Speakers at the inaugural Ariyo Dare-Atoye Memorial Election Management and Governance Dialogue Series have extolled the provisions of Electoral Act 2022.
They included former Akwa Ibom Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Mr. Mike Igini; Director of Abuja School of Social and Political Thoughts, Dr. Sam Amadi, and human rights activist and convener of Concerned Nigerians, Deji Adeyanju.
They expressed optimism that the sterling provisions of the Act will help to sweep away desperate politicians whose stock in trade is devising ways to circumvent electoral rules and regulations.
At the event, held at the Cardinal John Onaiyekan MSP Residence, Garki, FCT, the stakeholders spoke on the theme, ‘Preparations for 2023 Elections: Matters Arising, PVC Collection, Campaign Finance etc.’
Elaborating on some sections of the Electoral Act, Igini disclosed that although the National Assembly accepted only 48 out of the 91 provisions recommended for amendment by INEC, there are still doubts that the lawmakers actually read the bill.
He contended that the legislators’ attempt to push through the amendment of some sections, particularly, their demand that statutory delegates must go through delegate election, showed that the bi-cameral legislature did not digest the contents of the law.
“It is most likely that they expected to restrain the President from signing the bill after it was passed. But the President signed. And when they discovered that they wouldn’t be participating in the primaries, they sought amendment,” he said.
The former REC explained that every election year, lawmakers try to make legislations that would help to entrench them in power by creating loopholes that could be exploited to their benefit.
He said it was a similar template in 2011 that sparked the use of political thugs for interstate thuggery services. He noted that at the end of the day, more than 70 per cent of the lawmakers could not make it back to the National Assembly.
Pointing out some forward looking legislations in the Electoral Act 2022, Igini explained that while Section 47 replaced Section 49 in the 2010 edition, Sections 51 and 53 serve to avert rigging by ensuring that total votes cast in a polling unit do not depend on total number of registered voters.
“Under the current Act, particularly, Section 33, provides that no political party has power to change the name of a candidate after primary. Section 84(1) makes it mandatory that parties’ primaries must be monitored by INEC, which partakes as a third party to the process,” he said.
Earlier, Amadi said the position of INEC is to regulate, review, make rules, qualify and disqualify. He said if the electoral commission is shy of doing its job, it should be disbanded, so that either the central bank or road safety corps, which is a fairly effective agency, could take over.
According to him, “the truth of the matter is that even the judiciary is in a mess. We are latecomers as a country, as far as regulation is concerned. We need to subject our judges to crash programmes to know what the system requires them to do. INEC’s job is not to print voter cards. We can outsource that. Their job is rule-making adjudication.
“They are talking about whether a particular candidate is qualified. It is INEC’s job. When the law says that a candidate should submit his/her credentials to INEC, what that means is that INEC has power to invalidate, to ensure that those documents are regular. INEC is not a transaction agency.”
On his part, Adeyanju said that unlike Ariyo, who is optimistic that things will get better with Nigeria’s electoral system, what he saw at Ngor Okpalla during the election convinced him that politicians would always circumvent the law.
He said: “I have found my name in Imo State and I have been wondering why my name would be in Imo. Knowing Nigerian politicians, it occurs to me that they know how to circumvent the system. All Ariyo stands for is, ‘let us have a country that works for everybody.’
“A situation where security agencies are compromised, INEC officials are compromised; and am talking about what happened in South Ijaw, where security agencies can surrender to non-state actors…Can’t the politicians chase people away after accreditation as it happened in Ngor Okpala?”
“Instead of having ballot democracy, we now have courtroom democracy. When a man that comes fourth in an election is declared winner, some politicians may decline to contest after buying forms, but rather enter into a bargain with a judge to be declared winner. Where voters are not allowed to vote, how far can the Electoral Act go?”