The leadership of the Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC) Wednesday expressed worry over the continued delay of assent to the Electoral Act 2010 Amendment Bill 2021, calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to do the needful and assent to the reworked Bill.
According to IPAC, certain forces presently holding political offices, in league with others with shared interests against the Bill, have since engaged in overt and covert activities aimed at scuttling the Bill from becoming an Act.
In a statement by its National Chairman, Engineer Yabagi Yusuf Sani, IPAC said if opponents of the Bill succeeded in winning over the president, “the implication is that none of its series of innovative guidelines and provisions will be applied by INEC in the conduct of the 2023 elections.
“Like most enlightened Nigerians, we in IPAC had expected that following the withholding of assent by the President when the Bill was first transmitted to him by lawmakers, the reworked version submitted afterwards, would have been such that possible areas of conflicts were avoided.
“However, the Federal Legislators in their wisdom, decided to introduce new clauses among which, is the one that makes it mandatory for appointed political office holders who are interested in contesting elective positions, to resign before doing so. Expectedly, the Bill has generated a new round of controversy with vituperation from those interest groups that perceive the clause to be targeted at them.
“The greatest fears of Nigerians and those of us at IPAC, is that in the event of such a scenario, the widely hailed Biometric Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) as well as the electronic transmission of results along with other cardinal components of the Bill, will not be mandatory for use by INEC in the elections,” the group said.
It urged President Buhari not to throw away the grains with the chaff, which would be the case if the Electoral Act, for reasons of some clauses in it, is thrown away in its entirety.
The statement further said: “The leadership of IPAC is loathe to buy into the opinion held in many quarters that all the controversies over the electoral bill might have been a deliberate and conscious conspiracy by power interests in the Executive and the Legislature who are averse to positive changes that make it difficult for them to continue in their old game of manipulating the electoral process. If that is the case, all democrats and patriotic Nigerians owe it a duty to stand up against these retrogressive forces, who are bent on retarding the progress of our hard-won democracy.
“The IPAC is calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to go ahead and give his assent to the Bill as presently transmitted by the National Assembly. This will be demonstrating his avowed commitment to bequeathing a culture of transparent and credible elections to the country.
“The Bill can afterwards, be revisited and amended again if, compelling reasons emerge to do so either before or after the 2023 elections.”
In a similar reaction, founder and Chief Executive Officer of Albino Foundation, Mr Jake Epelle called on the president to assent the re-amended Electoral Bill on his desk and save the nascent democracy that Nigeria is struggling to keep afloat.
He said this is the most inclusive electoral bill capturing the inclusion of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs), Women and the Youth in the general elections.
Jake said a lot is at stake and that people whom the president and other politicians represent were yearning for a reformed electoral process.
“This is another opportunity for the president to plainly write his name on golden table of democracy,” he said.
Also, the Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) and Transparency International, Nigeria, Auwal Rafsanjani said the president had made the commitment to the nation and he shouldn’t waste a day in signing the bill.
“He should also know that there are implications for delaying the re-amended bill which will obviously affect the 2023 general elections.
“It is a test for integrity and we don’t expect that he waste a day. He should stick to his words else Nigerians will have an issue with that.
“We hope that he quickly ascents the bill so as to also allow INEC make adequate preparations ahead of the coming general elections. Without the Bill, INEC will be constrained.
“And the only way to ensure free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria is to put in place adequate legal framework in that regard,” he said.
Also, Executive Director of Young People’s Initiative for Credible Leadership, Comrade Abdulawahab Ekekhide, said assenting the Bill would enhance more credibility in the electoral process.
“I think Nigerians are looking out for Electronic transmission of results during the general elections when the bill is passed into law. President Buhari has no reason not to assent the Bill because the Bill will deepen the Electoral processes,” he said.
Also, Convener Take Back Nigeria Movement and Co-Convener Say No Campaign, Jaiye Gaskia said “time is of essence, and time is in fact running out on the electoral act.”
“Anything beyond end of February, or early March for enacting the bill into an act either through presidential assent, or through override of presidential veto, will be practically too late for the 2023 elections.
“We are signatory to ECOWAS and AU conventions that more or less prohibits amendment of electoral laws six or less months to the general elections.
“It is important that the President gives the Bill transmitted to him utmost priority, and make his decision known immediately, without further delay.
“And if the National Assembly is indeed serious about giving the country a new and appropriate electoral law, and in time, then it should be prepared to immediately override any potential presidential veto as soon axe such a veto is announced.
“Bottom line, we either have a new electoral act by March of this year, or we forget about it until after the general elections,” he said.
Osinbajo explains delay
Meanwhile, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has said the Electoral Act Amendment Bill now in progress is a testament to the current administration’s commitment towards improving Nigeria’s electoral system.
Osinbajo stated this Tuesday at the 53rd Conference of the National Association of Law Teachers, held at Bayero University, Kano (BUK), with the theme: “Law, Democracy and the Electoral Process.”
He said: “The bill itself has been the subject of robust engagement between the government and civil society. While some have expressed reservations about the time it is taking to enact the new law, we should remember that a truly inclusive democratic, deliberative process often takes time.
“I am confident that the legislation that emerges will be one that reflects a broad consensus between all the stakeholders.”
The vice president added that “while INEC continues to improve its capacity to conduct credible elections, particularly through the deployment of technology; we recognize that democracy is about much more than voting. It is also about constitutionalism, rule of law and respect for civil liberties. We must diligently work to uphold these principles.
“Our progress as a democracy must therefore also be prosecuted in terms of the struggle to reduce the basic problems of ill-health, malnutrition, illiteracy, and famine which afflict our people. Where social and economic rights are unsecured, people are unable to fully maximize their civil and political rights.”
While declaring the conference open earlier, Osinbajo noted that democracy and social justice were closely linked, adding that the cornerstone of democracy is the insistence that “our society must be governed by the rule of law and not the whim of man.”
“As law teachers and legal practitioners, we are custodians of this truth. However, democracy cannot endure without social justice,” he said, noting that “the pursuit of justice lies at the heart of the quest for the good of society.”
He continued, “this makes the legal profession one of the cardinal vocations upon which civilization rests. Indeed, law is an instrument of pacific social engineering, the end of which is justice. When it is rooted in this postulate, it follows that the law and therefore democracy, are meant to serve beneficial social ends.”
On the essence of democracy and the need to preserve democratic institutions in Nigeria and other parts of Africa, the VP noted that even as Nigeria has enjoyed 22 years of unbroken democracy, the country is still a young democracy.
“We have witnessed a series of peaceful transitions of power. This is a huge credit to the democratic sensibilities of our people. Along the way, we are learning valuable lessons that can only make us better practitioners of liberty.
“Many of our institutions are still in their infancy, and we must carefully guide them into maturity. We recognise that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance,” Osinbajo further stated.