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By Clifford Ndujihe, Dapo Akinrefon, Henry Umoru, Samuel Oyadongha, Rotimi, Ojomoyela, Johnbosco Agbakwuru, Levinus Nwabughiogu, Omezia Ajayi & Dirisu Yakubu

WITH President Muhammadu Buhari signing the Electoral Act Amendment Bill into law, yesterday, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, will meet, today, to decide on new dates for the 2023 general polls.

Last week, the electoral umpire said the February 18, 2023 date for the presidential poll would be postponed, if the President did not sign the electoral bill into law by last Tuesday, which was exactly 360 days to February 18, 2023 as required by law.

Following President Buhari’s assent to the electoral law, yesterday, an elated INEC said it would hold an extraordinary meeting, today, to deliberate on the way forward for the 2023 polls.

Instead of declining assent as he did, last December, President Buhari appended his signature, this time around despite misgivings over a section of the bill. At exactly 2.25 pm, he signed the bill.

President, Buhari however, rejected Section 84 (12) of the signed Electoral law, saying it runs contrary to the nation’s constitution.

Section 84 of the Electoral Act (Amended) stipulates that anyone holding a political office – ministers, commissioners, special advisers, and others – must relinquish the position before they can be eligible to participate in the electoral process either as a candidate or delegate.

President said that the Electoral Act (Amendment) law 2022 holds a lot of promise for improving the election processes in the country, with introduction of new technology, and efforts to engender clarity and transparency.

At a signing ceremony held at the Council Chambers, Presidential Villa, Abuja, President Buhari, told the National Assembly to immediately commence the process of amending Section 84 (12) of the law in order to delete it, noting that it disqualifies political office holders from voting or being voted for at conventions or congresses of any political party, for the purpose of the nomination of candidates for any election.

He said that he received inputs from relevant ministries, departments and agencies of government after careful and thorough reviews of the Bill and its implications for democratic processes in our country.

His words: “The Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2022, passed by the National Assembly forwarded for Presidential Assent, via a letter dated 31st January, 2022. In line with established tradition, I received inputs from relevant ministries, departments and agencies of government after careful and thorough reviews of the Bill and its implications to democratic processes in our country.

“It is gratifying to note that the current Bill comes with a great deal of improvement from the previous Electoral Bill 2021. There are salient and praiseworthy provisions that could positively revolutionize 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.

It’ll engender transparency of elections
“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.

“These commendable efforts are in line with our policy to bequeath posterity and landmark legal framework that paves the way for credible and sound electoral process that we would all be proud of.”

Why I rejected Section 84
Expressing his rejection of Section 84 (12) of the new law, President Buhari said, “Distinguished Senators and Honourable Members of the National Assembly, from the review it is my perspective that the substance of the Bill is both reformative and progressive. I am making this bold declaration because I foresee the great potentials of the Bill.

The President said: “Worthy of note include the democratic efficacy of the Bill with particular reference to sections 3, 9(2), 34, 41, 47, 84(9), (10) and (11) among others.

“This, however, cannot be said about one provision as contained in the proposed Bill, which provision constitutes fundamental defect, as it is in conflict with extant constitutional provisions.

“Section 84 (12) constitutes a disenfranchisement of serving political office holders from voting or being voted for at Conventions or Congresses of any political party, for the purpose of the nomination of candidates for any election in cases where it holds earlier than 30 days to the National Election,”

Quoting the section, “84(12) No political appointee at any level shall be voting delegate or be voted for at the Convention or Congress of any political party for the purpose of the nomination of candidates for any election,” the President noted it had introduced qualification and disqualification criteria that are ultra vires the Constitution by way of importing blanket restriction and disqualification to serving political office holders of which they are constitutionally accorded protection.

Besides he said: “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 restriction 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.

“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 consider immediate amendments that will bring the Bill in tune with constitutionality by way of deleting section 84 (12) accordingly.”

President Buhari commended the National Assembly for their commitment and dedication to improving the previous Electoral Bill 2021.

NASS ‘ll consider Buhari’s request to amend Section 84 (12)—Lawan
President of the Senate, Dr Ahmad Lawan, yesterday, gave an assurance that the National Assembly will look into President Buhari’s request for the amendment of Section 84 (12) in the electoral act which bars political appointees from participating in their parties’ primaries.

Speaking with State House correspondents after the signing of the amended electoral act by President Buhari, the Senate President said the National Assembly will be willing to consider the President’’s request as soon as a Bill to that effect is brought before them.

His words: “You know, this is a legitimate request. And that is why I commend the president. I will commend him for so many things, but let me also qualify it that even though he had a disagreement with the section, especially clause 84(12), that talks about public political office holders, he still went ahead to sign the bill into law and that is to show his commitment and desire to have an electoral law that will ensure that we have better outcomes when we do election.

“So we will look at what he is asking for, I hope that they will send the request for the amendment in good time. Because time is of essence, INEC is waiting. And because we don’t want to spill over some of these dates, unnecessarily. We will be expecting a communication from Mr. President with respect to this. And then the National Assembly in both chambers will look into the request for amendment but on the whole I think this is a wonderful development for this administration, for Nigeria, for the evolution and development and growth of democracy in Nigeria.”

Dr. Lawan said with the Electoral Act in place, INEC should hit the ground running and ensure that successful elections are conducted in Osun and Ekiti elections this year and the general elections nationwide in 2023.

He said: “And for INEC, now you have what you need. INEC, you have to produce the best possible electoral exercise, right from probably the Ekiti and Osun off-season elections. And of course, in the 2013 general elections”.

Similarly, Speaker of House of Representatives, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila, stressed that if the provisions of the Act are properly managed by INEC it will mark a watershed in the nation’s election history.

Gbajabiamila said: “I believe it’s a landmark piece of legislation, and has far reaching and I mean, far reaching implications. Of the provisions contained therein, I can count off head at least 10 to 15 provisions in that electoral law, that if properly executed by INEC, and the people who the laws are made for, it will be a turning point in electoral history of Nigeria. And we will witness, not just by mouthing free, fair and credible elections, but we will actually witness free, fair and credible elections moving forward.”

We’ll decide today — INEC
In a statement by Dr. Festus Okoye, national commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, the INEC said:

“Today Friday 25th February 2022, the President of the Federal Republic Nigeria signed the Electoral Bill 2022 into law. This is historic being the fourth time since the restoration of democracy in Nigeria in 1999 that the Electoral Act is repealed and re-enacted. It contains many progressive provisions that will facilitate the conduct of free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria.

“The nation now has the Electoral Act 2022 which replaces the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended). “Together with the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the new Act constitutes the principal law to govern the conduct of future elections, including the 2023 General Election.

“Given the tight timelines contained in the new law, the Commission fully appreciates the importance of proceeding with their implementation in earnest.

“Consequently, an extraordinary meeting of the Commission is scheduled for tomorrow Saturday 26th February 2022. Thereafter, a statement will be issued on the way forward.”

According to him, the journey to the 2023 general election will be challenging and the Commission will deploy creative, innovative and scientific strategies and initiatives in the discharge of its responsibilities.

“The Commission has commenced preparations for the election. Early, strategic and conscious planning and the deployment of technology are part of the Commissions strategic plan and election project plan. It requires the deployment of technology to obviate human interference in the electoral process.

“Based on the importance and progressive impact of the Electoral Act 2022, the Commission has scheduled an extraordinary meeting for Saturday February 26, 2022 to deliberate on issues around the signing of the Electoral Act, 2022, the tight timelines imbedded in the Act, the issuance of Notice for the election as well as the date for the release of the timetable and schedule of activities and other issues ancillary to the release of the Act”, Okoye stated.

New Regulations, Guidelines

INEC added that it is committed to begin immediate implementation of the law and that it will come up with new sets of regulations and guidelines for next year’s general election.

Okoye said; “The Commission will plan and plan well. The 2023 election will be challenging and the Commission is determined to get its processes and procedures in place ahead of the elections.

“The Commission must design new Regulations, Guidelines and Manuals for the 2023 general elections. These must be based on the new Electoral Act. We must train our staff across board on the fundamental provisions of the Act.

“The Act is not futuristic. It has come into force and it is for immediate implementation. We are confident that some of the progressive provisions will aid the work of the Commission. We as a Commission are determined to reconfigure our electoral system and institutionalize a new template for credible elections”.

Alteration of Election Timetable

He said Saturday’s meeting will determine actions to be taken on the issuance of 2023 electoral timelines.

“The alteration, release and issuance of Timetable and Schedule of Activities are the prerogative of the Commission. The Commission has scheduled an extraordinary meeting for Saturday February 26, 2022 to deliberate on issues around the timelines imbedded in the Act.

“The Commission will also deliberate on the issue of issuance of Notice for the Election as well as the Timetable and Schedule of Activities. The new Law is fundamental and the Commission is convoking an extraordinary meeting to deliberate on its provisions”, Okoye stated.

Buhari kept his promise—Fayemi, NGF chairman
Speaking to journalists after the ceremony, Chairman of Nigerian Governors Forum, NGF, and Governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi commended the President for keeping to his promise to sign the amendment bill into law.

Asked on what impact the new law would bring, Fayemi said: “I think it’s a huge relief that this piece of legislation has been finally signed 12 years after the last one.

“The last Electoral Act operating is a 2010 Act. And we must commend the National Assembly, particularly the committees on INEC both in the Senate and the House of Representatives for doing such a yeoman’s job of putting this together, and ensuring that we have a law, that can accord with global standards, and also with the yearnings of the ordinary Nigerians.

It’ll make conduct of 2023 polls less challenging —Atiku
Similarly, former Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar, said the law would make conduct of the 2023 general elections less challenging.

Atiku, who wrote on his verified twitter handle said: “Now that the legal framework for the 2023 elections is in place following President Buhari’s assent to the Electoral Bill, the Independent National Electoral Commission needs to roll-out the election guidelines in earnest so that the political parties and Nigerians can fully commence the journey to choose their leaders in 2023.

“I wish to acknowledge the work of the legislature in bringing this law with new innovations into fruition. I also pay tribute to the nudge of the civil society and patriotic Nigerians in making this brand new Electoral Act a reality.”

Saraki lauds Buhari, NASS, CSOs, Nigerians for working for free polls
Former Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, commended President Buhari for finally signing the Electoral Act (amendment) Bill 2022 into law while also hailing the National Assembly, Civil Society Organisations and other Nigerians who remained persistent insisting that Nigeria deserves a new law that will guarantee free, fair and peaceful poll in 2023 and beyond.

Saraki in a statement by Yusuph Olaniyonu, Head of Abubakar Bukola Saraki Media Office, said: “The new Electoral Act brings us closer to having free, fair, and peaceful elections in which people’s votes count, where the majority will have their way and the minority will have their say. For too long, the old electoral law had been part of the problem. We can now seek to elect our leaders having in mind the current challenges facing our country.

“With a new Electoral Act, we can move on to debating real solutions to the problems of insecurity, creation of jobs, strengthening of the economy, cementing national unity and building a better future for all Nigerians.”

We’re not yet there but it’s a quantum leap —Ekweremadu
Also, former Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, described it as a quantum leap for the nation’s democracy.

Ekweremadu, who described the journey to the new electoral law as “quite frustrating”, however poured encomiums on the civil society, media, and Nigerians for standing up for the nation’s democracy.

In a statement by his Special Adviser, Media, Uche Anichukwu, the former Deputy Senate President said: “I have been part of the nation’s electoral reform for over the 10 years, but I must confess that the journey to the new Electoral Act was by far the most frustrating.

“After the major electoral reform of 2010 that also involved amendments to the 1999 Constitution to, among others, open the doors to technology in our electoral system, check some executive excesses, manipulations by political parties, and straighten the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) through financial and administrative autonomy, our expectation after amendments to the Electoral Act in 2015 was that the new administration would support the National Assembly to further straighten our electoral laws and system.

“Unfortunately, four times, the amendments were turned down in the 8th National Assembly, apparently thwarted by narrow, partisan interests and ambitions.

“The efforts in the current National Assembly also faced similar challenges, but it is heartwarming that it has finally materialised with the presidential assent.

“Certainly, we didn’t get all we pushed for in the new law, but it is nevertheless a quantum leap for our electoral system and I congratulate all, who played a part in it.”

It’s a departure from PDP’s era of electoral fraud — APC
Commenting on the law, the All Progressives Congress, APC, described the development as a departure from the era of electoral fraud institutionalized by the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.

National Secretary of its Caretaker Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee CECPC, Sen. John James Akpanudoedehe said: “This is a big win for our electioneering processes and our democracy.

“As a party and government, we will continue to champion needed reforms. We hereby call on well-meaning Nigerians to join us to completely stamp out past practices of electoral fraud weaponised by past administrations of the Peoples Democratic Party PDP.”

Buhari, APC bowed to pressure — PDP
On its part, the PDP congratulated Nigerians, particularly civil society organizations for fighting on the side of the PDP in putting pressure

The party in a statement signed by its spokesman, Debo Ologunagba saluted the courage of PDP and other opposition members in the National Assembly for standing their ground on the passage of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill which among other things principally provided for the electronic transmission of election results directly from the polling units.

The statement read: “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 centers against the expressed Will of the people.

“It is clear that President Buhari and the deflated APC had come to their wits end and bowed to the sustained pressure by the PDP and Nigerians for the entrenchment of processes that can guarantee free, fair, transparent and credible elections in 2023.

“The victory by Nigerians in resisting the APC and compelling President Buhari to sign the new Electoral Act clearly signposts the inevitable triumph of the Will and aspiration of the people to kick out the APC through a process that ensures that votes cast at the polling units count.

“The PDP calls on Nigerians not to rest on their oars but to further strengthen their resolve by rallying themselves to take charge of their polling units and ensure that their votes are transparently counted and transmitted in the 2023 general elections.

“Nigerians must note that the APC in its desperation will not give up easily but attempt to device other means to frustrate credible elections in the country.

“Our Party therefore charges Nigerians and the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to be at alert and resist all shenanigans of the APC ahead of the 2023 elections.

“While commending the international community for standing on the side of democracy in Nigeria, the PDP counsels President Buhari to further redeem his image by reining in his party members who are reportedly seeking to deploy the instrumentality of violence to frustrate the efforts for free, fair and credible elections in 2023.”

It’ll strengthen our democratic process —PANDEF
On its part, the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF said the law would further strengthen the nation’s democratic process.

PANDEF National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Ken Robinson, said: “It is a welcome development after all the dilly-dally. This is perhaps the best thing President Buhari has done in terms of strengthening the nation’s democratic process.

“President Buhari and the National Assembly both deserve commendation. The ball is now in the court of the Electoral Commission to ensure that the Act is implemented to the letter in the entire electoral process, with adherence to every detail, in all parts of the country.”

It’s a right step in the right direction — Bode George

In his remarks, former Deputy National Chairman of the PDP, Chief Bode George, said the passage of the law is a step in the right direction.

George said: “The much debated , much discussed and much delayed Electoral Bill has finally been signed into law on Friday morning by President Muhammodu Buhari. “This is a triumph for all Nigerians and for all advocates of genuine representative governance.

I congratulate President Buhari for being courageous and forward looking enough to append his signature to this very significant Bill which has now become part of our law.

“This Electoral law is quite significant in many ways. It will forever remove the democratic process from the shackles of god-fatherism and money bags who continue to sabotage the will of the people. It will equally reduce a great deal of electoral malpractices through the brazen forging of figures and other manipulative processes that hinder the democratic growth.

YCE reacts
Reacting to Section 84 of the Electoral Act, Secretary-General, Yoruba Council of Elders, Dr Kunle Olajide said: “This is ambiguous, the section must stipulate the time, there must be specific time stipulation, it must stipulate time, whether one year or 6 months to vacate your present office to be eligible for another.

“There must be specific time period that one is required to resign from office before the election of the new office is held but as it stands now, it is not specific, it can be twisted here or there. It is going to be challenged in the court of law, there must be specific time, if you are holding a political office and you intend to contest a coming election, you must resign 60 days before the next election, 180 days, 90 days, be specific, you don’t leave it open.