ELECTORAL ACT AMENDMENT BILL 2021: REFUSAL OF PRESIDENT BUHARI TO ASSENT, A DELEBRATE ATTEMPT TO SHRINK DEMOCRATIC SPACE
Election is crucial to sustaining democracy and it remains one of the means through which the citizens are empowered to elect competent people to lead and to effectively manage resources for the common good and development of the people. It follows that an efficient legal framework and electoral process will strengthen democratic institutions. However, Nigeria’s elections have often been marred by consistent and avoidable irregularities; the defective electoral law in Nigeria has served as an instrument for electoral fraud and subversion of the will of the masses and has over the years produced unsatisfying outcomes. The vagaries of the faulty electoral law have continued to produce far more arbitrariness than the electorates are willing to stomach, hence the demand for amendment in Electoral Act.
There is already mass demand from a different section of the country for the President to be swift with assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021, which belies the mood of the country as a whole. It is unfortunate that the President would wait to be reminded of his responsibility and its importance to the electoral process before he acts. President Muhammadu Buhari has declined assent for a record five times to the bill, even after the National Assembly had bent over to make amendments to some clauses of the bill, like Clause 84 which deals with the mode of primary election to be used by political parties to select candidates. Some provisions of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021 include; early release of funds to INEC captured – clause 3(3), the inclusion of persons with disability – clause 54(2). Others are, legalizing electronic accreditation of voters – clause 47, power to review election results declared under duress – clause 65 and the controversial electronic transmission of results in clause 50. No doubt, these provisions and others will engender a more transparent and credible election in Nigeria.
It is unclear whether the President is willing to sign the bill or not, going by the silence from his office, other than a statement from one of his aids that he is consulting widely. He ought to understand that failure to assent to the bill would not only impoverish the democratic space but also reduce the 2023 general election to an exercise in futility because electoral fraud would persist amidst a faulty electoral law. Repeated decline to assent to the bill is an indication of the unwillingness and lack of commitment by this administration to a free and credible election in Nigeria and assault on democracy.
We call on President Muhammadu Buhari to show courage and commitment towards improving the integrity of elections in Nigeria by signing the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021 into law. Nigeria is eager for a more robust electoral space, but refusing assent is nothing but democratic backsliding. The President’s promise of change should be backed up by his assent to the bill which reckons with fundamental values of democracy.
The unprecedented level of public awareness concerning the importance and benefits of the bill and a desire for lasting reform in Nigeria’s electoral law should not be undermined by the President’s refusal to assent and the needless shenanigans, because the will of the people must prevail. A transparent and credible election is non-negotiable if Nigeria must achieve good governance that will lead to sustainable democracy and the development of the country.