Published On: Mon, Jun 24th, 2019

Electoral Act: As Senate, EU begin reform strategy ahead 2023 elections…

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By Ikechukwu Okaforadi

The Senate and the European Union(EU) have commenced strategic partnership aimed at arriving at suitable andsustainable reforms to the Electoral Act which will ensure the credibility of2023 general elections.
This strategic partnership which started with a meeting between the Senate leadership, led by Ahmad Lawan, and the delegation, led by the European Union Karlsen, witnessed the presentation of thirty point recommendations To the Senate which stems from its observed lapses in the 2019 general elections.
Recall that in the build up to the2019 general elections, President Muhammadu Buhari had at four consecutive times refused to assent to the amendments in the 2010 Electoral Act passed by the National Assembly, citing infringements to the Constitutional powers of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), among other reasons.
One of the critical amendments in the 2010 Electoral Act was a provision in it which seeks to give legitimacy to only the votes captured by the INEC Card readers in the 2019 polls. However, due to refusal of President Buhari to sign the amendments, the electoral umpire alternated between card readers and manual accreditation during the elections.
Apparently worried by this trend, the EU observer mission, in the final report on its observations of the 2019general elections, described the exercise as a retrogression from the progress made by the electoral umpire in the 2015 general elections conducted by Mahmud Jega, the immediate past INEC Boss.
As a measure, however, to stem this downward tide, the Observer Mission of the European Union, quickly drafted thirty point recommendations aimed at addressing the lapses witnessed in the elections. According to the leader of the group, Ketil Karlsen, the recommendations should be considered quickly and reflected in the Electoral Act amendment early enough before the next general elections.
Briefing the Senate President during the visit, the Head of European Union Delegation to Nigeria, Ketil Karlsen, who congratulated him over his recent victory in the election of Senate President for 9th assembly, said the EU is looking forward to working with the9th Assembly to improve the electoral system of Nigeria.
He said Europe remains the primary market for Nigeria; a partnership which he said has created jobs for Nigerians. is huge investment from EU countries to Nigeria, provides the largest development co-operation to Nigeria, hence EU’s interest to sustain and improve Nigeria’s democracy.
While emphasizing that the European Union is working to find a common way around the immigration of Nigerian youths to the European countries, Ketil Karlsen said a new chapter for the Nigeria EU collaboration for job creation has been opened.
He said that the EU has been working towards ensuring peace in North East and Niger Delta and the Gulf of Guinea, adding that they are looking to see Nigeria partner with the EU as the leader of the African continent.
Speaking on the 2019 general elections, he said INEC invited them as monitoring body in the last elections, which provided them the opportunity as independent observers, to visit hundreds of Polling Units across the country where they observed the realities on ground.
While charging the parliamentarians to dispassionately consider the recommendations and reflect such in the amendment of the Electoral Act, he restated that EU will constantly provide further technical and logistic support to ensure that the next general elections reflect the wishes of Nigerians.
Speaking also, the Deputy Chief Observer of EU Delegation, Hanna Roberts, said the EU could not have visited all the Polling Units in Nigeria but added that they witnessed what happened in the fields.
Roberts said the thirty recommendations which they have submitted to the Nigerian lawmakers are critical legal reforms needed to make elections credible, just as she said the Senate has a critical role to play in transforming the recommendations into laws.
A copy of the recommendation obtained by Peoples Daily reads “The systemic failings evident in this election and the low levels of voter participation show the need for fundamental reform. Without this, there is a risk of further democratic deterioration and unaccountable leadership.
“Such reform requires principled political leadership committed to the rights of Nigerian citizens and an inclusive process of national dialogue involving state institutions, parties, civil society, the media and other experts. This needs to be urgently undertaken to allow time for debate, legislative changes and implementation well in advance of the next elections.”
Partof the thirty recommendations which the EU Election Observer Mission and the Senate will commence consideration for improved electoral system in Nigeria are: that comprehensive legal regulations be established for the cancelation of voting in polling units, with clear grounds specified, timeframes elaborated, and requirements made for transparency.
Also: that consolidated official versions of legislations be made available online and in paper format in real time in order to improve public accessibility and awareness, and to avoid legal confusion.
Another recommendation is that Legal provisions be made for the right of observers to access all stages of the election process, and to make it an offence to obstruct or intimidate observers.
“Strengthen the mechanism for the prosecution of electoral offences with responsibility for investigation and prosecution transferred to a separate institution as envisaged in the National Electoral Offences Commission Bill, 2017. Requirements be made for prompt public statistical information on investigations, prosecutions and convictions”, partof the recommendations said.
The EU EOM further recommended that :information about smart card readers and data from their use in polling units be made public at the time of results announcement. This includes the number of voters accredited, as verified through permanent voter cards and those biometrically verified through fingerprint authentication.
Italso recommended that: The above information be announced, recorded on results forms, and data put on INEC’s website. Also, that legal requirements be established for full results transparency, with data easily accessible to the public. All results, including those from lower levels, be immediately displayed at collation centres.
“Results forms from all collation centres be scanned and published on the INEC website by the time of the declaration of all results. Results forms from all polling units be published before the deadline for submission of petitions against declared results.INEC procedures for the collation of results be elaborated and strengthened to improve integrity and confidence in electoral outcomes.”
Though these recommendations appear as panacea to the issues bedeviling Nigeria’s electoral system, how urgently and committedly the Senate, nay National Assembly led by Senator Ahmad Lawan, will rise up to them, will certainly be the litmus test for him and 9th Assembly.
Based on antecedent, the past Senate Presidents had always manifested the penchant to introduce consideration on such critical national issues towards the end of their respective tenures. This has more often resulted in stalemate between the executive and the legislature.
One can confidently attribute this stalemate to the suspicion and mistrust which usually accompany the election seasons. It is well known that around this season, most senators, who are desperate to secure return tickets, will begin to play ‘good boys’ to the President and so act as ‘spoilers’ to the national interest.
Fortunately enough, while receiving the recommendation during an event which he acknowledged as his first official assignment, the new Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, promised that the 9th Senate is ready to work hand in hand with the EU to engender electoral transformation which every Nigerian desires.
In his reaction immediately he received the thirty point recommendations; the Senate President said the ultimate desire by Nigerians is to have a process that will ensure that the processes of electing the political leaders are credible and that the best emerged.
Lawan pointed out that the Senate has a key role to play in achieving this, adding that the senators will look at the lessons learnt after the 2019 elections with a view to bring in the legislative interventions that will improve the future polls before the next general elections.
At this juncture, he urged the EU to assist the National Assembly with capacity development programmes, especially for the new members, noting that this will offer them the capacity to know where to bring legislative interventions that will create an electoral commission that is credible and capable.

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