By Gift Chapi Odekina
The house of representatives on Tuesday moved to amend the electoral Act to prohibit electoral officers from engaging in partisan politics within five years of retirement, resignation and official relief of duties and other related matters.
This followed the passage of the bill for second reading sponsored by Rep. Wale Raji (APC) Lagos
According to the federal lawmaker, the level of information available to a National Electoral Commissioner and the Resident Electoral Commissioner respectively, during their period of service as electoral staff, of which the general public is not privy to especially the methods and the procedures on how elections are conducted, it has become imperative to restrict them from taking part in aspiring for elective positions in government for a period of at least five (5) years of their disengagement from the commission. This is to ensure that such officer has lost touch with recent happening in the Electoral commission.
In addition he said that the act was tailored towards the protection of the integrity of the electoral body and elections at large, adding that it would build the confidence of the electorate towards the activities and affairs of the commission.
“However, by virtue of Section 45 (1) of the 1999 Constitution as amended, it provides that nothing in Section 40 of the Constitution shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society, with respect to the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health, or for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedom of other persons.
“The import of the above is to the effect that the provisions of section 40 of the Constitution will not invalidate any law of the National Assembly that is tailored towards the protection of public order and morality.
“In their disengagement from the commission. This is to ensure that such officer has lost touch with recent happening in . It is also a way to build the confidence of the electorate towards the activities and affairs of the commission.
“By isolating these officers from engaging in active politics, this amendment will prevent any possible abuse of office or using a position once occupied to gain undue advantage during an election.
An argument that such an officer has or is being disenfranchised should be counter with the clear provisions of Section 45(1) of the 1999 Constitution which limits the strength of such a person’s right to be voted for or field for an elective position in protection of public order and morality.
“For instance, sometime in August, 2019 the Resident Electoral Commissioner in charge of Cross River State, Dr. Frankland Briyal, resigned his appointment in the state headquarters of the Independent National Electoral Commission in Calabar, to enable him contest in the governorship race in Bayelsa State. This action did not escape criticism but also caused discomfort within the political party the aspirate intended to seek its ticket thereby creating a national embarrassment for our electoral system.
“Another practical instance can be seen in the case of judicial officers (Judges) in Nigeria who are barred from appearing in court as legal practitioners before any court or tribunal in Nigeria upon retirement or official disengagement. Section 292 (2) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) provides thus:
“Any person who has held office as a judicial officer shall not on ceasing to be a judicial officer for any reason whatsoever thereafter appear to act as a legal practitioner before any court of law or tribunal in Nigeria.
“In view of the above, one cannot argue that such judicial officers have been barred from joining an association of lawyers in the literal sense but because of the kind of information already privy to them as judges it will be against public policy and morality to permit them to continue practicing as legal practitioners even at retirement. This same proposition is applicable to the National Electoral Commissioner and the Resident Electoral Commissioner respectively, in order to ensure transparency in our electoral system,” he argued.
Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila therefore referred the bill to the House Committee on Electoral Matters for further legislative inputs.