CSOs demand INEC independence, protest exclusion of e-voting in Electoral Act

A coalition of civil society groups in Nigeria Tuesday protested at the National Assembly, insisting on the inclusion of electronic voting, provision of financial autonomy for the independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, protection of people with disabilities, the inclusion of secret voting among others, in the new Electoral Act, before any future election.

The coalition took their position at the entrance of the National Assembly Complex in Abuja in a statement jointly signed by the Centre for Citizens with Disability (CCD), Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), CLEEN Foundation, Inclusive Friends Association (IFA), Institute for Media and Society (IMS), International Press Centre (IPC), and Kimpact Development Initiative (KDI).

Other co-signatories, were the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Nigeria Women’s Trust Fund (NWTF), Peering Advocacy and Advancement Centre in Africa (PAACA), Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC), Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ), The Albino Foundation (TAF), Yiaga Africa and One.

The statement entitled: “Reforming the Electoral Legal Framework for Credible Elections is a Top Priority: NASS Must Pass the Electoral Act Amendment Bill Now”, contained their demands.

The coalition recalled that “In December 2020, the National Assembly held a Public hearing on the Electoral Act Amendment Bill which provided an opportunity for citizens and stakeholders to participate and make their input to the electoral reform process”.

The groups said there was an “urgent need for reforming the Electoral Legal Framework is founded on the broad-based consensus by Nigerian citizens’ and electoral stakeholders on the need for a more credible and improved electoral process. A process that will encourage active citizens’ participation and guarantee their rights in electing leaders and representatives that will provide good governance by addressing gaps in the current electoral legal framework. The Senate President at the time promised Nigerians a new Electoral Act by March 2021. That timeline has come and gone!!!

“Elections remain the fulcrum and constant cardinal feature in a democracy. It is important to protect all conditions and instruments required to conduct free, fair and credible elections to ensure that “the sovereign will of the people” prevail always. The seeming lack of progress in the National Assembly on the Electoral Act Amendment bill is therefore worrisome.”

The coalition declared that “Nigerians demand that their elected representatives respond to the urgent need for an electoral legal framework that genuinely strengthens the electoral processes and procedures, promotes inclusivity and addresses impunity. The continued delay in concluding the process is reminiscent of the failed process in 2018 and attendant impact on the 2019 General Election”.

The coalition also recalled that “The Ninth National Assembly, under the leadership of the Senate President, Ahmed Lawal and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, promised Nigerians a people-responsive Electoral Act by the first quarter of 2021. We are now in the second quarter of 2021 and the Electoral Act Amendment Bill is yet to be presented for third and final reading in both chambers of the National Assembly. This process is required before the Bill can be transmitted to the President for his assent”.

It then went ahead to present its demands, namely: “Strengthening the financial and operational independence of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Publication of Polling Unit level results by INEC to promote transparency in the result collation and transmission process, Protecting the voting rights of the blind and visually impaired voters and Reducing the cost of the nomination of candidates to promote a level playing field for all contestants”.

The group also called for the “Promoting the inclusion of women, youth, and persons with disability in politics, Legitimising the use of technology in the electoral process with particular emphasis on the biometric voter register, biometric accreditation of voters; electronic voting, electronic collation and transmission of results, Ending impunity for electoral offences by the establishment of the Electoral Offences Commission and Tribunal”.

The Civil Societies groups also called for “Improving election security and promote professionalisation and non-partisanship in the conduct and behaviour of security personnel on election duty, Introduction of early/special voting for Nigerians on essential election duty, Eliminating the impact of judicial actions on citizens will and choices in elections”.

These demands are germane aspirations of Nigerians. The Ninth Assembly has an obligation to work expeditiously on passing the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021 and pass the same to the President for assent. This is an urgent national priority. Together with Nigerians, we firmly believe that if the current electoral legal framework is not reviewed and reformed, it will have a negative impact and consequences for democratic consolidation.

The NASS must recognise that passing the Electoral Bill in good time will engender expeditious action by the executive. The speedy enactment of the Bill will give the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the legal clarity to adequately plan and efficiently conduct future elections, particularly the Anambra governorship election scheduled for 6 November 2021. Consequently, we join our voices with millions of Nigerians to call on the National Assembly to speed up the process for the passage of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill. In the same vein, we call on the President to speedily assent to the bill and deliver a brand-new Electoral Act 2021 to Nigerians ahead of the 2021 democracy day celebration on 12 June 2021.

They commended “the contributions and resilience of Nigerians, the Civil Society, political actors, development partners and other relevant stakeholders in their relentless pursuit for an Electoral Act that engenders participation, inclusiveness, transparency and credibility of the electoral process. We also commend the efforts of the Senate and House of Representatives’ Joint-Committee on INEC and Electoral Matters in ensuring that Nigeria gets a new and improved electoral legal framework”.

The coalition said it remained “hopeful that these collective commitments and partnership further translates to the passage and enactment of a new Electoral Act that works for all Nigerians. We remain resolute in our demand to the leadership of the NinthAssembly to ensure it writes its name in gold by delivering to Nigerians a new Electoral Act that prioritises citizens demands”.