Electoral Act 2022: The Countdown to 2023 Polls by Jide Ojo

Electoral Act 2022: The Countdown to 2023 Polls by Jide Ojo

Editor's note: Jide Ojo, a veteran political analyst and newspaper columnist, writes about the signing of the Electoral Amendment Bill 2022 into law by President Muhammadu Buhari ahead of the 2023 general elections.

Opinion: Electoral Act 2022: The Countdown to 2023 Polls by Jide Ojo
Jide Ojo, a political analyst, wrote on the Electoral Amendment Bill 2022 recently signed into law by President Buhari. Photo credits: Femi Adesina, Jide Ojo
Source: Facebook
"ARISING from the foregoing, with particular regards to the benefits of the Bill, industry, time, resources and energy committed in its passage, I hereby assent to the Bill and request the Nationally Assembly to consider immediate amendments that will bring the Bill in tune with constitutionality by way of deleting section 84(12) accordingly.”

– President Muhammadu Buhari, at the signing of the Electoral Amendment Bill 2022 into law on Friday, February 25, 2022.

It is heartwarming to see some of one’s advocacies as a writer paying off. I did, on this page, in my column of January 5, 2022, advocate for the quick reworking and passage of the almost stalemated Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021 as well as the conclusion of works on the constitutional alterations by the National Assembly. It is gratifying that both are receiving prime attention from federal lawmakers. While the National Assembly expeditiously reworked the Electoral Act Amendment Bill on resumption from Christmas break on January 18 and sent the bill to the president for assent on January 31, the president last Friday, February 25, 2022, assented to the bill. On the second issue of constitutional amendment, the National Assembly commenced voting on the 68 proposed clauses yesterday, March 1, 2022, and hoped to conclude the voting today. Fingers crossed!

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The president in a brief ceremony at the signing into law of Electoral Act 2022 has these to say:

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“There are salient and praiseworthy provisions that could positively revolutionise elections in Nigeria through the introduction of new technological innovations. These innovations would guarantee the constitutional rights of citizens to vote and to do so effectively. The Bill would also improve and engender clarity, effectiveness and transparency of the election process, as well as reduce to the barest minimum incidences of acrimony arising from dissatisfied candidates and political parties.”

The president sees the Bill as both reformative and progressive. He lauded provisions of sections 3, 9(2), 34, 41, 47, 84(9), (10) and (11) among others. It is however not all kudos to the National Assembly on the Electoral Act 2022, there was a knock. Buhari opined that “the practical application of section 84(12) of the Electoral Bill, 2022 will, if assented to, by operation of law, subject serving political office holders to inhibitions and restrictions referred to under section 40 and 42 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). It is imperative to note that the only constitutional expectation placed on serving political office holders that qualify, by extension, as public officers within the context of the constitution is resignation, withdrawal or retirement at least 30 days before the date of the election. Hence, it will be stretching things beyond the constitutional limit to import extraneous restrictions into the constitution on account of practical application of section 84(12) of the bill where political parties’ conventions and congresses were to hold earlier than 30 days to the election.”

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In a chest-thumping press statement on Electoral Act 2022 issued last Monday, February 28, 2022 by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, observed inter alia that:

“More than anything else, this law underscores the government’s commitment to ensuring free and fair elections, dignity of the citizens, opportunity, and justice to all political participants whether they are voters or candidates. This law furthers social empowerment and inclusion by limiting the influence of money on elections and raw power of incumbents to use to the disadvantage of opponents outside the political tent. It equally limits the thuggish practice of kingpins who scare voters and officials away, snatch ballot boxes to fill desired outcomes against the popular wish.”

It is noteworthy that the Electoral Act 2022, which is the fourth of such since the return to democracy in 1999, did not come on a silver platter. The president had previously, between 2018 and 2021, rejected that bill five different times! This made opposition political parties, civil society organisations and indeed the media to mount pressure on him to sign the sixth amendment into law. In fact, 25 civil society organisations mobilised and protested at the Unity Fountain in Abuja last Tuesday, February 22, 2022. News initially filtered in that the president may sign the bill last Wednesday before it was later confirmed for Friday.

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According to the main opposition political party, the Peoples Democratic Party:

“The newly signed Electoral Act is a death knell for the All Progressives Congress, APC, which thrives in manipulations, ballot box snatching, ballot box stuffing and alteration of election results at the collation centres against the expressed Will of the people.”

I have been interviewed on several media platforms, AIT, TV 360, Channels TV, and others on the implications of the 2022 Electoral Act. There is no gainsaying the fact that I am excited about this new electoral law which comes after three others viz. 2002, 2006 and 2010. This new Act gave total backing to the Independent National Electoral Commission to deploy technology for all the five pillars of the electoral process namely: Voters Registration (section 9(2), Voter Authentication (section 47(2), Balloting (section 41(1), Vote Collation (section 60(5) and Vote Transmission (section 50(2).

Section 62 (2) of the Electoral Act 2022 has provided for the National Electronic Register of Election Results. It states thus: “The Commission shall compile, maintain and update, on a continuous basis, a register of election results to be known as the National Electronic Register of Election Results which shall be a distinct database or repository of polling unit by polling unit results, including collated election results, of each election conducted by the Commission in the Federation, and the Register of Election Results shall be kept in electronic format by the Commission at its national headquarters.

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That’s not all, the new Act provides for electoral inclusivity, especially of Persons with Disability. For instance, section 9(1)(b) states that in compiling the register of voters, INEC should capture the disability status of registrants and disaggregate the database by type of disability. This will help the commission to adequately plan for the needs of the community of PWDs who registered to vote. Secondly is the provision of section 54(2) of the Act which states that “The Commission shall take reasonable steps to ensure that persons with disabilities, special needs and vulnerable persons are assisted at the polling place by the provision of suitable means of communication, such as Braille, large embossed print, electronic devices, sign language interpretation, or off-site voting in appropriate cases.” This Act makes it mandatory rather than discretionary as was with the previous Electoral Act 2010 (as amended)

I am also gladdened by the provision of section 3(3) of the new Act which stipulated that “The election funds due to the Commission for any general elections are to be released to the Commission not later than one year before the next general election.” This will ensure that INEC is well resourced and is not impeded by funds in its electoral planning. It is also heartwarming that party primaries are to be concluded 180 days (6 months) to the election according to the provision of section 29(1) of the new Act. This will ensure that most of the post-primary litigations are resolved ahead of the polls. In the light of the unsavoury experience in Imo State during the 2019 senatorial election where a Returning Officer claimed to have made the declaration under duress, section 65(1) of the new Act has empowered INEC to review such declaration within seven days.

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Section 51(2) is also a noble provision that ensures that instead of using the number of registered voters to determine over-voting, it is the number of accredited voters that will now be used to make such decisions. Section 94(1) has increased the campaign period from 90 days in the previous Electoral Acts to 150 days in the extant law. This has concomitantly led to a substantial increase in the campaign finance ceiling as contained in section 88(2) – (7) of the new Act. From the previous N1bn presidential candidates are now to spend a maximum of N5bn from the initial N200m, while governorship candidates can now spend N1bn. The least is councillorship candidates whose expenditure ceiling has now been raised from N1 million in the previous Acts to N5m in the new law.

In compliance with the new Electoral Act 2022, INEC, after an emergency meeting last Saturday, February 26, 2022, revised the dates for the 2023 General Election from initial February 18 and March 4 to February 25 and March 11, 2023. The Commission likewise published the Notice of Election at all its offices nationwide last Monday, February 28, 2022. Now, the countdown to the 2023 elections has begun, will INEC be able to deliver credible, peaceful, and inclusive polls? Time will tell. Urgently the Commission has to publish all the guidelines, manuals, and codes; activate more continuous voters’ registration points and evenly distribute voters to their respective Polling Units.

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Legit.ng.

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