The current timing of the submission of the bills however is completely inappropriate and can only be considered as mischief. They should be withheld and the best time to present them is just after the general elections, so that whoever is in power after May 29, 2019 would dust them up and present to the Ninth National Assembly.


It is difficult to find any honourable reason why the latest version of the Electoral Act was submitted to the Presidency without the provision on card reader. It was on Monday that Senator Ita Enang, senior special assistant (SSA) to the president on National Assembly Matters (Senate), drew the attention of Nigerians to what had happened. Enang said the clarification became necessary in view of false allegations by opposition politicians that the card reader provision in the Bill was one of the reasons the president withheld assent to it. “For the avoidance of doubt, I hereby state expressly that the card reader provision addressed by section 49 of the Principal Act was completely, expressly and unequivocally excluded” by the National Assembly, he said.

I have checked the three versions of the Bill and the provision is definitely not included in the current version and its strange for the following reason: The first version of the Bill which was signed by the Clerk of the National Assembly on February 20, 2019 justifies the revised Bill on the merit of the card reader provision. The Explanatory Note on the first page of the Bill states expressly that the amendment was necessary: “to recognise the use of the card reader and other technological devises in elections”. Section 19 of the Amendment then provides that Section 49 of the Principal Act is amended as follows: “The Presiding Officer shall use a smart card reader or any other technological device that may be prescribed by the Commission (INEC) for the accreditation of voters, to verify, confirm or authenticate the particulars of the voter.” The fulcrum of the entire amendment process was therefore to make the card reader a key legally binding element of our electoral process.

The reason why Nigerians were excited about the card reader in the 2015 elections was that it made it impossible to manufacture additional numbers for electoral results simply by fraudulently adding them on the basis of the numerical size of the electoral list. There was consternation therefore when some politicians in some states refused to allow the use of the card reader in 2015 and subsequently tried to justify their action in court by arguing that there was no compulsion in the Electoral Act that the card reader must be used to authenticate voters. Concerns following the attempt to reverse the significant improvement to the electoral process in 2015 led to demands to clarify the law with regard to the provision indicated above.

This was done with no reference to the card reader, which was expressly identified in the two earlier versions as the most important element in the reforms designed to improve the electoral process. It is unfortunate that the presiding officers of the National Assembly have kept studiously quiet on the disservice they have done to the democratic process by removing the card reader in the latest Bill.


The third version of the Electoral Act signed by the Clerk of the National Assembly on August 2, 2018 and sent to the president for his assent had a totally different Explanatory Note, simply stating that the amendment was: “to further improve the electoral process”. This was done with no reference to the card reader, which was expressly identified in the two earlier versions as the most important element in the reforms designed to improve the electoral process. It is unfortunate that the presiding officers of the National Assembly have kept studiously quiet on the disservice they have done to the democratic process by removing the card reader in the latest Bill.

It is interesting that the First Amendment Bill of February 20 had 43 clauses, the revised Bill of June 27 had 41 clauses, while the current further revised Bill of August 3, which excludes the card reader, has just 15 clauses. Many clauses that have been developed over the past two years were simply removed from the lastest version with no reason for the action provided. We know that there was no general debate on the Bill in between the three versions, so we must assume that the leadership took it upon themselves to remove two dozen sections. This happened over the same period of defections from the All Progressives Congress (APC) to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), so there is room for speculation on why they did it. I would however resist the temptation for speculation and simply call on them to reconvene and do the right thing.

I have not seen the content of the bills but the timing is definitely wrong and the executive and the legislature should focus on addressing the technical mistakes in the February 2018 version of the bill and getting it properly amended and signed by the president.


Meanwhile, the Presidency has just proposed three executive bills that would be transmitted to the National Assembly to enhance the country’s electoral process. This was disclosed by the minister of justice and attorney general of the federation (AGF) Abubakar Malami after the Federal Executive Council meeting presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday. According to him, the decision was fallout of the report of the Electoral Reforms Committee led by former Senate President Ken Nnamani. The Bills are the Electoral Offences Commission and Tribunal Establishment Bill, the Constitution Alteration Bill, 2018 and the Electoral Act amendment Bill, 2018. Proposing these new bills in September, five months before the elections, is very unhelpful. The political context is also very problematic, with the Senate president and House speaker engaged in political nomadism, while the Adams Oshiomhole leadership of the ruling APC is determined to remove them from office, making the presentation of the bills at this time an exercise in futility. I have not seen the content of the bills but the timing is definitely wrong and the executive and the legislature should focus on addressing the technical mistakes in the February 2018 version of the bill and getting it properly amended and signed by the president. The National Assembly should be allowed to sit and do this work without the threat of impeachment over the leadership of the two chambers, so that we have an amended Electoral Act that could further improve the integrity of our electoral process.

I was a member of the Justice Uwais Electoral Reform Committee that proposed the key changes currently in the three bills worked upon by the former Senate president, Ken Nnamani Committee. The current timing of the submission of the bills however is completely inappropriate and can only be considered as mischief. They should be withheld and the best time to present them is just after the general elections, so that whoever is in power after May 29, 2019 would dust them up and present to the Ninth National Assembly.

foraminifera

A professor of Political Science and development consultant/expert, Jibrin Ibrahim is a Senior Fellow of the Centre for Democracy and Development, and Chair of the Editorial Board of PREMIUM TIMES.