The House of Representatives has passed for a second reading, an electoral act amendment, which seeks to bar electoral officers from engaging in partisan politics within five years of retirement, resignation and official relief of duties.
The lawmakers expressed the support on Tuesday for the bill, which was sponsored by the Chairman, House Committee on House Services, Olawale Raji (Lagos, APC).
The electoral act currently has no provision that covers that lacuna where an electoral could resign at any time and participate in elections.
A former Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in Cross River State, Frankland Briyai, had, in 2019, resigned his appointment with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to join the Bayelsa State governorship race. He was, however, sacked after his announcement.
Mr Raji, while explaining the synopsis of the bill, expressed optimism that the passage of the amendment to the Electoral Act, will go a long way in checkmating the observed lacuna in the Principal Act, and in turn strengthen Nigeria’s democratic culture.
He also proposed an amendment to the Electoral Act by creating a new sub-section 2 in Section 146, which provides that: (2) “a person who holds or has held office as a member of the Commission appointed by the President by virtue of the 3rd Schedule, Part 1(F) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and Resident Electoral Commissioner appointed under the Act shall not, until after a period of five years immediately after retirement, resignation or official relief of duties, be qualified for any elective office in Nigeria.”
While stressing the need to cure the lacuna created in Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria which stipulates that “every Nigerian is free to belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his/her interest, the lawmaker argued that nobody’s right will be infringed upon.
“The import of the above provision is to the effect that every Nigerian adult has the inherent/Constitutional right to participate freely during an election and cannot be disenfranchised unduly.
“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.”
“In the light of the above, I submit that 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 5 years of their disengagement from the commission.”
He said the proposed amendment is to ensure that such officer has lost touch with recent happening in the Electoral Commission.
“In addition, this act is tailored towards the protection of the integrity of the electoral body and elections at large.
“It is also a way to build the confidence of the electorate towards the activities and affairs of the commission.”
He said 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 an 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 practising 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,” the lawmaker said.
The bill, which was not subjected to any debate, was unanimously passed for a second reading and referred to the House Committee on Electoral and Political Matters for further legislative action.