The National Assembly says it is committed to ensuring timely amendment of the Electoral Act, to enhance transparency, and accountability in the electoral processes.
Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, said this at the citizens’ townhall on electoral reforms organised by Yiaga Africa in collaboration with the Senate and House of Representatives Joint Committee on Electoral Matters in Abuja on Tuesday.
Akpabio, represented by his Chief of Staff, Mr. Sylvester Okonkwo, commended Yiaga Africa for the initiative targeted at addressing the crucial issues of electoral reforms.
“For the electoral process, we are committed not only to go along with the people on the call for reforms on electoral legal framework but at the same time protect the independence of the electoral commission and restore the trust of the people in the electoral process.
“This administration is ready to work with anyone and everyone that is interested in the progress and development of this nation.
“This is not only on issues on electoral reforms, but also in formulating legislative initiatives and politics that will revamp our economy and put us on the driving seat of industrial and economic advancement,” he said.
Senator Sharafadeen Alli, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Electoral Matters, said that the Committee had promised to make the electoral process in Nigeria impeccably seamless, free, fair and credible.
“For us in the Senate, we have already commenced the implementation of a pragmatic Electoral Reform Work Plan (ERWP) which is centered on: training and exposure to best applicable practice.
“There have been calls for a review of the electoral legal framework to lessen the excessive responsibilities and expectations placed on the electoral umpire to strengthen its capacity to perform,” he said.
The Speaker, House of Representatives, Rep .Tajudeen Abbas, represented by Rep. Patrick Umoh, the Chairman, House Committee on Legislative Agenda, said that it was imperative to address existing loopholes and challenges within the electoral processes.
“There is no gainsaying the fact that credible elections are the bedrock of any democracy and Nigeria stands the risk of reversing the gains of the last two decades if we do not fix our elections.
“This townhall presents an invaluable opportunity for us to listen to your perspectives, concerns, and recommendations regarding electoral reforms.
“The 10th House of Representatives is committed to championing legislative initiatives that promote fairness, transparency, and accountability in our electoral processes,” he said.
The Chairman, House Committee on Electoral Matters, Rep. Bayo Balogun, said the meeting was to facilitate the consultative process of identifying the ambiguity, complexity and the inadequacy in the electoral legal framework.
Bayo said that in doing that, there was need to highlight the reforms in order of priorities for the 10th National Assembly to implement.
He said that so far over 20 memoranda on issues ranging from on unbundling INEC, mode of appointment of INEC chairman and Commissioners, Diaspora voting, elections and election result management among others had been received.
Former INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, said that the Electoral Act 2022 was the best Nigeria had had so far but there was still a lot of room for improvement.
“If we want to improve our politics and electoral processes, it is necessary to proscribe cross carpeting from one party to another; it is very important.
“I think the reason they do this is because of the challenges they face in the primaries force many of them to move to other parties where they can find a platform to contest.
“However, this undermines the fundamental essence of democracy, because people elect candidates under a platform and under a programme.
“So it is really unbecoming for them to just abandon that to another party,” he said.
Mr Samson Itodo, the Executive Director, Yiaga Africa, said that there were several good things about the 2022 Electoral Act like the technologies introduced and the impact they made at the 2023 general elections.
Itodo said that Nigerians were asking questions like ,why the incremental reforms in the Act did not led to attitudinal changes on the part of different actors within the political process.
“Nigerians are asking, why is it that the more the reforms ,the more the attack on the institutional independence of INEC ,Nigerians are also asking ,why is it that there is incremental reforms but there is an erosion of public trust in the electoral process ?
“Nigerians are asking, why is it that we have reforms year in year out but the more reforms, the more difficult it is to obtain electoral justice?
“These questions being asked by Nigerians are not misplaced, because Nigerians do care about the country and we care about the electoral process,” he said.
Itodo said that Yiaga Africa highlighted five key priorities to put on the agenda which included the need to unbundle INEC and create other agencies to take some of its responsibilities.
“As it stands, INEC needs to breathe; INEC is struggling to breathe because there are enormous responsibilities vested on the electoral commission.’’
He said there was need for the establishment of an electoral offences commission, a political party regulatory and registration commission and the need to guarantee the independence of the Electoral Commission.
“Nigerians are demanding a review in the appointments process of national commissioners and resident electoral commissioners to avoid appointing partisan individuals,” he said.
He added that Nigerians were also demanding for the review of the timelines for conducting or concluding election petitions so that all election petitions could be concluded before swearing in.
He said that Nigerians were also demanding that electronic transmission of results should be made mandatory ,as well as the introduction of diaspora voting and early voting for critical stakeholders on election duty.
“We hope that this reforms will lead to attitudinal changes on the part of our political class and deepen the independence of our democratic institutions, as well as protect the voting rights of citizens,” he said.