No fewer than eight civil society organisations have expressed their disappointment with President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision not assent to the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2021.
President Buhari on Monday declined assent to the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2021, saying his decision was informed by counsel from the relevant ministries, departments and agencies (MDA).
He also noted that his position is that political parties should be allowed to freely exercise the right of choice in deciding whether to adopt direct or indirect primary in the conduct of their primary elections as their respective realities may permit.
However, the groups explained that the President’s decision to withhold assent to the Bill will have serious implications for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as it prepares for the FCT Area Council election, Ekiti and Osun governorship elections, and ultimately the 2023 general elections.
This was contained in a statement issued on Tuesday and signed by civil society organisations namely Yiaga Africa, International Press Centre (IPC), Centre for Citizens with Disability (CCD), Albino Foundation, CLEEN Foundation, Institute for Media and Society (IMS), Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF) and Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ).
The statement reads; “The withholding of assent by the President to a bill that relevant electoral stakeholders have spent enormous time and resources to put together undermines public confidence and trust in the electoral system. “More disappointing is the fact that the President delayed his response until the effluxion of time required for assenting to legislation until the date that the National Assembly is proceeding for the Christmas and New Year holiday.
“The President’s decision to withhold assent to the Bill will have serious implication for INEC as it prepares for the FCT Area Council election, the Ekiti and Osun governorship elections, and ultimately the 2023 General Election.
“The non-conclusion of the electoral amendment process will mean that these elections will be conducted using the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) denying INEC the opportunity to test the efficacy of some of the new innovations introduced in the proposed Electoral Bill 2021.
“This is apart from the delay the Commission will have to contend with in the required effort to review its guidelines, regulations and manuals in accordance with certain provisions of the Bill. Furthermore, based on the revised timelines for specific electoral activities in the Bill, INEC and other stakeholders will have to grapple with logistical, financial, and programmatic difficulties in the run-up to the 2023 General Election.
“We reckon that this may not bode well for Nigeria’s electoral democracy, hence the clamour for the speedy conclusion of the electoral reform process.
“It must be emphasized that the successful conduct of any election is predicated on the certainty and clarity of the election legal framework, amongst other factors. This is to preclude any uncertainties that may occasion manipulation and subversion of the electoral process.
“It is for this reason that the African Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Good Governance and the ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance requires that any amendment to the electoral legal framework be concluded at least six months to the election date.”
Meanwhile, the groups made some recommendations, affirming that they will avert further complications and logjam in the efforts to strengthen the electoral process.
“The National Assembly as a matter of national emergency should either override the President’s decision or remove the contentious clause (s) from the Bill and transmit the Bill back to the President for assent within the next 30 days.
“The National Assembly should ensure that all clerical, editorial, and cross-referencing gaps in the current Bill are resolved before transference back to the President.
“The President should expeditiously assent to the revised Bill upon receipt from the National Assembly.
“Civil society groups, media, and development partners must sustain the effort to protect the will of the people and safeguard the electoral reform process from policy capture and manipulation,” the statement added.