of excuses. Some of them have been termed flimsy. The last time the President rejected assenting to the bill, news went round that it was because the bill was jammed with drafting issues, its perceived attempt to change the sequence of elections and its supposed conflict with certain provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

Saraki, on December 11, 2018, read the President’s rejection letter to the Senate wherein he explained why he refused to assent to the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 2018, passed by the National Assembly.

Buhari had said thus: “Pursuant to Section 58 (4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of  Nigeria 1999 (as amended), I hereby convey to the Senate, my decision on 6th December 2018 to decline Presidential Assent to the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 2018 recently passed by the National Assembly. I am declining assent to the Bill principally because I am concerned that passing a new electoral bill 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 the election may provide an opportunity for disruption and confusion in respect of which law governs the electoral process.”

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Putting it in its clearest term, he meant that the 2019 general elections were too close to change the rules that govern the electoral process as the change could likely leave election officials and voters confused.

One striking reason why the President refused assenting to the bill was because of the closeness of the 2019 general elections. Now that the elections have been concluded, months ago, the expectations are that the President would sign the bill into law. This has not come to fruition even as the heat of the aftermath of the Kogi and Bayelsa States governorship election have raised the issue once again. The intention of the President on the bill has, therefore, become a matter of public guess.

Inside the (doomed?) Electoral Bill

The calls for the President to assent to the bill chiefly stems from the reforms it would yield to the nation’s electoral system. The reforms are meant to make better how the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) conducts elections and to address the varied avoidable squabbles that normally form part of cases at various tribunals across the federation in the event of a candidate losing an election. Here are the provisions of the Electoral Act:

  1. The bill provides that the Presiding Officer shall use a Smart Card Reader (SCR) or any other technological device that may be prescribed by the INEC for accreditation of voters, to verify, confirm or authenticate the particulars of the voter in a manner prescribed by the Commission.
  2.  The bill states that where during the collation of results, there is a dispute regarding a collated result or the result of an election from any polling unit, the Collation Officer or Returning Officer shall use inter alia, the SCR or any other technological device used for accreditation of voters in each polling unit where the election is disputed for the purpose of obtaining accreditation data direct from the SCR or technology device.
  3. In addressing a situation where a candidate died after polls began but before the result was declared, the bill empowered the INEC to suspend elections for a maximum period of 21 days provided the deceased candidate was leading at the election.
  4. The bill also required that the INEC should compile, maintain and update a National Electronic Register of Election Results including the electronic transmission of votes and the prohibition of arbitrary fees by the setting of maximum fees for all elective offices.

 The e-voting mirage

Signing the Electoral Act would have seen a non-repetition of the many flaws and shortcomings of the 2015 general elections in the 2019 general elections. As the President appears to have pushed the bill aside, we might be headed to another sham of an election come 2023. And, keep running in circles.

More so, one of the provisions of the bill which specifies the electronic transmission of votes brings to fore the recent calls for electronic voting – which means that the entire registration, accreditation, vote counting, collation and announcement chain would be done electronically. It is assumed that with the introduction of electronic voting, and with the signing of the bill, they will serve as a panacea to the many electoral woes that have been witnessed in the country.

The issue of electronic voting, on the one hand, has since received rave reviews as several analysts have averred that since the Federal Government had failed to sign the bill, introducing electronic voting would only be a hoax. Besides the government has severally declared that the country was bereft of the needed infrastructure to upgrade to electronic voting, coupled with the very slim chances of those in rural areas having access to it.

However, a lot more have also argued that electronic voting would drastically curb the manipulation in our electoral system and reduce the stupendous amount of money the INEC uses to conduct elections. It is thought that this is a viable alternative as the basic challenge to contend with is for government to harness the various electronic data bases designed to capture the identity of citizens.

What manner of polls in 2023?

While Buhari shuffles without movement, concerns continue to mount that the 2023 general elections are doomed without any significant amendments in the processes and procedures of conducting the country’s polls.

The fears have been deepened by utterances of major actors within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) who have expressed great delight in flawed electoral outcomes, and simply asked losers to go to court.

Indeed, the President, on November 18, 2019, in a statement by his Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, congratulated Yahaya Bello on his victory at the Kogi governorship election, describing his victory as “a race well run and a victory well won.”

He, however, advised parties that were not satisfied with the results to seek redress in court.

All said, 2023 looks to hold no significant promises unless the drivers of the electoral processes show some urgency and honesty in desiring and executing positive changes within the polity.

By John Chukwu…

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