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A dubious law

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Editorial

Certain controversial provisions are alleged to have crept into the final draft of the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2021, and the National Assembly has not been able to make a categorical rebuttal some two weeks on. With the bill about to be passed by both chambers of the assembly, the Senate only advised Nigerians to engage with lawmakers representing them over clauses they aren’t comfortable with, while the House of Representatives declined to entertain complaints ahead of its committee working on the bill submitting a formal report.

The controversial clauses reported in the alleged final draft of the Senate’s version of the document are widely at variance with the consensus of stakeholders at consultations held by the lawmakers to source public input to the legislation. These include Section 50(2) of the draft, which permits electronic voting at elections but purportedly prohibits the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from electronically transmitting the results, and Section 65 of the draft by which INEC is declined the power to review election results in cases where a returning officer makes a declaration contrary to electoral laws and guidelines or under duress. There is also Section 88 of the draft by which campaign spending limits are drastically jerked up: from N1billion to N15billion for presidential candidates, N200million to N5billion for governorship, N40million to N1.5billion for Senate, N30million to N500million for House of Reps, and from N10million to N50million for state houses of assembly.

The alleged clauses, if allowed, would hamstrung INEC in its conduct of elections while the new campaign spending ceilings would restrict access to power to only deep pockets – with marginalised groups like women, youths and persons with disabilities finding it more difficult to run for office. Since news emerged about these alleged provisions, stakeholders such as political parties, civil society and opinion leaders, including the Southern Governors Forum, have raised objections.

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Neither chamber of the NASS has, however, categorically ruled out the existence of the clauses. In the Senate, some members of the Kabiru Gaya-led Committee on INEC were reportedly discomfitured over how those provisions made it into the draft bill and they called for a review before its final submission and passage. Apparently alluding to the controversy last week, Senate President Ahmad Lawan said: “The NASS is embarking on the amendment of the Electoral Act probably by next week or within the next two weeks. It is very important that those who feel very strongly about any amendment that they think should be effected contact or talk to their members of House of Representatives as well as distinguished Senators.” Speaking at the inauguration of the chief commissioner and members of the Public Complaints Commission (PCC) in Abuja, he added: “I want to make categorically clear here that presiding officers are not the ones to determine what is coming or what is not.” For his part, House of Representatives Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila would not accord cognisance to the controversy because the House Committee on Electoral Matters had not submitted its report. Reacting at plenary last week to an observation by Ugouna Ozurigbo representing (APC-Imo) that electronic transmission had reportedly been changed to manual transmission in the draft bill, the Speaker dismissed the speculation as unfounded, saying when he enquired from committee chair Aisha Duku (APC-Gombe), he was assured there’s been no alteration as speculated. Besides, he really didn’t “want to speak on a report that has not yet been submitted to the House.”

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Before the committee reports are tabled in respective chambers of NASS, it is important to warn that the alleged clauses would not be acceptable should they be found in the official drafts. The alleged Section 50(2), for instance, could upend advances already made by INEC that piloted electronic transmission of results in recent elections, notably the September 2020 Edo State governorship poll, to the admiration of many. Also, the palpable desire in the citizenry is for more inclusiveness of the political process, which the purported new campaign spending ceilings fly against. To be relevant, emergent laws must reflect the general aspiration of a people and not contradict those aspirations.

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