Politics of the Electoral Bill

By Adetokunbo Abiola
Recently, the chairmen of about seventy registered political parties threatened to pull out of the 2019 general elections, if the president, Muhamadu Buhari fails to sign the Electoral Bill sent to him by the National Assembly.

At about the same time, Mrs. Obiageli Ezekwesili, the presidential candidate for Allied Congress Party of Nigerian (ACPN) urged the president to sign the contentious bill into law.

Still at another forum, Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, who represents Delta North in the Senate on the platform   of the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), decried the president’s reticence in signing the bill.

Suddenly, the signing of the electoral bill has become controversial, as the nation moves towards the fast-approaching elections, with lots of people in the opposition camp breathing fire and brimstone.

The Electoral Bill, according to its supporters, is aimed at conducting the highest level of error-free polls so far in the country’s history, having a provision that authorizes the use of technology to authenticate the accreditation of voters.

Specifically, the bill advocates for the use of the Electronic Card Reader for voters as a means of entrenching electoral integrity and a level-playing field for all contestants of the election.

In addition, the bill calls for the electronic transmission of election results after counting by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Sent to the president by the National Assembly the president has refused giving his assent four times, giving room for the present clamour by the opposition.

  According to published results, the president refused to append his signature to the bill because the passing of a new electoral bill so far into the electoral process for 2019  elections could create some uncertainty about the applicable legislation to govern the process.

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The president, according to his supporters, may also be reticent about signing the bill for fear of contravening the provisions of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance.

Senator Omo Agege, a staunch supporter of the president, noted that with elections less than two months way signing the bill would violate the ECOWAS instrument.

Another reason could be because of mistrust, as the presidency and members of the ruling All Peoples Congress (APC) fear that electronic transmission of election results as provided for in the bill could be manipulated by hackers.

A source close to the president, according The Nation newspaper, was quoted to have said, “The Act is fraught with dangers which, if ignored, could only create chaos and confusion during the 2019 elections.

“We have discovered disturbing evidence that suggests that the nation’s interest has been sold off and all that the PDP will do is to hack into the mandatory electronic transmission of results to write whatever they wish and win.”

But for opponents, the refusal of the president to sign the bill is an attempt by the ruling APC to rig the elections by reintroducing incident forms and pre-loading the card readers machines with details already generated through the cash-for-vote (trade money policy) allegedly supervised by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.

Such a move, say politicians, could throw the country into the  worst bloody electoral conquest and put INEC in a tight situation, making a free-and-fair election impossible in March.

An Abuja-based lawyer and civil rights activist, Frank Tietie, says without the card reader and electronic transmission of results, the elections could be subjected to might, brute force and the power of money.

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“Card readers and electronic transmission of results have totally eliminated that, and there is need for a legal force to that,” Tietie told newsmen.

In actual fact, INEC has been using the card reader for elections since 2015, but there is no provision in the extant electoral law for it, making its use optional.

The president, according to political analysts, wants to use the 2010 Electoral Act for the polls, along with the amendments made on it through the 2018 bill.

According to the letter the president sent to the National Assembly over the Electoral Bill, he would sign it, if the National Assembly specifically states in it that the amended Electoral Act would come into effect after the 2019 general elections.

But Ezekwesili thunders, “The president should immediately request the national Assembly to retransmit the amendment bill for his swift assent. The president must be reminded to avoid all actions that will mar the  2019 elections.”

However, a high-ranking member of APC and leader of the Senate, Ahmed Lawal, says such fears are baseless, as signing the new Electoral Act would give unpatriotic politicians easy channels for election rigging, ballot-box snatching, under age voting and other malfeasances that will torpedo the supreme will of the Nigerian electorate.

So there it is, politicians battling each other over the Electoral Act, leaving voters confused about claims of the political gladiators when elections are just around the corner.

The president will probably go ahead  without signing the Electoral Bill, but no one knows whether the opposition  will actually pull out of the elections.

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