2023: Time running out for new electoral bill, says INEC

INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu

Continued delay in the assent to the Electoral Act (2010) amendment bill may affect the adoption of the new amendments for the 2023 general elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission has said.

The commission said though it operates based on existing legal regime, it was important to have the law that would guide the elections in place at least 12 to 18 months before the exercise.

Already, the Chairman of INEC, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, has announced February 23, 2023 as the date for the presidential election, which is about one year from now.

The amendment, prompted by the compelling need to engender transparency, improve the electoral process and boost the credibility of elections, had generated nationwide debate, especially the need for electronic transmission of results and the contentious direct primary made mandatory for political parties.

The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), revealed in his letter to the National Assembly that the direct primary clause, inserted by the lawmakers, was the sole reason he vetoed the bill, noting that parties should have options on the mode of direct primary to adopt. “You can’t dictate to people and say you are practicing democracy,” he added.

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INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Mr Festus Okoye, in an interview with Saturday PUNCH on Thursday, however, said, “The commission operates on the basis of the existing legal regime. The commission released the timetable and schedule of activities for the Ekiti and Osun states governorship elections based on the extant and existing constitutional and electoral legal framework.

“The commission does not operate on the basis of speculation and deductions. Yes, the commission is aware of the pendency of a bill to amend the existing legal regime. That bill is still inchoate and does not become law until it is signed by the President and or the National Assembly determines otherwise.

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“Hopefully, issues around the amended law will soon be resolved. It is important to have the legal regime in place at least 12 to 18 months before a major election. It is also important to resolve the issues based on the differential timelines in the existing electoral act and the one that is projected in the bill.”

After the President vetoed the bill, many lawmakers expressed anger over his decision.

In the upper chamber, angry senators threatened to override his veto. Some of them had begun collecting signatures to this effect, but the move was later jettisoned following persuasion from their colleagues and the party.

The two chambers agreed to revisit the bill after their Christmas and New Year recess.

… as NASS resumes Tuesday

Meanwhile, there are expectations that the new bill would be signed into law in the next few weeks, given that the President has expressed readiness to sign the bill if the contentious direct primary clause was removed, while on the other hand, the leadership of the National Assembly has also promised to revisit the bill once they resume on January 18.

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The President made this commitment during his interview with Channels Television on January 5, 2022.

Asked if he would sign the bill if the mandatory direct primary clause was removed, Buhari said, “All I said was that there should be options. We must not insist that it should be direct (primary); there should also be consensus and indirect (primary options) and if they do that, I will sign. I will sign. All I would like is that there should be options. Allow them (political parties) to have other options.”

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