23 CSOs raise concerns as hope dims for amended Electoral Bill

INEC may have to postpone 2023 elections if President assents to Bill after Feb. 22

With a few days to the deadline, before which the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC), is expected by law to release the Notice of Election for the 2023 general elections, the hope that President Muhammadu Buhari will assent to the Electoral Act (amendment Bill appears dim, as 23 civil society groups, yesterday expressed fear that the same fate that befell previous attempts to amend Nigeria’s election law awaits this latest version.

Recall that since 2018, President Buhari had refused to sign the proposed amendments to the nation’s electoral laws on five occasions; and till now, has not hinted at any possibility of giving his assent to the Electoral Bill since he received the newest form of the document transmitted to him by the National Assembly on January, 31st, 2022.

However, the CSOs are accusing the President of playing the waiting game yet again, in spite of appeals from different quarters, including the diplomatic community, for him to sign the reworked piece of legislation.

At a briefing, in Abuja, on the imperative of a timely assent to the Electoral Bill 2022, the civil society groups warned that any further delay on the part of the President to give assent to the Bill would certainly occasion logistical, financial, and programmatic difficulties that could threaten the integrity of the off-cycle elections in Ekiti, Osun States as well as the 2023 general election.

The CSOs, include Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room; Yiaga Africa; Partners for Electoral Reform; International Press Centre; Institute for Media and Society; Nigerian Women Trust Fund; The Albino Foundation; Centre for Citizens with Disability; Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism; Transition Monitoring Group; CLEEN Foundation and Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, amongst others.

Speaking behalf of the coalition, the Convener, Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, Ene Obi, said: “We note the provision of Section 58(4) of the 1999 Constitution, which gives the President a timeline of 30 days to assent or withhold assent to a Bill. However, a combination of the newly introduced timelines for electoral activities in the Bill and an imperative for INEC and other stakeholders to commence early preparations for the upcoming elections provides a compelling justification for immediate assent of the bill.

“For instance, Clause 28 (1) of the Electoral Bill 2022, requires INEC to issue a Notice of Election not later than 360 days before the day appointed for an election. As indicated by INEC, the scheduled date for the 2023 Presidential and National Assembly election is 18th February 2023. Therefore, the Notice of Election for the 2023 general election should be issued on 22nd February 2022, because the total number of days from 22nd February 2022, to 17th February 2023, is 360 days.

“If the President gives assent to the bill on or before February 22nd, 2022, INEC will be legally bound to issue Notice of Election, and the dates for the 2023 elections, which is just 366 days away, will be maintained. However, if the President acts on the Bill after 22nd February 2022, the dates for the 2023 election and other subsequent electoral activities will be affected”.

Furthermore, Ene stated that Nigeria will lose the opportunity to test the efficacy of innovations introduced in the Electoral Bill before deployment in the 2023 general election.

In their recommendations, the CSOs said: “We call on President Buhari to, upon return from Brussels, sign the Electoral Bill into law on or before 22nd February 2022, to enable INEC to issue Notice of Election and release the timetable and schedule of activities for the 2023 general election.

In his remarks, Samson Itodo (Yiaga Africa) argued that an amended electoral law will ensure freer, fairer, and more transparent elections in the country, stressing that it will initiate a clear, well-defined, and uncomplicated electoral process.

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