…As Omo-Agege bill on Electoral malpractices moves to public hearing

BY GLORIA USMAN, ABUJA – Concerned about Electoral violence and low level of the conduct of elections in the country, the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room Stakeholders Forum have commenced the process of kick starting a comprehensive review of the Electoral laws for the country.

This is as the Deputy President of the Senate, Ovie Omo-Agege announced that he has introduced a bill for a comprehensive amendment of the Electoral Act No. 6 of 2010.

Similarly, the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu said the Commission remains committed to electoral reforms that would strengthen the power and value of the vote.

On its part, the Attorney General of the Federation and minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami, said the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration is committed to tackling electoral fraud and violence through the establishment of an Electoral Offences Commission.

Speaking at the Stakeholders Forum, Senator Omo-Agege said the Bill is a decisive response to a plethora of the Supreme Court’s decision inviting the National Assembly to make sensible amendments to the Electoral Act.

He added that the bill, co-sponsored with Senator Abubakar Kyari (APC Borno North) is making its way to public hearing, having scaled Second Reading with an overwhelming bipartisan support in the Senate.

Omo-Agege further said; “I believe it is responsible for us to take the apex court’s constructive guidance on issues that fundamentally affect our democracy.

“This apart, Section 153 of the Electoral Act, 2010, as amended, specifically and expressly empowers INEC to ‘issue regulations, guidelines, or manuals’ for the purpose of giving effects to the provisions of this Act and for its administration thereof.

“The pervasive non-compliance with the Guidelines, Regulations and Manuals, would carry clear consequences for people who think violating electoral due process is a rewarding exercise.

“The proposed Bill to amend the Electoral Act would focus on resolving issues surrounding INEC’s introduction of modern technologies into the electoral process, particularly accreditation of voters.”

The Deputy Senate President also said that the bill would equally mandate INEC to publish the Voters’ Register for public scrutiny at every Registration Area and on its website, at least seven days before a general election.

In his words; “It also mandates INEC to suspend an election in order to allow a political party that losses its candidate before or during an election to conduct a fresh primary to elect a replacement or new candidate.

“The bill would grant agents of political parties the right to inspect original electoral materials before the commencement of election, define over-voting to include situations where “total votes cast also exceed total number of accredited voters’’.

“It also provides greater clarity and transparency in the process of reaching the final announcement of election results, starting with sorting of ballots, counting of votes among others.”

The Lawmaker said the bill would mandate INEC to record and keep relevant detailed information of results sheets, ballot papers and other sensitive electoral materials used in an election, with clear consequences for violation.

Omo-Agege said the bill also provide sanctions for giving false information on registration of a political party, and that failure by INEC and others to comply with any provision of the Act carried clear and adequate sanctions.

In his own remarks, INEC Chairman, Prof Yakubu, who was represented by the Commission’s Chairman in charge of Information and Voter Education, Mr. Festus Okoye said the electoral body would work assiduously with critical stakeholders in the electoral process in providing clarity, removing ambiguities, plugging existing lacuna in laws and constitutionally implementing those aspects of the law that guaranteed the credibility of elections.

He said; “The Commission will definitely send its proposals to the National Assembly to clearly state aspects of the existing law it supports, aspects that need further retooling, and new proposals that will strengthen the electoral process and the regulatory functions of the Commission.”

Also speaking, the minister of Justice, Malami, who was represented by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Ethics and Justice, Ms Juliet Ibekaku, said the government is already working with the 9th National Assembly with a view to ensuring an early passage of amendments to the Electoral Act and the Election Offences Commission Bill into law.

In his statement, the Convener, Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, Mr Clement Nwankwo, said the objective of the Forum is to discuss the current state of the electoral environment in the country with the aim to make recommendations and suggestions that would improve the political and electoral process in Nigeria.

He said; “We believe INEC has the responsibility to be a key driver of the much needed change in the electoral sector.”

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