by Samson Itodo
The Nigerian Senate has received encomiums for providing national leadership in the timely and progressive conclusion of its amendments to the Electoral Act, 2010. It took the Senate one year to conclude its amendment process and submit a 27-clause amendment to the Electoral Act.
A cursory look at the amendments will suggest that the Nigerian Senate is responsive, strategic and committed to electoral reforms. Whilst the Senate must be commended for undertaking such a herculean task of rejigging our electoral system, it is important to undertake a critical examination of the amendment and ascertain if it responds to our current electoral reality. The Senate’s amendments can be summarised under the following strategic themes:
1. Deepen the Integrity and Neutrality of INEC
The Senate amended several sections of the act to protect the integrity and impartiality of INEC as a non-partisan entity. These amendments are expected to boost stakeholder, confidence in the electoral process thereby promoting the acceptability of electoral outcomes. The amendment to Section 8 of the Principal Act deters INEC officials from partisanship and it prescribes 5 years’ imprisonment or a fine of at least N5,000,000 as penalty for any person with affiliation, connection or membership of a political party who refuses to disclose his membership status to secure appointment with the Independent National Electoral Commission in any capacity. This amendment is in line with Section 156 of the 1999 Constitution as amended. It also reinforces Section 28 (1)of the principal Act on the neutrality of electoral officials.
2. Increased use of technology for elections
The introduction of technology for elections enhances electoral integrity. This is exemplified by the plethora of amendments aimed at mainstreaming technology in the administration of Nigerian elections. The Senate enshrined the use of card reader or any other technological device which INEC deems fit for the accreditation of voters. It also legalises electronic voting and electronic transmission of results and accreditation data.
3. Improved access to electoral data and information
In an attempt to promote openness and transparency, the Senate legalises publication of important electoral data and information like voter register to increase public access and facilitate public scrutiny of election data. The Senate in its amendment provided for the establishment of a National Electronic Register of Elections Results to be established by INEC. Under Section 43 of the amendment act, party agents and accredited election observers have now been legally empowered to inspect original copies of election materials before the commencement of an election. The materials include ballot papers, results sheets, ballot paper account and verification documents.In the new Section 44, INEC is required to invite political parties 20 days to an election to inspect their identity on samples of election materials to be used for an election. The parties are provided a 2 days’ timeline to approve or disapprove of its identity on samples of election materials. Failure to disapprove or participate in the inspection exercise does not constitute sufficient claim for exclusion in an election.
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