A Coalition of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) has urged the National Assembly to prioritize the conclusion of the Electoral Bill during its first sitting when it resumes from recess on Tuesday.
The CSOs made the call on Monday in Abuja at a news conference tagged: “Civil Society Statement on the need for the National Assembly to Act with Dispatch on the Electoral Bill on Resumption from Recess.”
The CSOs are Yiaga Africa, International Press Centre (IPC), Centre for Citizens with Disability (CCD), The Albino Foundation, CLEEN Foundation, Institute for Media and Society (IMS), and Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF).
Others are Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ), Partners for Electoral Reform (PER), Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC), and Nigerian Network of Non-Governmental Organizations (NNNGO).
One of the conveners of the Coalition, Lanre Arogundade, the Executive Director, International Press Centre (IPC), said that the CSOs held a Citizens’ Townhall Forum on the Electoral Bill on Sunday.
Arogundade said that the forum’s objective was on the need for the National Assembly to prioritize the review of the Bill with dispatch.
“Today, with only 398 days to the 2023 general elections, it is crucial for the National Assembly and President to conclude the electoral amendment process by 31 Jan. 2022.
“The National Assembly should remove the contentious clause of direct primaries, resolve all the identified drafting errors and cross-referencing gaps and re-transmit the Bill to the President for assent within a week of resumption.
“As the nation awaits the resumption of the National Assembly on Tuesday, Jan.18, 2022, Nigerians expect that work on the electoral amendment bill will be the priority issue on the order paper.
“The leadership of the National Assembly should, therefore, conclude this process as any further delay will undermine public confidence in the reform process.”
Arogundade said that stakeholders at the town hall forum emphasized the imperative of a speedy enactment of the Bill to strengthen the Electoral legal framework.
He said that the coalition believed this was required to facilitate early preparations for the 2023 general elections and to eschew legal uncertainties that make the electoral process susceptible to manipulation.
He added that critical resolutions from the Town Hall meeting were that a new legal framework was central to the integrity of 2023 general elections and future elections and the advancement of Nigeria’s democracy.
“This is against the background of the changing electoral environment and innovations introduced by INEC to enhance electoral integrity.
“It is inconceivable to conduct the 2023 general elections and future elections with the current legal framework, the 2010 Electoral Act as amended.”
According to Arogundade, the Electoral Bill 2021 reflects the wishes of Nigerians and critical electoral stakeholders, as it is a legal framework that promotes the use of technology and other innovations.
He said these would stem electoral manipulation, strengthen INEC’s financial independence, and empower the Commission to reject falsified election results.
The convener said that the coalition believed that further delay in concluding the Electoral Act amendment process was unfavorable to the preparations for Ekiti and Osun off-cycle governorship elections, the 2023 general elections, and future elections.
He said the opportunity to test the working of the new legislation and its functionality and innovations would be lost if the amendment process is not fast.
Mr. Ezenwa Nwagwu, Board Member, Yiaga Africa, said that the CSOs recommended that the Senate and House of Representatives re-transmit the Electoral Bill to President Muhammadu Buhari by Friday upon conclusion the process.
Nwagwu said that Yiaga Africa urged the National Assembly to ensure proper scrutiny of the Bill to resolve all drafting errors and cross-referencing gaps before re-transmitting the Bill for presidential assent.
Upon receipt of the re-transmitted Bill, the President also urged to assent to it within a week.
It called on Civil society groups, media, and development partners to sustain the Electoral Bill’s effort from policy capture, manipulation, and subversion of the people’s will.
Also speaking, Mufuliat Fijabi, Chief Executive Officer, Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF), appealed to the President and the National Assembly to conclude issues on the Bill and clear the uncertainties ahead of the 2023 elections.
“I am appealing all efforts to clear the uncertainties around the bill for Nigerians o have confidence in the 2023 elections and for our democracy to be built on a clear electoral act.”
The Executive Director, Albino Foundation, Jake Ekpelle, said that the Bill would be the most inclusive electoral law when signed into law.
Ekpelle appealed to the President to assent to the Bill. It will also enable Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) to exercise their franchise as provision for the aforementioned is included in the Bill.