Is the Electoral Act amendment jinxed?

INEC chairman Prof. Mahmood Yakubu

Since enactment of the 2010 Electoral Act, several attempts made to amend it for a new Act by different sessions of the National Assembly have yielded no results TAIYE ODEWALE reports.

Meaning of Electoral Act 
Electoral Act is the act parliament which guides the conduct of elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Nigeria.

While there were no such laws in place for the conduct of the 1998 local government elections across the country and 1999 general elections which gave birth to the current 4th Republic, such laws were required to be put in place for improvement in the conduct of  general elections in the country and invariably deepening the democratic governance in the land.

Periodically within a spate of four years interval, each session of the National Assembly is expected to look into an existing Electoral Act and carry out amendment on any provisions observed to be deficient or outdated with a view to enhancing the credibility and sanctity of electoral processes.

A good example of this was the clause in the 2002 electoral act which was silent on compulsory announcement of election results by presiding officers at each of the polling units but made mandatory by the 2010 Electoral Act which not only made announcement of such results at polling units by presiding officers compulsory but also pasting of the results at the polling units signed by all the party agents before heading to the Ward Collation Centres.

Though by that provision, the 2010 Electoral Act, to a considerable extent, added value to the credibility of electoral process in the country.

However, manipulations that are prevented at each of the 119,983 polling units across the country, are perpetrated by fraudulent key players in the process at any of the 8, 809 Ward Collation Centres in the country through adding or subtracting of scores of targeted candidates of political parties.

Apparently worried by the loopholes inherent in the 2010 Electoral Act, seriously exploited by fraudulent politicians and staffers of INEC in the 2011 and 2015 general elections, the 8th National Assembly in its attempt to correct the anomalies, came up with an an electoral bill in February 2018 ahead of the 2019 general elections for legal usage of  technological devices for  electronic transmission of election results from the ward level to the server of INEC in Abuja but at the same time, created problem for the  legislation by re-ordering the sequence of elections for INEC.

In re-ordering the sequence of conduct of elections for INEC in the 2010 Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018, the 8th National Assembly put elections into the Senate and the House of Representatives as first order of elections, followed by governorship and State Houses of Assembly elections while Presidential election, was proposed to be the last in the order of elections in the bill.

Refusal of presidential assent In his refusal of assent to the 2010 Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018 forwarded to it by the 8th National Assembly in February 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari said re-ordering of sequence of conducts of elections for INEC made in the Bill, was unconstitutional as relevant provisions of the 1999 Constitution, empowers INEC to carry out such function.

Though between May and November 2018, the 8th National Assembly under the leadership of Senator Bukola Saraki and Hon Yakubu Dogara as President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives respectively. made two different attempts of amending the Act through separately forwarded bills to President Buhari for assent, but the issues of typographical errors and closeness to conduct of the 2019 general elections were raised at different times for refusal of assents.

Botched attempt of the 9th National Assembly 
Worried by the failed efforts made by  the 8th National Assembly in seeing to enactment of new Electoral Act empowering INEC on electronic transmission of election results, the 9th National Assembly under the leadership of Senator Ahmad Lawan and Hon Femi Gbajabiamila set agenda in that direction ahead  of the 2023 general elections.

It accordingly mandated its committees on INEC to come up with required provisions to that effect in the 2021 electoral bill.

As mandated, the committees at both the Senate and the House of Representatives in July last year, submitted a joint report which among others, recommended in clause 52(3), electronic transmission of election results by INEC where and when practicable and in clause 87, gave political parties option of direct or indirect primaries for election of their candidates for any of the available political posts in general elections.

Primary elections and the emerging jinx
For reasons best known to both chambers of the National Assembly, clause 87 of the bill which deals with mode of conduct for primaries elections by all political parties, was amended in October 2021 from the two earlier options of Direct or Indirect given, to mandatory Direct Primaries by all political parties.

The amendment carried out on the clause by both chambers reads: “A political party seeking to nominate candidates for elections under this Bill shall hold direct primaries for aspirants to all elective positions , which shall be monitored by the commission (INEC)” .

The  boomerang on interest-serving provision 
As it was with the 8th National Assembly on failed attempt on enactment of new Electoral Act with insertion of interest-serving provision, so it seems to be with the current 9th National Assembly as far as earlier position on party primaries was concerned.

Though after refusal of assent to the bill by President Buhari based on mandatory direct primaries, both the Senate and the House of Representatives last week, acceded to the President’s request in different ways by widening the scope of primaries but the difference in their reworking of the provision, still keeps the bill in limbo.

While the Senate in knocking off section 87(2) which made Direct Primaries mandatory with section 84 which added indirect primaries and consensus option to the provision, the House of Representatives only added indirect primaries to the earlier recommended but rejected mandatory direct primaries.

Specifically, the Senate in Clause 84(2) of the latest amendment to the rejected bill, approved direct, indirect primaries or consensus as procedure for the nomination of candidates by political parties for the various elective positions while the House approved direct and indirect primaries only,  without including the option of Consensus. Legislative implication 
In line with legislative procedures, since no single chamber of the National Assembly can pass a bill and transmit to President for assent, harmonization of positions needs to take place through setting up of committees to that effect.

The implication of this is that while it may take both chambers to set up such committees this week, submission and adoption of report, will be next week, which invariably will enter into February.

Besides, in the required harmonization of positions on mode of primary elections for political parties by both chambers, the Senate version which entails consensus seems to tally with President Buhari’s observation and expectation as expressed by him early in the month during a media chat with Channels Television reporters. 

But the question is, based on condemnation of the Senate by Civil Society groups on  inclusion of consensus in the mode of party primaries, will the House concur with it and if the position of the House is adopted, will the President assent to the bill when transmitted to him? 

The possible scenarios at hand, no doubt, point at either of the two ways of the President assenting or not assenting the bill when re- transmitted to him.

Whatever becomes the end of the exercise at the end of the day before July this year, will determine whether the seemingly emerging jinx, will be broken or not by the 9th National Assembly.

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