Senate In Focus: Electoral Bill: INEC Must Not Be Gagged

With the voting on the electoral act amendment bill 2021 by the Senators on Thursday, Nigeria’s democracy is at a crossroads and Nigerians must rise in protection of the electoral umpire’s Independent.

Nigerians are still far away from seeing a free, fair and credible election, if last Thursday’s decision of the Senate on the electoral bill stands.

The decision to allow Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and the national assembly to decide where and when electronic voting and electronic transmission of results should take place may have caused more serious voter apathy than what had been happening before.

Nigeria spends billions of naira preparing for general elections but records show voter apathy is on the increase because of manipulation of election results from communities Senators claimed election results can’t be transmitted electronically.

Voter apathy peaked during the 2019 general elections with President Muhammadu Buhari elected by 15 million people. That might not be unconnected with the inability of the President to sign the electoral bill that was presented to him by the 8th Assembly.

Even though the president gave his reasons for not signing the bill, many Nigerians might have jettisoned voting because they know that the method of transmission of election results allowed manipulations.

This is made evident when returning officers read different copies of results from the one displayed on the screen at the National Collation Center.

The results and statistics of the 1999 general elections are still missing because of the manual conduct of the election. In 2003, voter participation was 69 percent. It later dropped to 57 percent  in 2007; to 54 percent in 2011; 44 percent in 2015; and to an all-time low of 35 percent in 2019.

In the 2019 general elections, out of a voting-age population of 106.4 million, only 82 million Nigerians registered to vote, and only 28 million of those registered voters eventually voted, according to INEC statistics.

Nigeria’s electoral umpire’s Independent is at risk if the amendment of the electoral act allows NCC to determine where and when elections should be held electronically and results transmitted through the same process.

The functions of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as contained in Section 15, Part 1 of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution (As Amended) and Section 2 of the Electoral Act 2010 (As Amended) gives the commission power as an independent body to prepare and conduct elections.

Section 78 of the Constitution provides that “The registration of voters and the conduct of elections shall be subject to the direction and supervision of the Independent National Electoral Commission”.

In the third schedule, part 1,F, S.15, INEC has power to organise, undertake and supervise all elections.

With the constitution empowering INEC to issue guidelines on when and how elections should take place, the Senate is planning to gag the commission with the passage of the electoral act empowering a different agency – NCC and the National Assembly to determine where and when electronic transmission of results should take place.

The Nigeria constitution provides that INEC’s operation shall not be subjected to the direction of anybody or authority and it was named Independent National Electoral Commission for that purpose to be achieved. Through it’s relevant departments, INEC has been preparing and executing elections including taking security risk assessment.

All stakeholders rely on INEC instructions and directions to perform any duty that concerns election including security matters which the Chairman of the commission chairs.

With relevant departments including that of ICT, INEC can (as empowered by the constitution) develop its network in every polling unit, office and headquarters to enable electronic voting and electronic transmission of election results within a short period.

Senators that are  proud their communities have no internet network and for that reason, voted for draconian laws should be reminded that small establishments have their networks that aid their daily operations.

The lawmakers using such tactics to drag the country from advancing should be worried that the world has left them behind.

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