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Did the All Progressives Congress (APC)-dominated National Assembly wait for the final conquest of the electoral space before revisiting the Electoral Act 2010 amendment that was abandoned at the tail end of 8th session? That was the predominant question raised by some stakeholders as The Guardian gathered that the upper chamber of the federal legislative arm has begun fresh attention to electoral reforms.

Among other far-reaching improvements in the electoral process is the proposal to compel the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to operate an electronic database into which all results in an election are to be transmitted. Chairman of reformed All Progressives Congress (APC), Mr. Buba Galadima, has dismissed the proposed attention to the Electoral Act 2010 after the massive vote heist in Bayelsa and Kogi States, saying it shows that the country is finished. Galadima expressed disappointment that President Muhammadu Buhari, whom a lot of people expected to make a difference in government, has decided to walk the path of infamy instead of introducing meaningful change in the way things are done in the country.

“With a compromised judiciary and compliant legislature, how far could the token mention of reforms go?” Galadima queried. “They knew the proper things to do, but waited until now, after dispossessing Nigerians to revisit the all-important Electoral Act amendment.“Much damage has been done to Nigeria’s electoral process. The issue of the proposed amendment is just a face-saving antic to divert attention from the collusion of security agents and INEC in disenfranchising voters in Bayelsa and Kogi.”

However, while congratulating the National Assembly for acknowledging the importance of electronic voting, National Chairman of United Progressives Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie, expressed relief in the hope that election in Nigeria would no longer be capital intensive. Okorie pointed out that some of the benefits of electronic voting include holding of election without declaring public holidays or on Saturdays, curtailing money politics and ensuring fidelity of the ballot.

He said: “It is a welcome development and sounds as victory to lovers of democracy. There should be a legal framework, because it was a central feature in Alhaji Atiku Abubakar’s petition, which was shut down. Action on the Electoral Act 2010 should be expeditious so that it could be remitted to the president before their Christmas break. That would show us that they are serious.

“It would show greater voter participation; it would shore up public confidence. Electronic voting would ensure that a popular candidate that doesn’t have money could win election. In the First Republic, for instance, a retired headmaster defeated Dr. Alex Ekwueme, because it was free and fair.”

The UPP chairman said it has become obvious that the present system has overwhelmed INEC, recalling that although President Buhari promised to introduce more technology after noting that it helped him win the 2015 election, the 8th NASS was not serious.“When the Amendment Bill came in 2018 it was belated. The amendment requires sensitization and I would urge the lawmakers to carry out the necessary processes so that it could be test-run during the forthcoming Edo, Ondo and Anambra States’ gubernatorial elections.”

Highlights of the reforms

THE new electoral reform also mandates INEC to adopt the much-awaited electronic voting method in future elections and a bill to amend the Electoral Act 2010 through which the Electoral Reform would be achieved has already been gazzetted and debate on its general principles is expected to begin this week on the floor of the Senate.

A copy of the bill exclusively obtained by The Guardian also stipulates that data of accredited voters must be transmitted to the Central Data Base upon the conclusion of accreditation of voters, which would be done through the use of the Card Reader.“At the end of accreditation of voters,” the Bill orders, “the Presiding Officer shall transmit the voter accreditation data by secured mobile electronic communication to the Central Database of the Commission kept at the National Headquarters of the Commission.“Any Presiding Officer, who contravenes this provision shall be liable, on conviction, to minimum imprisonment of at least five years without an option of fine.”

INEC was equally prevented from shutting down the Central Data Base until all petitions arising from the elections are determined by the Tribunal or Court.On the specific provisions for the adoption of Central Database, the Bill which is being sponsored by the Deputy President of the Senate, Ovie Omo-Agege and Senator Abubakar Kyari, (APC, Borno State), amends section 65 of the Electoral Act 2010 by introducing a “National Electronic Register of Election Results”

It states: “The Commission shall compile, maintain and update on a continuous basis, a register of election results to be known as the National Electronic Register of Election Results which shall be a database of election results from each polling unit, including collated election results of each election conducted by the Commission.

“National Electronic Register of Election Results shall be kept by the Commission at its National Headquarters and any person or political party may obtain from the Commission, on payment of reasonable fees as may be determined by the Commission, a certified true copy of any election result kept in the National Electronic Register of Election Results for the Federation, a State, Local Government, Area Council, Ward or Polling Unit, as the case may be and the certified true copy may be in printed or electronic format.” On electronic voting, the Electoral Reform Bill amends section 52 (2) of the 2010 Electoral Act and introduces a new provision stating that “The commission may adopt electronic voting or any other method of voting in any election it conducts as it may deem fit”

It was learnt that many lawmakers are not comfortable with the additional clause, which permitted INEC to use any other method it deems fit and may delete that option during the consideration of the Bill. The current law completely prohibits the use of electronic voting as it states, “the use of Electronic Voting machine for the time being is prohibited.”

Also, the Electoral Reform Bill slashed the nomination fees charged by political parties, such that presidential aspirants are to pay not more than N10 million, while governorship aspirants are to pay N5 million.In specific terms, the Bill stipulates: “For the purpose of nomination of candidates for election, the total fees, charges, dues and any payment howsoever named imposed by a political party on an aspirant shall not exceed: One Hundred and Fifty Thousand Naira (N150,000) for a Ward Councillorship aspirant in the FCT; Two Hundred and Fifty Thousand Naira (N250,000) for an Area Council Chairmanship aspirant in the FCT; Five Hundred Thousand Naira (N500,000) for a House of Assembly aspirant; One Million naira (N1,000,000) for a House of Representatives aspirant; Two Million Naira (N2,000,000) for a Senatorial aspirant; Five Million naira (N5,000,000) for a Governorship aspirant; and Ten Million Naira (N10,000,000) for a Presidential aspirant.”

The Bukola Saraki-led National Assembly had attempted the Electoral Reform, but failed to get the presidential approval even though the bill sought to strengthen internal democracy, reduce the cost of politics, widen political participation and the conduct of free, fair, and credible elections through technological innovations and an electronic database.

At the height of the politics that surrounded the proposed amendments, there were concerns raised over the enforceability of some of its provisions. For instance, President Buhari, in refusing to sign that bill, had argued: “I am declining assent to the Bill principally because I am concerned that passing a new electoral bill this far into the electoral process for the 2019 general elections, which commenced under the 2015 Electoral Act, could create some uncertainty about the applicable legislation to govern the process.

“Any real or apparent change to the rules this close to the election may provide an opportunity for disruption and confusion in respect of which law governs the electoral process.”

Deputy Senate President, Omo-Agege had, in an interview with The Guardian before the inauguration of the 9th NASS, declared that his legislative interest would focus on electoral reforms, stressing, “We must get it right. Unless and until we get it right, we shall continue to have problems. I am a very big fan of technology. I do not see why we cannot go for electronic voting. Even before we came on board in the outgoing senate, there had been an amendment to the Electoral Act that removed the inhibition from Sections 52 or 53 of the Electoral Act that prohibited INEC from evoting.

“I know that the inhibition was removed. There is no reason why INEC should not go for full-blown evoting. And even apart from the evoting, we had provided in the Electoral Act amendment for e-transmission from the polling units directly, because the bulk of the rigging that happens usually happens at the collation centre and everyone agreed on it.

“But, the poisoned pill of section 25 of election sequence also deprived us of the benefits of that provision in the Electoral Act amendment. Having said that, we need to address it because inasmuch as we want evoting, people must have that confidence that whatever is contained in the server is well protected.

“That is my area of interest and God willing, if I emerge as the Deputy Senate President, I would be the chairman of the Constitution Review Committee of the National Assembly. That is my main focus, electoral reform, and of course, other amendments to the constitution to bring it to terms with modern day reality.”

Source – The Guardian

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