Stakeholders insist on new path to credible elections, amendment of Electoral Act 2022

BY BENEDICT NWACHUKWU, ABUJA

Sequel to the completion of the 2023 general elections and the attendant litigations, as well as the just concluded off-cycle governorship elections in Bayelsa, Imo and Kogi States, the House of Representatives has shown the intention to bow to the clarion call by Nigerians to amend the Electoral Act 2022.

Former military Head of State, General Abdulsalam Abubakar (rtd) and various civil society organisations and other prominent Nigerians are at the forefront of the call on the legislature to start the process of amendment.

Nevertheless, the Green Chamber was silent on whether it would also amend the law to mandate the Independent National Electoral Commission to transmit or upload results from the polling units on INEC Results Viewing Portal.

At present, Section 60 of the Electoral Act states that, “the presiding officer shall, after counting the votes at the polling unit, enter the votes scored by each candidate in a form to be prescribed by the commission as the case may be.”

In addition, Section 60 (5) of the Act states that “the presiding officer shall transfer the results including total number of accredited voters and the results of the ballot in a manner as prescribed by the commission.”

While launching the legislative agenda last Tuesday, the Speaker of the House, Tajudeen Abbas, proposed some amendments it intends to make to the Electoral Act 2022.

The House of Representatives in its legislative agenda said that the 2023 general elections evoked the most interest in recent times, but suffered stumbling blocks regarding the implementation of current constitutional amendments and the new Electoral Act.

It assured that it would carefully examine complaints and observations made by stakeholders arising from the conduct of the 2023 general elections.

It noted that specific actions to be taken by the House were to “Amend the Electoral Act 2022 to remedy some of the gaps observed, including vague and contradicting provisions.

“Pass an independent legislation (the Political Parties Bill) to regulate the registration, financing and functioning of political parties in Nigeria and, by so doing, allow INEC to focus on the conduct of elections.

“Set up a mechanism for periodic reviews of electoral laws to ensure they remain relevant and in tune with global best practices. Amend the Electoral Act 2022 to allow diaspora voting by government officials around the world.”

The House added that it would also ensure the passage of the National Electoral Offences Commission Bill to confer powers of the Commission to prosecute electoral offences.

It is also proposing amendments to the Constitution on issues related to elections in Nigeria to address some shortcomings such as “Appointment of Chairman and National Commissioners of INEC.

“Creation of an Electoral Offences Commission as an independent body; and Relevance or otherwise of Resident Electoral Commissioners of INEC in the States.”

General Abdulsalam Abubakar, who is also Chairman National Peace Committee, in his quest for future free, fair, credible and transparent elections, on Thursday, charged Nigerians to brace up for the challenge of cleansing the country’s electoral process, warning that allowing a corrupt electoral system to thrive would be a threat to Nigeria’s democracy.

Visibly dissatisfied with what transpired during the off-cycle governorship elections held on November 11, the former Head of State lamented that the negative culture of vote-buying, intimidation, voter apathy, and other infractions persisted as some citizens colluded with corrupt politicians to perpetrate electoral fraud in Imo, Bayelsa and Kogi States.

In a post-election statement personally signed by him, Abubakar commended all critical stakeholders who worked round the clock to ensure that the elections were free, fair, and credible, but regretted that many actors still kept to their corrupt old ways.

“We are not unaware of the glitches recorded during the elections. Sadly, we have noted that some of the old ways remain and ordinary people continue to collude with corrupt members of society to stall the processes of our elections.

“I am not speaking for INEC because I am no longer there but as a Nigerian, I want to lend my voice to the call for amendment of the Electoral Act of 2022”

“The persistence of the culture of vote-buying, intimidation, and voter apathy, among others are disturbing. A democratic culture will only grow if we participate in cleaning up the process of our elections because, in the end, we are the victims.

“The corruption of the process will lead to the emergence of corrupt leaders if we collude with merchants of corruption,” he said.

Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria has gone beyond calling for the amendment of the Electoral Act, but called for the Commission to be unbundled and reformed, warning that a voter apathy will soar.

HURIWA which tagged Imo gubernatorial poll as ‘African Magic’ posited that the shameful electoral heists that trailed last weekend’s off-cycle polls in Imo, Bayelsa and Kogi, could trigger mass boycott of subsequent elections unless the electoral management body-INEC is unbundled and reformed.

The body said that part of the reform process to reposition the electoral management body would mean that a wholesome overhaul of the legal frameworks on the constitution of the membership of the management of INEC to isolate and free INEC totally from the stranglehold of the executive arm of government and to make appointments of INEC chairman and Commissioners to go through public scrutiny and then appointments should be done by an independent body of patriots to be drawn from the public and private sectors.

HURIWA said the speed with which election results in Imo State were collated and announced even when no election took place in about four local government areas in Orlu and Okigwe Senatorial Zones shows that INEC has persisted in electoral crimes because of past impunity.

Citing a report by YIAGA Africa which monitored the election in Imo State and reported that cases of unverified results uploaded by INEC further claimed that these cases were prevalent in Orsu, Okigwe, Oru East, and Orlu LGAs, the pro-democracy organization noted that Yiaga said it monitored the upload of results on the IReV, especially those from polling units where elections did not hold.

“For Orsu LGA in Imo, Yiaga Africa’s WTV observers reported that the election did not take place in nine sampled polling units in the LGA. There were speculations that INEC may have relocated all polling units to the LGA headquarters on election day.

“Yiaga Africa said voters in Orsu LGA were not informed of the change in polling unit location and INEC failed to issue an official statement on the supposed temporary relocation of polling units. In Okigwe LGA in Imo State, elections did not occur in eight sampled polling units. In Oru East LGA, the election was not held in eight of Yiaga Africa’s sampled polling units.

“In addition, elections were not held in seven of our sampled polling units in Orlu LGA and in one (1) of our sampled polling units each in Ideato North, Ikeduru, Oru West and Owerri West LGAs,” the organization noted.

HURIWA then affirmed that “INEC is populated by far too many electoral robbers so much so that it will take clinical overhauling of the personnel and the injection of incorruptible and patriotic electoral managers, for prospective voters not to boycott en masse, any other election to be conducted by the present INEC that is severely ethically challenged and corrupt. INEC as presently constituted, is deeply infested by the bug bad virus of corruption and inefficiency.”

In a media statement HURIWA, canvassed that all committed patriots and lovers of constitutional democracy, must add their voices, to canvas immediate, comprehensive, legal and management unbundling and reforms in the election management body before irreparable damage is done to the psyche and mindsets of registered voters who have faced serial disappointments due to the criminal conduct of the past general and off-cycle polls in the country by this same mindlessly corrupt and lawless INEC as presently constituted.”

HURIWA also argued that the off-cycle governorship polls were total sham of an election even as the abundance of evidence by the observers indicated that as at the time results were announced, particularly in Imo State, IREV was saying only one LGA result had been completed, but INEC went out to announce the results of the remaining 26 LGAs.

HURIWA then tasked the hierarchy of the electoral management body to explain to Nigerians, what exactly has happened to all the promises it made before the poll, alleging that the security operatives connived with non-state actors to truncate the voting process in some of the LGAs?

It queried where INEC got the results it announced for LGAs like Orsu where, according to local and international observers that monitored the process, the election did not hold at all?

“How come INEC could quickly collate election results in 27 LGAs of Imo State and declare a winner when it has not been able to collate election results in just 8 LGAs of Bayelsa State 24 hours after voting had ended?

HURIWA said that in the interest of constitutional democracy, President Bola Tinubu and the National Assembly must put their personal political ambitions by the side and resolve today to deliver to Nigerians, the long sort after critical reforms of INEC so that registered voters are not permanently driven away by the serial electoral misconduct of INEC, to totally stop their participation in subsequent elections in the country which will inevitably lead to the end of democracy in the country.

A former INEC top shot that preferred anonymity said the call for the amendment of the Electoral Act is in order but described the accusations of inducement of the Commission’s personnel as unfounded and unverifiable allegations.

He said INEC workers deserve commendation rather than unnecessary accusation adding that even an angel would be accused of bribery and corruption by politicians and their supporters who lost elections in Nigeria because many politicians win elections before contesting at the polls.

“I am not speaking for INEC because I am no longer there but as a Nigerian, I want to lend my voice to the call for amendment of the Electoral Act of 2022. Most sections of the Act are ambiguous. It is as if the lawmakers who are also politicians left such loopholes to fall back on them in the advent of losing elections and seeking redress in court. However, all the allegations of compromise leveled against INEC staff whether main staff or adhoc are unverifiable and unfounded. As a journalist, if you interview a politician now and report the story and it didn’t suit him, he will call you names and even accuse you of taking bribes from opponents to misquote him. They are terrible, so don’t take everything they tell you. Check their reactions to tribunal judgments. They praise judges when it favours them but if it doesn’t favour them, they vilify the Judges.”