By Dayo Benson, Political Editor & Inalegwu Shaibu
ABUJAâ€” THE Senate has passed the new Electoral Act, putting the conduct of Presidential and National Assembly elections ahead of Governorship and Houses of Assembly elections.
However, the passage was preceded by high level maneouverings which pitched northern senators who were in favour of presidential election coming last against their southern counterparts who wanted it to come first.
The new Act also excluded the substitution of candidates by political parties once it had been forwarded to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
Given the new provisions, political parties can no longer arbitrarily substitute nominated candidates for another that were common place in the 2007 elections unless the candidate died or consented to withdraw his nomination before an election was held.
Section 26 of the Act entitled INEC Act 2006 â€˜Repeal and Re-enactmentâ€™ bill 2010, reads: â€œElection into the offices of the President and the Vice President, Governor and the Deputy Governor of a state, and to members of the Senate,
House of Representatives, and House of Assembly of each state of the federation be held in the following order; (a) Senate and House of Representatives, Presidential elections; (b) State Houses of Assembly and governorship elections.â€
Section 35 as amended and passed by the Senate rejected substitution of candidate by political parties.
The section reads: â€œNo political party shall be allowed to change or substitute its candidate whose name has been submitted pursuant to section 32 of this Act except in the cause of death or withdrawal by the candidate.â€
Another key amendment in the new electoral Act is the provision that all political parties must submit list of candidates 60 days before date of general election which, by implication, means partiesâ€™ primaries must be conducted not later than October, 2010 for the 2011 general election.
Section 32 reads: â€œEvery political party shall, not later than 60 days before the date appointed for a general election under the provision of this Act, submit to the commission (Independent National Electoral Commission) in the prescribed forms, the list of the candidates that the party intend proposes to sponsor at the election.â€
Briefing Senate Correspondents after the passage of the Act, the chairman, Senate Committee on Information and Media, Senator Ayogu Eze, said the new Act would strengthen electoral process in the country.
He said: â€œThe repeal and enactment of Electoral Act was laudable. We removed all legal and legislative impediments on the way of free and fair election.
What we did was to give the operators all the enablement that they need to conduct free and fair election. I hope the House of Representatives will do the same and we can go for conference to harmonize the bill. Before we go on recess next week, the harmonized version of the Electoral Act will be transmitted to Mr. President for assent.â€
He said there was no hidden agenda by the Senate in resolving to conduct the elections into the National Assembly before governorship elections, adding that members of the National Assembly had good relationship with their various governors.
Eze noted: â€œWe have precedent election where the election was adjudged of the freest and fairest elections ever conducted in Nigeria. A lot of us have very good relationship working with our governors, so the issue of fear of governors does not arise in this matter.
We are responding to aspirations and yearnings of Nigerians so that they can be involved and participate actively.â€
Before yesterdayâ€™s passage of the amended Act, senators from the northern zones were rooting for presidential election coming last, with their southern counterparts in favour of the old order which placed presidential election ahead of others.
It was reliably gathered that the game plan of those who were well disposed to the presidential election coming last was to move against President Goodluck Jonathan at the poll, even after securing his support for their various elections.
The calculation, it was learnt, was to frustrate Jonathanâ€™s presidential bid by ensuring that he did not get their support at the last minute.