- Hails Committee’s Progress So Far
From Segun Amure, (The New Diplomat’s Abuja Bureau)
The Deputy Senate President, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege at a joint committee presentation of the Electoral Reform Bill draft in Abuja, Wednesday, assured Nigerians that the National Assembly will pass the bill into law when plenary resumes in February.
Senator Omo-Agege in his opening remarks, submitted that the Ninth Assembly will always prioritise electoral reforms in its legislative agenda.
He further added that the electoral bill would cure specific mischief plaguing our elections and electoral processes when passed into law.
The Deputy Senate President commended the cooperation of stakeholders for putting all hands on deck, with a view to having a new electoral legal framework ahead of the 2023 general election.
He said, “if this level of cooperation was in place in the Eighth National Assembly, the bill would have been assented to by President Muhammadu Buhari.”
He added further that, “the cooperation that we have witnessed in this Joint Committee of the Ninth Assembly is unprecedented. I am sure if we had this in the Eighth Senate there is no way we would have gone into the 2019 elections without an approved amended Electoral Act.”
“Let me also acknowledge that, but for the cooperation of INEC and the office of the Attorney General of the Federation, this feat would not have been possible” He said
On the sanitation of the electoral system, the Deputy President submitted, “I want to emphasise that the work you are doing here, you may not really appreciate it because as members of the National Assembly, we deal with so many areas of the law but to some of us, this is the most important. Because the moment you are able to sanitise the electoral system, every other thing will fall in place. That is why I am so thrilled and the moment we clear this during the retreat this weekend, we will have an easy sail during plenary in both chambers. Because those who ordinarily will raise issues and have some of these provisions buried, participated in this exercise. So, I don’t see how they can come to the floor to do otherwise”.
Omo-Agege, who represents Delta Central at Senate expressed delight at some of the provisions of the proposed law, especially the mandatory use of card readers for the conduct of local government elections.
However, he explained that the use of card readers for conducting local government elections would not take away the independence of State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs) but to ensure that elections at the council levels are sanitised and conducted in line with global best practices.
He added that SIECs would still conduct council polls. Moreover, the Lawmaker representing Delta Central Senatorial zone at the Upper Legislative Chambers reiterated that the Second Schedule of the Constitution dealing with local government elections, which hitherto had never been within the remit of INEC, was one of the most important things to him.
“We believe that we need to have the system sanitised by also mandating the application of the Electoral Act to the conduct of local government elections.
“We all know based on the law, INEC is the only body authorised to maintain a voters register. And there is no way you are going to be conducting elections without a voters register. So, the State Independent Electoral Commissions are already resorting to INEC for the use of the voters register.
“So what we are just saying is that in addition to that, also use the Electoral Act and request the card readers from INEC in the conduct of local government elections. And that does not in any way take away their independence.”
“In addition to that is the issue of the card reader. It was always your (INEC) intervention. It has worked but before now, we have not given it a legal framework. With this right now, that issue is going to be settled for good”, Omo-Agege added.
In their separate remarks, Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu; Executive Director, Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC), Clement Nwankwo applauded the technical committee for working round the clock to produce the draft report.
They noted that the development is expected to lay the foundation for significant development in the country’s electoral system.
The Electoral Reform bill seeks to repeal the Electoral Act, 2010, and provide a more stable and progressive legal framework for elections in Nigeria.
Specifically, it alters several provisions relating to establishment of polling units, issue of ballot paper, limitation of election expenses, conduct and postponement of elections in an emergency, oath of neutrality by election officers, among other provisions.
Members of the electoral reform bill panel are, Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege; Chairman of the panel, Senator Kabiru Gaya; co-chairman and his counterpart from the House of Representatives, Hon. Aishatu Dukku.
Notably, the high point of the event was the presentation of the draft report by the technical panel to the joint committee.