Stakeholders are putting pressure on the National Assembly to pass the Electoral Act Amendment Bill.
They warned that the reluctance by the leadership of the National Assembly to expedite action on the passage of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill may have negative consequences on the smooth conduct of the 2023 general elections.
President Muhammadu Buhari had thrice rejected the bill, the third time being August 30, 2018 when he returned it to the National Assembly.
However, lawmakers in the 8th National Assembly, under the leadership of then Senate President, Bukola Saraki, quickly incorporated the areas the president raised objections to and sent the bill back to him for his assent on November 7, 2018.
After nearly one month on his desk, President Buhari in December 2018 again declined assent and returned the bill to the federal lawmakers, saying that there were still certain aspects in the bill that he is not quite comfortable with.
Even though the Senate threatened to override Buhari’s veto on the bill, the move, mostly championed by lawmakers elected on the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) platform did not scale through as it did not enjoy the support of the All Progressives Congress (APC) lawmakers who were loyal to the president.
Last year, Senate President Ahmad Lawan gave Nigerians assurance that the National Assembly will pass the bill by the first quarter of 2021.
He also said the National Assembly will work to make the new date a reality so that the amended 2020 Electoral Act will be tested in early elections to gauge its effectiveness.
The assurance was also given by Femi Gbajabiamila, Speaker of the House of Representatives, who also said the bill will be passed by the first quarter of 2021.
Now in April, and with less than two years to the conduct of the 2023 general elections, Nigerians are worried that the continued foot dragging by the National Assembly in the passage of the bill would not guarantee free and fair general elections in 2023.
Those who spoke with Daily Independent said the failure of the federal lawmakers to honour their promise to pass the bill in the first quarter of 2021 has clearly shown that they are not people to be trusted, especially on issues relating to credible elections, which in turn will guarantee good governance.
According to Dennis Alamu-George, Executive Secretary of Rescue Nigeria Economy Project, a civil society organisation, the failure of Lawan and Gbajabiamila to honour their promise on the Electoral Act Bill “raises the question of whether we can continue to trust the words of parliamentary leaders”.
“Both Gbajabiamila and Lawan first promised to pass the bill in March. Now, they are talking of June. It is critical that the bill is passed before real politicking starts early next year. Without Electoral Act with new provisions that can reform the electoral process, then 2023 or the promises that it holds may remain a mirage”.
Continuing, he said, “The benefits of having it passed now is that we have enough time for the executive to have their say and enough time for the back and forth before it is eventually passed. In other words, there is time to cross the T’s and dot the i’s”.
In his reaction, Dr. Tanko Yunusa, a former presidential candidate and National Consultative Front’s (NCF) Head of Public Affairs Bureau, said it is expedient that the National Assembly passes the electoral bill now as it will shape the direction the 2023 election will take.
“We think the political party in power and government are playing games with Nigerians as regards to the importance of that Electoral Act. The Electoral Act will shape the direction in which elections will go in 2023 and so, it is very important for the interest of the people who are to vote and be voted for.
“The National Assembly should quickly sit on this very important document and act on it immediately, because any form of lackadaisical attempt on their part will end up causing chaos in the next general elections. We are appealing to them to deal with this bill as soon as possible”.
Also speaking, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said it does not expect any objection from President Buhari in assenting to the bill when sent to him by the National Assembly since he will no longer be contesting in the 2023 general elections.
Kola Ologbondiyan, the party’s National Publicity Secretary, said, “As a party, we constituted a committee on Electoral Reforms chaired by Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who incidentally had been the chairman of Electoral and Constitution Review Committee of the Senate over a period of time, and who is also a member of the committee of the National Assembly for the same purpose.
“So, we are waiting for their report that will be submitted to us by the Ekweremadu committee as a guidance to the steps that the party will further take. Since the president will not be contesting in 2023, it is the expectation of our party that he will sign the Electoral Act amendment this time”.
A coalition of civil society organisations has threatened to occupy the National Assembly after Ramadan fasting if the lawmakers fail to pass the Bill for an amendment of the Electoral Act.
The CSOs which include Center for Liberty, Concerned Nigeria, The Electoral Hub, and Raising New Voices Initiative, issued the threat at a joint news conference on Thursday in Abuja.
The co-convener, Centre for Liberty, Mr. Dare Ariyo-Atoye, who read the joint speech of the CSOs, said they were worried that the 9th National Assembly was yet to pass the bill. According to him the passage of the bill could have given them lasting legacies and written their names in gold.