*Adds: Critical preparations must be concluded this year
*NASS pledges to re-work Electoral Act Amendment bill
*Parties expecting greater performance from INEC — IPAC
*Amendments’ll be swift, Gbajabiamila assures; faults argument that political parties don’t have proper membership register
By Henry Umoru, Levinus Nwabughiogu & Omeiza Ajayi, ABUJA
The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, said yesterday it would not release the 2023 general elections timetable until the Electoral Act Amendment Bill was signed into law.
INEC’s threat came on a day the two arms of the National Assembly, Senate and House of Representatives, pledged to expeditiously re-work the 2010 Electoral Act Amendment Bill for onward transmission to President Muhammadu Buhari for assent.
INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, who issued the threat at the commission’s first quarterly consultative meeting with political parties in Abuja yesterday, said: “On the Electoral Amendment Bill currently before the National Assembly, the Commission is encouraged by the Senate President’s assurance to give priority attention to the Bill when the National Assembly reconvenes from its recess, which it did yesterday and the commitment by the President to assent to the Bill as soon as the issue of mode of primaries by political parties is resolved. We look forward to a speedy passage of the Bill, which is crucial to our preparations for future elections.
“As soon as it is signed into law, the commission will quickly release the Timetable and Schedule of Activities for the 2023 General Election based on the new law.”
Noting that 2022 would be a very busy year for the commission and political parties, Yakubu reminded them that the 2023 general election was just 396 days away.
‘Critical preparations must be concluded this year’
He said all critical preparations must be concluded this year, explaining that the Continuous Voter Registration, CVR, which commenced in June last year had entered the third quarter.
“As of yesterday Monday, January 17, 2022, a total of 8,260,076 eligible Nigerians commenced the online pre-registration, completed the registration physically or applied for a transfer to new voting locations, replacement of their Permanent Voters’ Cards, PVCs, or updated their voter information records as required by law.
“At the moment, the commission is undertaking the most comprehensive clean up of the data to ensure that only eligible citizens are added to the voters’ register for the 2023 general election and will share our findings with Nigerians and the actual dates for the collection of the PVCs nationwide will be announced very soon,” Yakubu stated.
According to him, the commission has also decided that the suspended Ekiti East I State Constituency bye-election will be combined with the state governorship election held on June 18, 2022.
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He said the date for the Shinkafi State Constituency bye-election in Zamfara State would be announced after a thorough review of the security situation in the area, while the commission awaits the declaration of vacancy by Kaduna State House of Assembly in respect of Giwa West State Constituency.
“Turning to the major end-of-tenure and off-cycle elections, party primaries for the Ekiti State Governorship election are scheduled for 4th-29th January 2022. For the Osun State Governorship election, primaries will hold from 16th February to 12th March 2022.
“In the case of Ekiti State, all the 18 political parties have served the mandatory notices for the primaries. Let me seize this opportunity to draw the attention of parties to the necessity for transparent and rancour-free primaries.
“Parties should also respect their chosen dates for the primaries, based on the commission’s timetable and schedule of activities.
“Already, many parties have rescheduled their primaries several times. While the commission has earmarked a period of three weeks and four days (i.e. 25 days) for the conduct of the Ekiti State Governorship primaries, virtually all political parties have decided to hold their primaries in the last four days i.e. 26th – 29th January 2022. In fact, seven political parties have chosen the last day for their primaries.
“Similarly, no party has so far submitted its list of aspirants, the composition of its electoral panel, or the register of members or list of delegates, depending on the chosen mode for electing its candidates.
“As of yesterday, only one party has indicated the venue for its primaries. I urge you all to do so immediately to enable us to work out the detailed plans for monitoring the primaries. All primaries for electing candidates must take place in the constituency where the election will hold as required by law.
“In the cases of Ekiti and Osun State Governorship elections, any primaries conducted outside the two states will not be monitored by the commission and their outcomes will not be accepted. This also applies to primaries for bye-elections conducted outside the constituencies,” he added.
On the Federal Capital Territory FCT Area Council election, Yakubu gave insights into the distribution of voters to polling units in the territory, particularly the fact that 593 out of 2,822 or 21% of the total, do not have voter cards.
“This is because voters failed to take advantage of the expansion of access to transfer to these new Polling Units. The detailed distribution of voters to Polling Units in the FCT is among the documents in your folders for this meeting,” he stated.
‘Parties expecting greater performance from INEC’
Responding on behalf of the political parties, Chairman of the Inter-Party Advisory Committee IPAC, Engr. Yabagi Sani, said the parties were anticipating more superlative performance by INEC in the remaining off-season elections, beginning with the council elections in the Federal Capital Territory and the gubernatorial elections in Osun and Ekiti states.
He said the most serious and potent impediment to the successful conduct of the 2023 general elections was the lingering debacle between the executive and the legislature on the fate of the 2021 Electoral (Amendment) Bill.
“While time is dangerously running out for the resolution of the disputes between the two arms, IPAC is of the position that the controversy may have been contrived in the first instance, purely and clearly in the pursuits of narrow and self-centred political ambitions of some of the gladiators.
“We, are, therefore, using this occasion to once again make our strident call for the immediate resolution of the unnecessary impasse over the Electoral Amendment Bill in the superior and overriding national interest,’’ he said.
NASS pledges to re-work Electoral Act Amendment bill
Meanwhile, the two arms of the National Assembly, Senate and House of Representatives, pledged yesterday to expeditiously re-work the 2010 Electoral Act Amendment Bill for onward transmission to President Muhammadu Buhari for assent.
It would be recalled that the President declined assent to the bill last December because of the provision on direct primaries for political parties, to choose candidates which he considered too expensive to execute among others.
Resuming from Christmas and New Year recess yesterday, lawmakers in both chambers said it had become necessary to rework the bill to ensure the entire document was not thrown away simply because of one provision the President disagreed with.
Welcoming senators from the recess, Senate President, Senator Ahmad Lawan, said the Senate postponed discussions on the consideration of the response of the President on the Electoral Act 2010 Amendment Bill to enable senators to consult with their counterparts in the House of Representatives and also with their constituents.
“Like we all know, the Senate and, indeed, the National Assembly worked so hard on the bill. Having consulted, the Senate will expeditiously look into the issue,’’ he said.
Lawan, who also disclosed that the Senate would communicate the report of the Constitution Review Committee to State Houses of Assembly within the first quarter of this year, said: “The review of the 1999 Constitution is a major plank of our legislative agenda.
“Our Committee on Review of the 1999 Constitution has done so much work so far. Working with their counterparts in the House of Representatives, the report of the committee will be presented to the Senate for consideration soon.
“The Senate will consider the report and the National Assembly will communicate to the State Houses of Assembly within the first quarter of this year.”
Reps to work on the bill today
In the House of Representatives, the speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, said members would commence work on the bill today to ensure it was promptly sent back to the President for assent.
He said it was up to the members of the House to choose between sticking to their guns on the provision and reworking it to save the entire document.
It will be recalled that Vanguard in its Sunday edition this week exclusively reported of an imminent showdown among the pro and anti-veto parliamentarians on the bill.
In his welcome address at the first plenary yesterday, Gbajabiamila told the members that the die was cast.
He said the baby could not be thrown away with the bathwater, asking the members to take a decision on whether they were disposed to the direct primary provision as passed by the National Assembly or ready to rework the document to save it.
Gbajabiamila described as appalling the argument or submission that lack of proper membership registration process of the political parties was among the reasons for rejecting the bill.
He said the argument was at variance with the spirit and letters of the Constitution of the land and, therefore, not tenable.
He said: “Colleagues, we have a lot still left to do in a very brief time. Principal among these priorities is the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill. First, let me express my profound gratitude to all of you for your work to pass this most critical legislation.
“I want to commend you all for the work done. Unfortunately, that bill did not receive presidential assent, and it is unlikely that it will in its current form.
“Now, we have to choose between sticking to our guns regarding the provision to mandate direct primary elections for political parties or reworking that provision to save the rest of the bill.
“Now let it be clear to all that our only objective in introducing that provision was to strengthen the foundations of our democracy so that it works for all of our nation’s people. The process by which political parties nominate candidates for election is essential, perhaps even just as important as the general election itself.
“A primary nomination process that deprives the majority of party members of the opportunity to choose who represents them in the general elections is susceptible to bad outcomes and ought to be fixed.
“Some argued that political parties do not have proper registers of their members, which was a reason to reject the direct primary option. This is an appalling admission that political parties in the country do not have credible and up-to-date registers of their members.
‘’We are left to question how those parties have thus far managed their affairs, including conducting congresses and primary elections, whether by direct or indirect means.
“Besides, it can be inferred that the failure to maintain a proper register of members violates the spirit of the constitution, as it makes it impossible for the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to enforce the constitutional requirement for political parties to ensure that their membership reflects the federal character of Nigeria.
“Nonetheless, it is disappointing that the failure of political parties to adequately document their membership is being used to not give the Nigerian people the power to fully participate in our nation’s politics.
If nothing else, including a direct primary mandate in the law, would have forced political parties to properly register their members within the shortest possible time. This would have been the singular most significant reform of our political party system in a generation.”
Amendments’ll be swift, Gbajabiamila assures
The speaker said expected amendments would be swift as the document would be reintroduced to the House of Representatives today for a possible rework.
“I remain convinced that the proposal for direct primary elections is valuable for building accountability in our political system. But we must not allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good.
“Therefore, the House will reintroduce the amendment tomorrow (today). And we will work quickly to address the mitigating concerns, pass the bill and send it back to President Muhammadu Buhari for assent.
“As to the issues relating to inelegant drafting and other technical errors in the bill, this is a matter of concern as it appears the version sent to the President differs from what is circulating in the public domain.
“However, in December of last year, I appointed a technical team to look into the issue. I expect to have their report within the next day or two, so we can proceed to the next stage.
“We have less than 13 months to the next general elections, so time is of the essence. A credible electoral law is what the people want. It is what the people deserve, and we must give it to them.
“The Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill includes many other provisions that will serve our democracy well, and we cannot throw away the baby with the bathwater,” he said.
Gbajabiamila, who recalled the passage of a few key bills by the House, also stated that action would be expedited on the review of the 1999 constitution, urging all hands to be on deck.
“We have considered and passed meaningful legislation that impacts all areas of our national life. Some of these bills are the Police Service Commission Act (Repeal and Re-enactment) Bill, the Electric Power Sector Reform Act (Amendment) Bill, and the Deep Offshore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contracts Act (Amendment) Bill, among others.
“Just before we adjourned in 2021, we passed a slate of bills to reform the aviation sector and clean up our airports so that these critical national assets can be properly administered to the best expectations of the Nigerian people.
“Our current constitutional review effort is as crucial as the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill. Amending our nation’s constitution to address longstanding areas of disagreement and remove the vestiges of militarism from our democracy is one of the central commitments we made in the 9th House.
“It is a commitment we must meet or risk the harsh judgment of history. Therefore, we will prioritise action to pass the Constitution Amendment Bill in the House of Representatives. Fortunately, we are in the final stages of that effort and will shortly conclude this all-important work.
“According to the deputy speaker, the first set of amendments will be forwarded to the state assemblies for consideration before the end of February. This is the final year we have to conclude work on our legislative agenda and fulfil the obligations of our contract with Nigerians
“Let us approach this last stretch with the forthright focus and earnestness that comes from knowing that we are in a race to make good history.
“The entire purpose of the legislative agenda is to direct our legislative resources and efforts in a coordinated effort to ensure the well being of the individual in a life of safety and freedom.
“That is a high ambition, but it is well worth the effort. Colleagues, once more, I welcome you all back to the House of Representatives. I look forward to a fruitful year of considerable achievement in the joint task of nation-building,” Gbajabiamila said.