By Lateef Ibrahim, Abuja
Two international Election Observers, National Democratic Institute and International Republican Institute, have appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to assent to the amended Electoral Act recently passed by the two chambers of the National Assembly on or before August 16.
The appeal was contained in the report of the joint IRI-NDI pre-election assessment mission delegation which was unveiled to the media in Abuja on Friday.
According to the report, the speedy assent of the Electoral Act (Amendment) by President Buhari will give the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, sufficient time to implement the electoral changes in accordance with the ECOWAS protocol to which Nigeria is a signatory.
The IRI-NDI delegation said from their interaction with INEC officials the electoral umpire believes that the bill to amend the Electoral Act would strengthen its ability to ensure greater transparency and accountability in the political party candidate nomination process for all elected offices.
According to themost, “Changes to the Electoral Act would also require INEC to make the voter register and election results electronic and accessible; increase the campaign period from 90 to 150 days; and extend the application of the Electoral Act to local government elections.”
They also called on the federal government to “approve and obligate INEC’s requested budget in a timely manner and ensure other government agencies involved in the electoral process receive sufficient and timely funding.”
The international election observation mission led by Dr. Pauline Baker, president emeritus of the Fund for Peace (USA), noted that insecurity may jeopardize the 2019 general election and called on the Nigerian government to intensify efforts to address insecurity in many parts of the country.
According to the report, “Nigeria faces security challenges from a number of non-state actors that, if unchecked, could disrupt the electoral process. Boko Haram continues to carry out terrorist attacks on communities in the North East. During its visit, the delegation heard reports of the attack by the extremist group on a military base in Yobe.
“At the same time, the death toll from clashes between pastoralist and farming communities in the Middle Belt has risen since 2017. The conflicts are further exacerbated by illicit trade in weapons and stolen cattle by criminal gangs. In some circles, the inability of security forces to quell this inter-communitarian violence is given political and religious overtones. If not addressed, these security threats could erode confidence in government.
“Persistent insecurity and violence have led to very high numbers of internally displaced persons in the North East and Middle Belt that could pose specific challenges for the conduct of elections in the impacted areas.”
The report noted that there is an increase in the level and visibility of vote buying in the country and stressed that vote buying is an electoral offense, undermines the legitimacy of elections and weakens representative democracy.
“The lack of enforcement of punishments for this electoral offense has allowed the practice to persist and grow.”
To checkmate this and other electoral offenses, the IRI-NDI delegation called on the federal government to establish the Electoral Offences and Political Parties Registration Commission as soon as possible to enhance the accountability of political parties with regards to the funding of campaigns and other activities.
They also called on the political parties to ensure transparent primaries in their candidate selection process as imposition of candidates by party leaders through undemocratic means could lead to further fragmentation of political parties or result in intra-party violence, and further alienate voters.
The report also harped on the imperative of security agencies to stick to their constitutional obligation.