By Nathaniel Gana
2nd March 2020
Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu has listed eight critical factors on which current efforts to review Nigeria’s electoral legal framework must be anchored in order to achieve a strong, desirable electoral system.
Speaking at a retreat organized by the Commission in conjunction with the European Centre for Electoral Support (ECES) and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) to review the country’s Electoral Legal Framework on 2nd March in Lagos, Prof Yakubu said after listening to Nigerians and having harvested recommendations derived from the various INEC Review Meetings which evaluated the 2019 general election, the critical factors that must be taken into considerationinclude: enhancing the transparency and credibility of the electoral process in order to increase citizens’ confidence; entrenching internal democracy within political parties; ensuring inclusivity in the electoral process for marginalised segments of the society such as women, youths and persons living with disability, and reducing the cost of elections.
Other are: curbing the incidence of violence and sundry malpractices in the electoral process; ensuring that violators of electoral laws are effectively sanctioned; deepening the deployment of technology in elections; and increasing the autonomy/independence (both administrative and financial) of the electoral commission.
Explaining the background that informed the Commission’s decision to organise the retreat which seeks to, among others, finalise INEC’s comprehensive proposal to the National Assembly for the proposed amendment to the electoral legal framework, Prof. Yakubu said that the Commission had, late last year, received from the Senate Committee on INEC, a modified version of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill which the National Assembly had presented to the Executive for assent before the 2019 general election.
He said while the revised Bill had amended several sections and subsections of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), the Senate Committee specifically asked INEC for input into areas that will strengthen the proposed legislation.
Prof Yakubu continued: “In turn, the Commission shared the draft Bill internally with the National Commissioners and Directors at the Headquarters as well as the Resident Electoral Commissioners and senior officials in the 36 States of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) for comments. These comments have now been compiled into a draft document that this retreat will discuss and validate as the Commission’s position on the electoral legal framework.
“The Commission’s draft document has also taken the comments and suggestions by stakeholders into consideration, especially following the conclusion of the 2019 general election. You will recall that the Commission had organised a series of post-election review meetings ending with a retreat here in Lagos in July last year. Participants in the series of consultative meetings strongly canvassed for electoral reforms at the heart of which is the review of the electoral legal framework.
“For an enduring review, the Commission looked at the electoral legal framework comprehensively. The Commission reviewed existing provisions with regard to elections in both the Constitution and the Electoral Act, although for the purpose of this retreat, the focus of attention is on the Electoral Act. The procedure for constitutional alterations is handled separately, including a different procedure for harnessing citizens’ input. Our draft is ready but requires further internal review ahead of submission to the National Assembly.”
Prof Yakubu reminded the audience that the Commission’s input cannot be limited only to the review proposed the National Assembly. He explained: “As election managers, we conduct elections. We also monitor pre-election activities such as party primaries and handle post-election processes, including the outcome of litigations. Therefore, we must, at this meeting, cast our nets wide by dissecting the electoral act in the light of experience and proposing wide-ranging amendments that will give the nation an electoral legal framework that can truly protect their choice and guarantee free, fair and credible elections.”
In his welcome remarks, the Resident Electoral Commissioner for Lagos, Mr. Sam Olumekunobserved that the legal framework for the conduct of election “is undoubtedly the foundation and credibility by which the success of an election can be determined.” He said the retreat underscored the seriousness and proactiveness with which the Commission takes its constitutional assignments.
The Director Legal Services, Mrs. Oluwatoyin Babalola while outlining the Objectives and Expectations of the retreat, noted that recent experiences in the electoral space had revealed certain shortcomings in the Electoral Legal Framework that should be addressed through legislation.
She said the retreat was intended to articulate the position of the Commission in enhancing the Electoral Legal Framework; generate robust discussions and propose amendments to the Electoral Act that will be comprehensive, concise, acceptable and easy to implement for the conduct of free, fair and credible elections; provoke discussions to strengthen the processes and procedures for voter registration and discuss the use of technology in elections.
Other objectives according to her are to: examine registration and regulation of political parties, conduct of elections and election dispute adjudication; interrogate INEC’s proposals for the amendment of the Electoral 2010 (as amended), including areas not currently captured in the Bill for an Act to amend the Electoral Act (No.6) 2010 and for Related Matters 2019; and critically interrogate the Bill for an Act to amend the Electoral Act (No.6) 2010 and for Related Matters 2019 as it relates to statutory functions of the Commission.
In their goodwill messages, the Country Director of IFES, Mr. Hermann Thiel and Project Coordinator of ECES, Ms. Maria Teresa Mauro commended the Commission for the initiative. They pledged the commitment of their organisations towards strengthening of the electoral process in the country.
Participants include all National Commissioners, Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) of the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), the Technical Team, Secretary to the Commission and Directors at the INEC Headquarters.
Members of the Senate Committee on INEC and House of Representatives Committees on Electoral Matters will join the retreat on Thursday 5th and Friday 6th March for an unprecedented in-depth review of both their proposals and INEC’s input.