Electoral Act Amendment Proposes Oath Taking for INEC Officials, Security Agents

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Independent Electoral Commission

The National Assembly has proposed removal of manual accreditation of voters for all elections in Nigeria.

The Independent National Electoral Commission will be empowered to reschedule an election at a polling unit where a smart card reader fails to verify the identity of a voter card holder and the backup device equally fails.

The act also proposed oath taking for INEC officials, security agents.

These are contained in the report on the Electoral Act 2010 (Amendment) Bill billed for consideration and adoption by the Senate and House of Representatives.

According to the report by the joint Senate and House Committees on INEC and Electoral Matters, a new Section 47(3) will read, “Where a smart card reader or any other technological device deployed for accreditation of voters fails to function in any particular unit and a fresh card reader or technological device is not deployed, the election in that unit shall be cancelled and another election shall be scheduled within 24 hours if the commission is satisfied that the result of the election in that polling unit will substantially affect the final result of the whole election and declaration of a winner in the constituency concerned.”

Presently, voters are accredited manually where electronic verification fails.

The Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2020 passed the second reading at the House on November 27, 2020, while Chairman of the House Committee on Electoral Matters, Aishatu Dukku, had since February 23, 2021, laid the report on a ‘Bill for an Act to Repeal the Electoral Act, 2010 and Enact the Electoral Act, 2021 to Regulate the Conduct of Elections in Federal, States and Area Councils in the Federal Capital Territory; and for Related Matters.’

At the public hearing, Dukku had noted that the bill was put together by the Senate, the House, INEC and the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN).

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Other recommendations by the joint committee in the report, a copy of which our correspondent obtained, include prohibition of transfer or sale of voter cards.

Section 22 of the bill reads, “Any person, including an entity, who (a) is in illegal possession of any voter’s card whether issued in the name of any voter or not; (b) sells or offers to sell any voter’s card whether issued in the name of the voter or not; or (c) buys or offers to buy any voter’s card on whether his or her own behalf or in behalf of any other person; commits an offence and is liable, on conviction, to (i) in the case of an individual, a fine not more than N2,000,000 or imprisonment for a term not more than two years or both, and (ii) in the case of an entity, a fine of N5,000,000.”

Also, Section 26(1) in the report (which was Section 28(1) in the bill) provides that all INEC staff members, Electoral Officers, Presiding Officers, Returning Officers, Security Officials “taking part in the conduct of an election shall affirm or swear to an oath of loyalty and neutrality, indicating that they will not accept bribe or gratification from any person, and shall perform their functions and duties impartially and in the interest of the Federal Republic of Nigeria without fear or favour.

An analysis of the amounts proposed as the ceiling for respective posts showed that the National Assembly raised some of them by 200 per cent.

For instance, in Section 91 under Limitation on Election Expenses in the original bill, the House had set the maximum election expenses to be incurred by a candidate for a presidential election at N5bn, while governorship was pegged at N1bn; Senate and House membership, N100m and N70m, respectively; state House of Assembly, N30m; chairmanship election in a Local Government Area or area council, N30m; and councillorship in an area council, N5m.

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However, in 88 (1) of the report, the joint committee recommended N15bn for presidential election; N5bn for governorship; N1.5bn and N500m for Senate and House membership, respectively; N50m for state House of Assembly membership; N50m for LGA or Area Council chairmanship; and N5m for LGA or Area Council councillorship.

‘Direct grievances to your senators’

In a related development, the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, on Monday, told Nigerians that had been criticising the National Assembly over the ongoing amendments of the Electoral Act to channel their grievances to their representatives in the National Assembly as soon as possible.

Lawan stated this while inauguration of the reconstituted Public Complaints Commission by the National Assembly, led by the Chief Commissioner, Abimbola Ayo-Yusuf.

He said, “The National Assembly is embarking on the amendment of the Electoral Act. (It will) probably (be passed) by next week.

“It is very important that those who feel very strongly about any amendment that they think should be effected in the Act should contact or talk to their members of House of Representatives as well as distinguished senators.

“I want to state categorically clear here that presiding officers are not the ones to determine what is coming or what is not.

Lawan challenged Nigerians to, utilise the newly reconstituted PCC to seek redress whenever their rights are trampled upon.

Also speaking at the PCC inauguration, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, described the PCC as “a product of necessity due to human rights abuses, societal victimisation, high headedness practices of maladministration.”

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 Meanwhile, the Peoples Redemption Party has said it is “sad and seriously concerned” about the move to disallow electronic transmission of results in future elections in the country.

The National Chairman of the PRP, Falalu Bello, in a statement issued on Monday and titled ‘Draft Electoral Bill: Three Steps Backwards,’ called on Nigerians to mobilise against the planned removal by the National Assembly.

Similarly, a coalition of over 247 women groups on Monday protested against alleged manipulation of the final copy of the bill, includinh the prohibition of electronic transmission of results and removal of the power of the INEC to review results declared under duress or in contravention of electoral laws.

The gender groups statement was signed by the Executive Director of Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre and chairperson of Transition Monitoring Group, Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi.

Other signatories included 100 Women Lobby Group; Initiative for Girls Above, ActionAid Nigeria, Nigerian Women Trust Fund, Women in Nigerian Politics and Women in Radio.

The document reads partly, “Some key provisions of the manipulated bill that are particularly worrying are the prohibition of electronic transmission of results (Section 50 (2)); the removal of INEC’s power to review results declared under duress or in contravention of electoral laws and guidelines (Section 65); and the drastic increase in the limits for campaign expenses.”

“These provisions have the potential to undermine transparency and fairness in elections. This affects women disproportionately for two main reasons: Women rarely get the tickets for the ‘big parties’ and often their hope lies with the smaller parties.”

The Punch

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