The flaws and malfeasance that characterized the 2019 general elections were too apparent and pervasive to ignore. As the nation grapples with the failures of the Buhari regime whose legitimacy continues to be questioned by a large section of the populace despite the judicial approval given to the 2019 presidential election, it behooves on the National Assembly and the President on the one hand and the civil society and the citizens on the other hand to expedite actions towards the reform of the electoral system..
Without disputation, the current electoral system in Nigeria does not inspire much confidence in the electorates. Many Nigerians are understandably and justifiably disenchanted with the poignant culture of electoral heist, brigandage, violence, inducement of voters, militarization of elections, partisanship and corruption of the electoral umpire and disenfranchisement of voters and other maladies.
Before the 2019 general elections, the 8th National Assembly made spirited efforts to effect significant changes in the electoral system by further amending the extant Electoral Act. The Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill was passed a number of times but President Buhari consistently vetoed different versions of the Bills on suspicious, questionable and untenable grounds.
In one instance, President Buhari claimed that he withheld his assent to the Electoral Act (Amendment) bill because of typographical errors in the text. However, the President never presented his preferred or ‘clean’ version of the bill to the National Assembly for consideration. Since the President is allowed by law to propose legislations by way of Executive Bills, it was inexcusable for President Buhari to veto private member bills introduced by the 8th National Assembly which were geared towards reforming our flawed electoral system without putting forward his own bill for consideration.
It is saddening that one year after the inauguration of the 9th National Assembly, the National Assembly as the law making organ of the Federal Government of Nigeria has not amended the 2010 Electoral Act to cure observable irregularities that has plagued successive elections in Nigeria.
While it is acknowledged that the Electoral Act (Repeal and Re-enactment) Bill 2020 has been introduced in the 9th National Assembly, and has passed through second reading in the Senate with the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege as the leading sponsor, there appears to be a stalemate which has halted further legislative action on the bill.
There are many aspects of our electoral laws and system that requires urgent legislative attention. The issues are multifaceted; ranging from pre-election, election to post-election anomalies. In urging the 9th National Assembly to accelerate action for a comprehensive amendment of the Constitution as it relates to elections and the 2010 Electoral Act, I am inclined to suggest certain aspects of our electoral system that requires serious consideration.
It is my view that Nigeria is ripe for electronic accreditation and electronic voting. Although the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has issued Guidelines which enable the use of the Smart Card Reader for authentication of the Permanent Voters Card cum accreditation, the Supreme Court in litany of decisions which arose from the 2015 general elections to date, has rendered the use of technology, particularly the Smart Car Reader (SCR), impotent by holding that although the SCR is a good innovation, it cannot be the basis for challenging the outcome of elections since there is no express statutory provision for the use of the SCR in the Electoral Act.
The view of the Apex Court is that Guidelines issued by the INEC on the use of the SCR cannot override the extant provisions for manual accreditation under the Electoral Act. These judicial decisions have adversely affected Nigeria’s aspiration for credible elections.
It is therefore essential for the National Assembly to make consequential and express amendments to the Electoral Act to make electronic accreditation through the SCR an exclusive mode of accreditation.
It is my considered view that the time has come for Nigeria to abandon the fraud prone manual voting and adopt electronic voting. The National Assembly should muster the courage and incorporate electronic voting into the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2020.
Another area that deserves critical legislative consideration is diaspora voting. Given the vast population of Nigerian citizens abroad and their contribution to the country, especially in remittances, there is no justifiable reason for excluding our fellow countrymen abroad from the electoral process. Since Nigeria has diplomatic and consular offices in nearly every foreign country, the Electoral Act should be amended to enable citizens in diaspora to vote for their preferred candidates, particularly in presidential and National Assembly elections.
I implore the National Assembly to give legislative approval to independent candidature by altering Section 221 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) which gives political parties the sole right to sponsor candidates in elections. Since our political parties, particularly the so-called major parties, are bereft of ideological inclinations, individuals should be allowed to contest for offices without having to seek the sponsorship of political parties.
Another area that the current efforts to further amend the Electoral Act should address relates to determination of post-election disputes. There are two important reforms that should be implemented before the next round of election petitions: Firstly, the INEC should bear the onus of proving that election was conducted in compliance or substantial compliance with the law. The present position where Petitioners are required to prove substantial non-compliance with the Electoral Act is antiquated. Secondly, election petitions should be determined before swearing-in.
Our electoral jurisprudence needs surgical legislative intervention. Decisions of our courts in election petitions and pre-election matters are increasingly being subjected to public rebuke and controversies.
It is also my view that the powers of the President to appoint the Chairman and National Commissioners of INEC should be curtailed in line with the recommendations of the Justice Uwais Electoral Reform Committee. Other recommendations of the Uwais Committee should be addressed.
Given the continued use of violence and the needless militarization of elections in Nigeria, I support the creation of either a permanent Special Electoral Offences Court or an ad-hoc Electoral Offences Tribunal which should be constituted alongside Election Petition Tribunals. The absence of accountability has birthed impunity in Nigeria’s electoral process.
There is need for sustained citizen action to pressurize the National Assembly to suspend their ongoing recess or resume earlier than later to work on the various Bills which are pending in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Nigerians should own the fight for electoral reforms by asserting their sovereignty on their elected representatives in the National Assembly. Commendably, the Centre for Advancement of Civil Liberties, otherwise known as Centre for Liberty, in partnership with the Open Society for West Africa (OSIWA), are currently leading the civil society in this regard.
The National Assembly should be responsible and responsive to the yearnings of the Nigerian people for a credible electoral system. All necessary Bills that are pending or that needs to be introduced should be given accelerated attention. Our legislators should be conscious of the historical and national imperative for electoral reforms.
The time to act is now!