The National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, told FRIDAY OLOKOR that the President’s decision to decline assent to the 2018 (Amendment) Electoral Bill passed by the National Assembly will not affect the credibility of the 2019 elections.

Did INEC make any input to the controversial 2018 (Amendment) Electoral Bill?

The commission made inputs to the Bill that the National Assembly passed and forwarded to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for assent. The commission took on board the lessons learnt from the conduct of the party primary elections of the different political parties preparatory to the conduct of the 2015 general election, the general election itself and the petitions filed in relation to the said election. Part of the lessons gave rise to the Determination of Pre-Election Matters (Fourth Alteration No.21) Act in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, providing timelines for the disposal of pre-election matters. By the alteration, aggrieved persons in pre-election matters shall file their matters within a period of 14 days from the date of the occurrence of the event, decision or action complained of in the suit. A court in every pre-election matter shall deliver its judgment in writing within 180 days from the date of the filing of the suit and an appeal from a decision in a pre-election matter shall be filed within 14 days from the date of the delivery of the judgment appealed against while an appeal from the said decision shall be heard and disposed of within 60 days from the date of the filing of the appeal.

Opposition parties and many Nigerians are worried that the President’s decision to decline assent to the 2018 (Amendment) Electoral Bill will give room for rigging of the 2019 general elections. What are the unique features of the new Electoral Bill which make it different from the Electoral Act currently in use by INEC?

In the Bill transmitted to the President for assent, the lawmakers’ strengthened Section 87 of the Electoral Act, making it mandatory for political parties wishing to organise party primaries to publish the time, the date and the venue of such primaries in two national dailies at least 10 days before the said primaries.

The National Assembly also amended Section 49 of the Electoral Act and prescribed that “The Presiding Officer shall use a Smart Card Reader or any other technological devise that may be prescribed by the commission, for the accreditation of voters, to verify, confirm or authenticate the particulars of the voter in the manner prescribed by the commission.”

The National Assembly also amended Section 52 of the Electoral Act and prescribed that the commission shall adopt electronic voting in all elections or any other method of voting as may be determined by the commission from time to time. Furthermore, the Bill declared invalid any election conducted at a polling unit without prior recording in the forms prescribed by the commission of the quantity, serial numbers and other particulars of result sheets, ballot papers and other sensitive electoral materials made available by the commission for the conduct of the election. The Bill also made it mandatory that the Presiding Officer shall announce the result of elections at a polling unit and transmit same in the manner prescribed by the commission among other new provisions.

In what ways do you think the new Electoral Bill will strengthen our electoral system?

As I pointed out, the commission forwarded a cluster of amendments to the National Assembly for incorporation into the Bill. The commission attended public hearings organised by the National Assembly and made its position public in relation to some of the proposed amendments. The commission is proceeding with the conduct of the 2019 general election based on the existing law. The Electoral (Amendment) Act 2015 gave the commission additional powers in the conduct of elections. Section 52(2) of the said amendment gave the commission broad powers to determine the procedure that will guide voting at an election. So, the Bill forwarded to the President for assent contains additional safeguards to strengthen the electoral process but the existing laws give the commission enough latitude to conduct credible elections.

Let me say this, the conduct of credible elections is a multi-stakeholder venture. The political parties must at all times play by the rules. The security agencies must commit to securing the environment and build confidence in the electoral process.

Culled from Punch

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