By Ignatius Okorocha
The National Assembly has assured that it would consider and pass the new Electoral Law upon resumption for plenary by February 9, 2021.
To this end,the Joint Committee on INEC and Electoral Matters is expected to adopt a final document this weekend, for onward presentation to both chambers for consideration and approval.
Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege who doubles as Chairman of the panel, Senator Kabiru Gaya(co-chairman)and his counterpart from the House of Representatives, Hon. Aishatu Dukku, stated this at the presentation of the draft report in Abuja on Wednesday.
According to the trio,the National Assembly would pass the eagerly anticipated bill before the end of the first quarter of 2021.
In his remarks, Omo-Agege said though the process under the Eighth National Assembly was fraught with mutual suspicions and bitterness, electoral reform for the Ninth National Assembly remains a priority in its legislative agenda.
The bill, according to him, would cure specific mischief plaguing our elections and electoral processes when passed into law.
The Delta Central lawmaker applauded the cooperation of stakeholders for putting all hands on deck, with a view to having a new electoral legal framework ahead of the 2023 general election.
According to him, if this level of cooperation was in place in the Eighth National Assembly, the bill would have been assented to by President Muhammadu Buhari.
His words: “The cooperation that we have witnessed in this Joint Committee of the Ninth Assembly is unprecedented. I am sure if we had this in the Eighth Senate there is no way we would have gone into the 2019 elections without an approved amended Electoral Act.
“Let me also acknowledge that, but for the cooperation of INEC and the office of the Attorney General of the Federation, this feat would not have been possible. I recall the challenges that we faced then. As most of you know, I was very instrumental in drafting most of those provisions that we dealt with in the Eighth Senate.
“If we had the benefit of the cooperation of INEC at the outset like we are having right now and also cooperation of the AGF, I am sure we would have cleared this long ago. So I want to thank all of you for all you have done to get us to this very stage.
“I want to emphasise that the work you are doing here, you may not really appreciate it because as members of the National Assembly, we deal with so many areas of the law but to some of us, this is the most important. Because the moment you are able to sanitise the electoral system, every other thing will fall in place.
“That is why I am so thrilled and the moment we clear this during the retreat this weekend, we will have an easy sail during plenary in both chambers. Because those who ordinarily will raise issues and have some of these provisions buried, participated in this exercise. So, I don’t see how they can come to the floor to do otherwise”.
He expressed delight at some of the provisions of the proposed law, especially the mandatory use of card readers for the conduct of local government elections.
He, however, explained that this does not take away the independence of State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs) but to ensure that elections at the council levels are sanitised and conducted in line with global best practices. SIECs, he added, would still conduct council polls.
“One of the most important provisions to me is the Second Schedule of the Constitution dealing with local government elections, which hitherto had never been within the remit of INEC. But we believe that we need to have the system sanitised by also mandating the application of the Electoral Act to the conduct of local government elections.
“We all know based on the law, INEC is the only body authorised to maintain a voters register. And there is no way you are going to be conducting elections without a voters register. So the State Independent Electoral Commissions are already resorting to INEC for the use of the voters register. So what we are just saying is that in addition to that, also use the Electoral Act and request the card readers from INEC in the conduct of local government elections. And that does not in any way take away their independence.
“We know under Section 7, it is their remit clearly but here we are saying we are only dealing with procedure not the substantive law. Even under Second Schedule, they also can make their laws to the extent that it is not inconsistent with the laws passed by the National Assembly. So, this is very critical. If nothing else, what you have done is very critical and the entire country will be grateful for the work you have done.
“In addition to that is the issue of the card reader. It was always your (INEC) intervention. It has worked but before now, we have not given it legal framework. With this right now, that issue is going to be settled for good”, he added.
In their separate remarks, Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu; Executive Director, Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC), Clement Nwankwo applauded the technical committee for working round the clock to produce the draft report.
They noted that the development is expected to lay the foundation for significant development in the country’s electoral system.
The bill seeks to repeal the Electoral Act, 2010, and provide a more stable and progressive legal framework for elections in Nigeria.
Specifically, it alters several provisions relating to establishment of polling units, issue of ballot paper, limitation of election expenses, conduct and postponement of elections in an emergency, oath of neutrality by election officers, among other provisions.
High point of the event was the presentation of the draft report by the technical panel to the joint committee.