Can Electoral Act 2022 sanitise Nigeria’s voting process?

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The Electoral Act 2022 is imbued with near foolproof devices to checkmate rigging and sundry manipulation during next years general elsection and beyond. GBADE OGUNWALE highlights some provision of the new law as outlined by stakeholders at a recent event.

Stakeholders in the electoral process agree that the Electoral Act 2022 offers great hopes for Nigerian voters in their quest for free, fair and credible elections. The act, which was signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari on February 25, 2022, has been described as a boost to the integrity of the entire electoral process. At a recent gathering in Abuja, stakeholders dissected some key provisions of the act and concluded that they have made rigging and falsification of election results difficult for political parties and their agents.

In a lead presentation, former Resident Electoral Commissioner for Akwa Ibom State, Mr Mike Igini observed that some provisions of the 2022 act have unsettled the political class and their parties. Igini was one of the key participants during the 27th Anti-Corruption Situation Room (ACSR) organised by the Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA) resource centre. He observed that the introduction of the Electronic Transmission of results from polling units and the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) has closed all windows of election result manipulation.

Igini said Section 60 of the Act is the real game changer because it prescribed the transmission of results from the polling units electronically and once uploaded, no Returning Officer can change the figures from any unit. Also, Section 61 prohibits elected officials of political parties from being party agents at voting centres, unless such officials resign from their appointments three months before the election. Similarly, under Section 51, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will no longer rely on the number of registered voters to determine the results at polling units. Rather, the results will be based on the number of accredited voters at any polling unit.

Also, Section 49 has taken away the discretionary power of Presiding Officers to give clearance to voters with Incident Forms, as the introduction of BVAS has eliminated the practice. The device captures the voter’s face and Voter Identification Number (VIN). That settles cases of loss of fingers by intending voters, who can still be authenticated with available technology. This has made the transferability of Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) impossible. By this, anyone with hoarded PVCs with the aim of distributing them to others to vote with has lost out.

This, Igini said, accounted for the dumping of thousands of PVCs in underground locations, dustbins and open streets across some states, as seen in recent viral videos. The ex-INEC chief said the 2022 act has also tightened the noose around the necks of those who might contemplate multiple voting and ballot stuffing. This, he observed, has triggered “moral panic” among the nation’s political class who had hitherto exploited loopholes in previous electoral laws to manipulate the process. He maintained that the act has returned power to the Nigerian voters. He said the ball is now in the citizens’ court as he charged them to be vigilant in ensuring compliance with provisions of the Act by all stakeholders in the electoral process.

The chairman of Human Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA), a nonprofit organization, Olanrewaju Suraju said fixing Nigeria’s electoral challenges would address the country’s leadership and development problems. Suraju urged stakeholders to demonstrate the required patriotism in the discharge of their duties. He urged INEC, the judiciary, security agencies, civil society organisations, the media and political parties to be alive to their responsibilities before, during and after the elections.

Describing the roles of security and the judiciary as critical to the success of the polls, Suraju said civil society organisations will continue to monitor the activities of the two institutions. Participants at the event, however, observed that synergy among multi-stakeholders on collective responsibility remained inadequate. Issues like the forceful seizure of voters’ cards by agents of political parties, vote trading, corruption and widespread poverty in the land still constitute impediments to the integrity of the electoral process. They opined that the task of sensitising the electorate should be paramount in the agenda, especially on the part of the media.

Suraju said: “The media, beyond being the watchdog, should step up their game in scrutinising candidates and sensitising the citizenry for full participation in the forthcoming general elections. They should be professional and factual in reporting to hold corrupt politicians accountable. Relevant stakeholders should monitor the judicial system to ensure that they abide by the rule of law and are not being used by politicians to undermine the electoral process.

“Security personnel through relevant security agencies should be educated and trained on electoral duties and made to understand the gravity of their actions should they be compromised in the discharge of their duties”. “Civil Society Organizations should continually engage and create awareness of the 2022 Electoral Act to the citizens, political parties, candidates and security agencies. Law enforcement agencies should gear up to enforce the laws on campaign financing as enshrined in the Act.”

On political financing, the stakeholders called on monitoring agencies like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) to intensify the tracking of unusually huge cash flows ahead of the election. They agreed on the following: “The political finance legal framework beyond the INEC act should be looked into as loopholes in political financing during elections encourage corruption, vote trading and bribery. The EFCC and NFIU should also intensify their tracking of huge illegal financial flows from political parties and candidates before and during elections. Participation of the electorate should be made a priority and the security of voters before, during and after an election should be prioritised by federal and state governments in collaboration with relevant security agencies.”

INEC has so far conducted a total of 105 off-season and by-elections based on the provisions of the 2022 Electoral Act. Some of these elections were conducted in Edo, Anambra, Ekiti and Osun States. Summing up the 2022 act, stakeholders say it provides a golden opportunity for Nigerians to, through the ballot, resolve the leadership problem that has plagued the country for too long. The event, which was co-sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) among other stakeholders, was one of the series of interactive sessions lined up ahead of next year’s general election.

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