The House of Representatives yesterday rejected a clause seeking to recognise the use of electronic voting device during elections. This is just as the House reintroduced a bill seeking to reorder the sequence of elections in the country. The lawmakers, while considering the report submitted last week by its Committee on Electoral Matters, rejected the move to give legal backing to electronic voting, upholding the provision contained in the Principal Act. The House, however, passed a new amendment to the Electoral Act, “A Bill for an Act to amend the provisions of the Electoral Act No6, 2010 to further improve the electoral process and for related matters HB 1425”, a report of which was considered in a Committee of the Whole and approved.
The House also considered report on the bill seeking to address the lacuna in the Electoral Act in the case of candidates’ death before election result is announced. The amended Act now provides that the political party whose candidate is affected shall conduct fresh primary election within 10 days and forward the name of a new candidate to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to replace the deceased candidate. The new amendment to the Electoral Act also cancelled the use of manual voter register. The lawmakers agreed that elections should rather be suspended where the electronic card readers fail, and that such elections should be re-conducted within twenty four hours.
The amendment also provides that political office holders whose elections are quashed in court should not refund the salaries and allowances earned while in office.
The lawmakers, who unanimously voted in favour of this clause, said such elected persons could not have forced themselves to the office as they would have been issued a certificate of return and had rendered services to the nation while in office. Meanwhile, the bill reordering the sequence of elections was reintroduced and sponsored by the chairman, House Committee on Public Accounts, Hon. Kingsley Chinda. The bill entitled, “Electoral Act (Amendment Bill, 2018 HB 1482) passed first reading. Deputy Speaker of the House, Sulaimon Yussuff Lasun, noted that a court ruling in favour of the National Assembly in a suit challenging its powers to make laws on elections sequence upheld that no one could gag the legislature from making laws.
The National Assembly had initially passed an amendment to the Electoral Act to reorder the sequence of elections in the country.
By that amendment, the lawmakers sought to have the elections for the national and state legislature before the presidential and governorship elections. The bill was passed and transmitted to President Muhammad Buhari, but he declined assent.
President Buhari, in a letter addressed to both chambers of the National Assembly, gave three reasons why he believes the amendments conflict with the provisions of the constitution.
In a letter dated March 8, 2018, he cited Section 58(4) of constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), saying ‘’the amendment to the sequence of the elections in Section 25 of the Principal Act may infringe upon the constitutionally guaranteed discretion of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to organise, undertake and supervise all elections provided in Section 15(a) of the Third Schedule to the constitution.” “The amendment to Section 138 of the Principal Act to delete two crucial grounds upon which an election may be challenged by candidates unduly limits the rights of candidates in elections to a free and fair electoral review process.
“The amendments to Section 152(3)-(5) of the Principal Act may raise constitutional issues over the competence of the National Assembly to legislate over Local Government elections.”
While the House of Representatives accepted the president’s second and third grounds for declining assent to the bill, it, however, disagreed with the President on the first which claims that the amendment to the sequence of the elections will infringe on INEC’s powers over election management. The lawmakers insisted that it was the duty of the legislature to make laws to guide the electoral body.
The House said that by Section 4, Item 22 on legislative powers, the National Assembly had the powers over elections into the office of the president, vice president, governors, deputy governors, and any other officer elected under the 1999 constitution, except elections into local governments.
The lawmakers further maintained that Section 76 of the 1999 constitution provides that elections shall be conducted on a date appointed by the INEC, in accordance with the Electoral Act. “In view of this, we will regazette the Electoral Act and expunge those areas we are in agreement with the president and bring it back for first reading, debate, pass it and transmit again to the president for assent.”