Yiaga Africa has urged the National Assembly to begin harmonization of the versions of the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives in order to ensure that the bill is assented to by President Muhammadu Buhari in good time.
This will enable the new electoral law to be tested in upcoming off-cycle elections such as the Ekiti and Osun governorship elections and will provide an opportunity for Nigerians and election observers to get familiar with it prior to the 2023 General Elections. It will also help to identify gaps where the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will need support before the 2023 elections.
This call was made by Yiaga Africa’s Director of Programs Cynthia Mbamalu at a Stakeholders’ Reflection Roundtable on Electoral Reform organized by Yiaga Africa with the support of the European Union Support to Democratic Governance in Nigeria (EU-SDGN) project.
Ms. Mbamalu also called on the National Assembly to ensure that the final version of the bill reflects the yearnings and aspirations of citizens.
“We also encourage legislators to reconsider their positions on certain suggestions made by citizens and stakeholders, some of which were overlooked, politicized or became contentious. Importantly, the Conference Committee should also make decisions in line with citizens’ demands in adopting amendments where both chambers adopted different versions towards transparent and credible elections,” she said.
In particular, she laid emphasis on Section 52 of the Bill which gives power to INEC to transmit results electronically, stating that the Senate version which empowers the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to decide for INEC its ability to transmit results electronically.
“We believe the electoral commission is ready and capable to deploy electronic transmission of results. The house version of the bill gives INEC the discretion to decide the procedure for voting and transmission of results. We believe the version of the House of Reps, and the version of the bill should be adopted giving INEC the powers to decide the procedure for voting and transmission of results”, she said.
“The Senate version is problematic because it seeks to give power to the communications commission to make decisions over the procedures and for INEC. For us that is unconstitutional, because INEC as an executive body established by the constitution is independent”, she added.
Also speaking at the event, the spokesperson of the Senate, Senator Ajibola Basiru (Osun Central, APC) expressed worry over Section 52 of the Senate version of the bill, describing it as nebulous, vague and requiring deliberation as the versions of both chambers of the National Assembly are subjected to thorough scrutiny.
He also commended Yiaga for organizing the forum, and said elections in a democratic society must be fair, transparent and generally acceptable to the people, while noting the connection between credible elections and good governance.
“If we struggle with responsibilities on how to govern the country, whether in the executive or legislative arm of government, it gives not just a moral remorse, it gives us a moral burden to ensure we dedicate ourselves and get the wish and mandate of the people”, he stated.
The event also had panel discussions that examined the issues and pitfalls in the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill and made recommendations for improving the bill, as well as how to mobilize citizens and build consensus on electoral reforms in Nigeria.
The roundtable was also attended by civil society representatives, INEC officials, and labour leaders.