Concerns About The Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021 By Jibrin Ibrahim

Concerns About The Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021 By Jibrin Ibrahim

Heightened vigilance, at this time, is extremely important.

On Wednesday, Senate President Ahmed Lawan, while receiving the Electoral Act Amendment Bill from the Committee Chairman, complained about what he called “calculated blackmail against the leadership of the National Assembly by mischief makers”. He was speaking out against what turned out to be a successful campaign by civil society and political parties to expose the subterranean attempts to empty the law of its “democracy protection” content and make electoral fraud easier. No Oga Senate President, there was no mischief, the National Assembly was caught out in its plot, exposed and forced to back track on some of its more sinister objectives. The struggle is still on-going and all citizens of goodwill must remain vigilant to ensure that the Electoral Act is improved, rather than distorted to aid anti-democratic forces.

We are concerned at this time because there is an on-going aggressive move by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to cajole, threaten and indeed stampede opposition legislators and governors to abandon their parties and join the ruling party. The current moves are illegal because elected persons who change parties are supposed to resign from their positions but that is simply not happening. Nigerians know the script. The on-going political nomadism is an attempt to transform a ruling party into a hegemonic one that can do whatever it wants against the people and there will be no one to checkmate it.

It was for this reason that Nigerians were very concerned about the character and quality of presidential nominees for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) national commissionership. Almost every Nigerian I have discussed the matter with considered the nomination of Lauretta Onochie as commissioner to be a disturbing sign that the APC wanted its partisans to run the show in INEC and do the bidding of the party. Had the president not made the mistake of nominating her from a State, Delta, which already has a serving national commissioner, something legislators from the other South-South states would never accept, she might well have been confirmed. At the same time, we must not underestimate the force and unity of Nigerians in calling for her removal, which was so strong that it was difficult for the Senate to ignore. Nonetheless, I doubt that the matter is settled. The habit of the president is to continue sending back the names of his rejected nominees until the Senate finally caves in to his will. We will remain watchful.

The most disturbing aspect of the INEC Bill was the reported doctoring of the document to eliminate the electronic transmission of results. It became a huge issue because we know the tradition of election rigging in Nigeria. Votes would be counted and declared openly in polling units in front of voters, who would go home happy. Subsequently, the numbers would be changed during collation and the outcome would be decided by riggers, not voters. That was why the idea of sending the results directly to INEC headquarters and to the public from the polling units arose, as a way of bypassing riggers. It would be recalled that during the last Edo State governorship election, INEC deployed a result’s viewing portal, which made it possible for the public to see the results as they are announced and close the gates to riggers, thereby increasing the integrity of the electoral process and encouraging the acceptability of outcomes. It would be recalled that President Buhari, to his credit, publicly congratulated the winner of the Edo election, Governor Obaseki, for winning in a free, fair and credible election.

There were widespread reports that the Senator Kabiru Gaya-led report may have been doctored on this issue. Specifically, Section 50 (2) of the Electoral Act was reported to have been rephrased, as follows, after the Committee had concluded its work: “Voting at an election under the bill shall be in accordance with the procedure determined by the commission, which may include electronic voting, provided that the Commission shall not transmit results of elections by electronic means.” If the rumour is true, the only explanation for it would be the desire to rig.

Since 2011, a number of electoral reforms have been carried out that have led to a steady improvement of the quality of our elections. Nigerians know that and there is a high level of consciousness that we must not allow the tide to turn and return to the era of massive electoral fraud. In this spirit of moving forward, the last general election in 2019 ought to have been conducted with a brand-new electoral law but President Buhari declined assent to three successive Bills. Not all of the Bills were good and some of the President’s objections were valid. Nonetheless, the President refused to work with the Eighth National Assembly to agree on a Bill that would improve the quality of elections. The problem of the Ninth Assembly is that their usual response to the President is always: YES, YOUR EXCELLENCY.

Other areas of concern in the current Bill are the significant increases on the limits on campaign expenses (S.88). Campaign expenses for the presidential election have been increased from N1 billion to N15 billion; the governorship election, from N200 million to N5 billion; Senate poll, from N40 million to N1.5 billion; House of Representatives, from N30 million to N500 million; and the State House of Assembly election, from N10 million to N50 million. The intentions are clear: only the super-rich, most of whom have stolen public funds, can contest in future elections in Nigeria. These anti-people provisions must be removed.

We should not forget that the last attempt to review the Electoral Act was rejected three times by the president. If, therefore, some of the changes we are seeking are accepted by the National Assembly, the president might reject them. It is interesting that the president has said repeatedly that the legacy he wants to leave for Nigeria is an electoral system with integrity, which produces free, fair and credible elections. In that case, he should always ensure that he does not nominate persons of questionable character or party partisans to INEC. The wish of most Nigerians too is for credible elections. If this is to happen, the self-interest of some legislators who are afraid that their “people” may not vote them back into office and therefore seek to introduce “rigging mechanisms” must be fought by all Nigerians. Heightened vigilance, at this time, is extremely important.

A professor of Political Science and development consultant/expert, Jibrin Ibrahim is a Senior Fellow of the Centre for Democracy and Development, and Chair of the Editorial Board of PREMIUM TIMES.

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