THE serial attempts to amend the Electoral Act in readiness for the 2019 general elections have turned out as the messiest such effort since our return to democracy in 1999. The Electoral Act (Amendment Bill), which the National Assembly Joint Committee on the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has just reworked, for the record fourth time, is the enabling legal instrument for the conduct of the 2019 general elections.
President Muhammadu Buhari had, on three previous occasions, vetoed the Bill mainly on the grounds of the National Assembly’s alteration of the sequence of the 2019 poll prepared by the INEC, perceived difficulties some provisions posed to the operations of the Commission, and what the President described as “drafting errors.”
Critics have voiced their concern that the prolonged periods the Bill stayed on the desk of the President before the withholding of assent was announced, were deliberate “delay tactics” meant to ensure that the Card Reader, which has now been inculcated in the proposed amendment for the conduct of the 2019 general elections, will not be used. This will make election rigging easier. The Presidency has denied this.
We hereby commend the Senator Suleiman Nazif-led National Assembly Joint Committee on the INEC for forfeiting its annual recess to attend to this assignment of urgent national priority. Let us hope that the Senator’s promise that when passed, the Amendment Bill will “address all the fears and we will ensure that we equip the INEC with what is necessary and what will ensure that free and fair elections in 2019” will be realised.
It is very disheartening that the All Progressives Congress, APC Federal Government has found it difficult since 2015 to work harmoniously with the National Assembly for smooth governance. The to-and-fro over the Electoral Act Amendment Bill is particularly pathetic because of its importance for the impending polls.
For the umpteenth time, we wish to emphasise that the Permanent Voter’s Card, PVC, and the Card Reader MUST be part of the electoral law for use in 2019. Without it, the elections are doomed to serious compromise, and this could lead to unforeseen dire consequences for our democracy and national stability.
We call on the President to match the eagerness displayed by the National Assembly to make the Card Reader part of the Electoral Act for the conduct of the 2019 elections by promptly assenting to the Amendment Bill as soon as it returns to his desk from the Legislature.
This is even more imperative, given the suspicion which the composition of the current INEC Board has elicited in many quarters. The Professor Mahmood Yakubu-led electoral umpire must be given ample opportunity to demonstrate its competence, professionalism and patriotism towards delivering free and fair elections.