CSOs spot errors, contradictions in Electoral Act bill

There are at least 10 drafting errors contained in the Electoral Act Amendment Bill recently rejected by President Muhammadu Buhari.

These inaccuracies range from grammatical errors to cross-referencing gaps.

The errors were identified by a coalition of eight civic groups comprising the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ), Yiaga Africa, International Press Centre (IPC) and Centre for Citizens with Disability (CCD).

Others are the Albino Foundation, CLEEN Foundation, Institute for Media and Society (IMS) and Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF).

Their discoveries were contained in a memo dated 29 December and addressed to the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, notifying them of the errors.

Also copied are the Clerk to the National Assembly, the chairmen of the Senate and House Committees on INEC and the Director of Legal Services, National Assembly.

There are indications that the CSOs are yet to dispatch the memo to the addressees.

Buhari had declined assent to the bill on December 21.

In a letter to both chambers of the National Assembly, he cited insecurity and high cost of conducting direct primaries as his reasons for declining assent to the legislation.

He also said it would infringe on the rights of Nigerians to participate in governance and democracy.

The president added that the bill will also stifle smaller parties without the enormous resources required to mobilise all party members for the primaries and it will pose huge security challenges as the security agencies will also be overstretched.

Although about 73 senators had indicated interest to override the president’s veto of the bill, the Senate resolved to consult with the House of Representatives before making a decision.

In the memo, a few errors were identified from different clauses of the bill.

The groups also made recommendations as to how corrections can be effected.

One of the identified clauses with an error is Section 50(2) which deals with conduct of poll by open secret ballot.

This section states that “Subject to Section 63 of this Act, voting at an election and transmission of results under this Act shall be in accordance with the procedure determined by the Commission.”

The groups, however, noted that Section 63 was wrongly referenced in the subsection as there is no relationship between Section 50 and Section 63 of the bill.

Therefore, to reflect the correct cross-reference, they advised that Section 63 be replaced with Section 60 on counting of votes and forms.

Another error was identified in Section 64(7)and(8) which deals with endorsement on rejected ballot paper without official mark.

Section 64(7) states that “if the disputed result under subsection (3) were otherwise found not to be correct, the Collation Officer or Returning Officer shall re-collate and announce a new result using the information in subsection (3)(a-d).”

While Section 64(8) says “where the dispute under subsection (3) arose at the level of collation and the Returning Officer has satisfied the provision of subsection (3), the Returning Officer shall accordingly declare the winner of the election.”

The reference to subsection(3) in the section, according to the CSOs, is incorrect as subsection (3) does not relate to disputed result. Rather it relates to statement of rejected ballots.

For proper cross-referencing, they said the reference to subsection (3) should be changed to subsection (6a-d) which relates to procedure for determining the correctness of a disputed election result.

In the memo, the groups urged the National Assembly to address these errors and gaps before re-submitting the bill for presidential assent to eliminate any form of ambiguity or legal complications in the application of the bill when it is enacted.

The president had in August 2018 premised his decision of declining assent to the 2018 Electoral (Amendment) Bill on certain drafting errors and cross-referencing gaps in the Bill.

The groups said it is therefore imperative for the National Assembly to ensure due diligence before transference of the bill back to the president for assent to prevent it from suffering the same fate.

They also urged the lawmakers to quickly conclude the process and re-transmit the bill 2021 to the president for assent within 30 days from 21st December 2021.

“Any further delay in concluding the process of enacting the Electoral Bill 2021 will directly impact INEC’s preparations for the 2023 General Election.”

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