Electoral Act: Anxiety As Panel Submits Report Tomorrow

The Senate Committee on Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will submit its report on the Electoral Act Amendment Bill tomorrow, Daily Trust has reliably gathered.

The bill is one crucial piece of legislation which many Nigerians and indeed, democracy campaigners are eagerly awaiting its passage by the National Assembly.

This is because of the far-reaching impact the bill, if assented to, would have on the country’s electoral process and democratic system.

The bill was passed by the 8th National Assembly, but President Muhammadu Buhari declined to assent to it.

Buhari had said he could not assent to the bill because the time it was passed by the National Assembly was too close to the 2019 general elections and as such, the implementation of the provisions of the proposed amendments to the Act could be problematic.

Again, the current 9th National Assembly re-introduced the bill when it came on board and it is now on the verge of being passed.

Key amendments proposed in the bill include giving legal backing to the use of card readers and other technological devices during elections; limiting campaign spending by candidates standing in an election; and empowering INEC to review results declared by returning officers.

However, the proposed amendments have been generating ripples and uneasy calm among Nigerians over alleged moves against the introduction of technology in the electoral process especially compulsory use of card readers and electronic transmission of election results contrary to the original draft of the bill and the robust proposals canvassed by stakeholders during public hearing.

Civil society groups and other stakeholders have deplored the move, describing it as a “coup against Nigerians.”

They argue that the manual system will encourage rigging and electoral malpractices that have been the bane of the country’s democratic advancement.

Another contentious aspect of the proposed amendment is Section 88, which raises the amount of money candidates standing in an election can spend.

The panel is said to have raised the campaign spending limit of a presidential candidate from N1 billion to N15 billion.

The amendment proposed an upward review of campaign spending thus: governorship (from N200 million to N5 billion); senatorial (from N40 million to N1.5 billion); House of Representatives (from N30 million to N500 million) and House of Assembly (from N10 million to N50 million).

However, many have expressed concern that the upward review of campaign spending would make elective positions exclusive for money bags who can manipulate the electoral process to their advantage to edge out qualified candidates who do not have the financial war chest to fund their bid.

Panel tidies up report

Daily Trust gathered that the panel met at the weekend in the National Assembly to put finishing touches on the salient issues raised in the report on the bill.

A highly-placed source familiar with the workings of the Senate panel told one of our correspondents yesterday that the committee would submit the final report during Tuesday’s plenary.

“We will continue with work on it on Monday (today) and by the grace of God, the report will be submitted on Tuesday,” the source said.

On the alleged tinkering with the bill, the source said, “Anything you see in the public domain is fake news. It is surprising people are alleging that they smuggled something into the bill. Some even reported that it has been removed.

“The report is not yet a public document and the committee has not released anything to the public. All the news flying around about electronic transmission of results is not true.”

N/Assembly leadership allays fears

Earlier last week, the National Assembly leadership dismissed insinuations and misgivings by some Nigerians that it was bent on accommodating contentious clauses in the bill that would stop the transmission of election results electronically.

President of the Senate Ahmad Lawan said presiding officers of both chambers of the National Assembly were not in any position to determine the outcome of amendments to the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill under consideration.

Speaking at the inauguration and swearing-in ceremony of the Chief Commissioner and Commissioners of the Public Complaints Commission in Abuja, the Senate President advised Nigerians to engage their representatives in both chambers of the National Assembly on whatever issues they feel strongly about in the bill.

Also, the House of Representatives spokesman, Benjamin Kalu, described as “hasty conclusions” the “unfounded” claims that the lawmakers inserted contentious clauses in the bill.

Kalu told newsmen on Thursday that the bill was still a draft document and until it is referred to the “Committee of the Whole” for clause-by-clause consideration, it is not an official document that anyone could refer to.”

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