A Coalition of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs on Monday urged the National Assembly to as a matter of priority ensure the conclusion of the Electoral Bill during its first sitting when it resumes from recess on Tuesday.
The CSOs made the call in Abuja at a news conference tagged: “Civil Society Statement on the need for the National Assembly to Act with Dispatch on the Electoral Bill on Resumption from Recess’’.
The CSOs include, Yiaga Africa, International Press Centre (IPC), Centre for Citizens with Disability (CCD), The Albino Foundation, CLEEN Foundation, Institute for Media and Society (IMS), and Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF).
Others are, Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ), Partners for Electoral Reform (PER), Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC) and Nigerian Network of Non-Governmental Organizations (NNNGO).
Lanre Arogundade, Executive Director, International Press Centre (IPC), one of the conveners of the coalition, said that the CSOs held a Citizens’ Town hall Forum on the Electoral Bill on Sunday.
The objective of the forum, Arogundade said, was on the need for the National Assembly to prioritise the review of the Bill with dispatch.
Said he: “Today, with only 398 days to the 2023 general elections, it is crucial for the National Assembly and President to conclude the electoral amendment process by 31 Jan., 2022.
“The National Assembly should remove the contentious clause of direct primaries, resolve all the identified drafting errors and cross-referencing gaps and re-transmit the bill to the President for assent within a week of resumption.
“As the nation awaits the resumption of the National Assembly on Tuesday Jan.18, 2022, Nigerians expect that work on the electoral amendment bill will be the priority issue on the order paper.
“The leadership of the National Assembly should therefore, conclude this process as any further delay will undermine public confidence in the reform process”.
Arogundade said that stakeholders at the town hall forum emphasised the imperative of a speedy enactment of the Bill to strengthen the Electoral legal framework.
He further stated that the coalition believed that this was required to facilitate early preparations for the 2023 general elections and to eschew legal uncertainties that made the electoral process susceptible to manipulation.
He added that key resolution from the Town Hall meeting was that a new legal framework was central to the integrity of 2023 general elections as well as future elections and the advancement of Nigeria’s democracy.
Stated he: “This is against the background of the changing electoral environment and innovations introduced by INEC to enhance electoral integrity.
“It is inconceivable to conduct the 2023 general elections and future elections with the current legal framework, the 2010 Electoral Act as amended’’.
According to Arogundade, the Electoral Bill 2021 reflects the wishes of Nigerians and key electoral stakeholders, as it is a legal framework that promotes the use of technology and other innovations.
He said these would stem electoral manipulation, strengthen INEC’s financial independence, and empower the Commission to reject falsified election results.
The convener said that the coalition believed that further delay to conclude the Electoral Act amendment process was inimical to the preparations for Ekiti and Osun off-cycle governorship elections, the 2023 general elections as well as future elections.
He added that the opportunity to test the operability of the new legislation and functionality of the new innovations would be lost if the amendment process was not concluded expeditiously.
Mr Ezenwa Nwagwu, Board Member, Yiaga Africa said that the CSOs recommended that the Senate and House of Representatives should re-transmit the Electoral Bill to President Muhammadu Buhari by Friday upon conclusion of the process.
Nwagwu said that Yiaga Africa urged the National Assembly to ensure proper scrutiny of the bill to resolve all drafting errors and cross-referencing gaps before re-transmitting the bill for presidential assent.
The president was also urged to upon receipt of the re-transmitted bill assent to it within a week.
The CSOs called on other groups, media, and development partners to sustain the effort to safeguard the Electoral Bill from policy capture, manipulation, and subversion of the people’s will.
Speaking also, Mufuliat Fijabi, Chief Executive Officer, Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF), appealed to the president and the National Assembly to conclude issues on the bill and clear the uncertainties ahead of 2023 elections.
Said Fijabi: “I am appealing that all efforts be made to clear the uncertainties around the bill in order for Nigerians to have confidence in the 2023 elections and for our democracy to be built on a clear electoral act’’.
Jake Ekpelle, Executive Director, Albino Foundation, said that the bill when signed into law would be the most inclusive electoral law.
Ekpelle appealed to the president to assent to the bill as it will also enable Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) to exercise their franchise as provision was made for them in the bill.