Don’t pass Electoral Act Amendment Bill as it is, Jega’s PRP tells National Assembly

The National Assembly has raised campaign spending limit of a presidential candidate from N1 billion to N15 billion.

It also raised the campaign funds for governorship, senatorial, House of Representatives and House of Assembly candidates.

This happened in the midst of protests by the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) and the Centre for Transparency and Advocacy (CTA), which faulted the increase in the spending limits of candidates by 1,500 per cent.

They accused the National Assembly of attempting to allow the highest bidders to use cash to win elections in 2023.

The PRP and CTA also rejected Section 65 of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, which denies the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) the power to review results declared under duress or in contravention of electoral law and guidelines.

They said it was wrong of the National Assembly to include Section 50(2) in the Electoral Act Amendment Bill to prohibit the use of electronic transmission of results by INEC.

Also, the Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC) described the exclusion of electronic transfer of election results in the Electoral Act Amendment Bill as a coup against Nigerians.

In a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Ambassador Agbo Major, IPAC rejected the National Assembly’s position.

“It is unacceptable and repugnant to free and fair polls that have impeded our democratic process,” the council said.

The stoppage of the electronic transmission of results will return Nigeria to the manual system of collating and transmission of results.

All the proposed amendments to the Electoral Act might be considered and passed into law by the National Assembly in the next two weeks, according to Senate President Ahmad Lawan.

The passage of the law was earlier slated for today but postponed, following protests against the alteration.

Section 88 on increase in spending limit and Section 50(2) have generated reactions in the last 24 hours.

According to a source, who spoke in confidence, the two chambers of the National Assembly might pass the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2021 into law, despite the protest by the parties and civil society groups.

The breakdown of the campaign cash is as follows: governorship (from N200m to N5b); senatorial (from N40m to N1.5b); House of Representatives (from N30m to N500m); and House of Assembly (from N10m to N50m).

A principal officer of the National Assembly said: “We took cognisance of the fact that N1 billion campaign fund limit is no longer realistic. The same thing applies to other candidates at other levels. We are being realistic with the new campaign cash ceilings.

“And the reality is that most candidates in the past breached the provision of Section 88 without sanctions. We have to come to terms with reasonable thresholds.”

The Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), in a statement through its National Chairman, Mallam Falalu Bello, yesterday insisted that campaign financing needed to be curbed appropriately to create a level-playing field for all contestants, not just the rich.

A former INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, is a member of the party.

The party’s statement said: “…The Bill now before the National Assembly for likely passage on Tuesday July 6 or thereabouts, has, in Section 88, significantly raised the thresholds and limits of candidate campaign financing!”

“If this is passed, a presidential candidate would be free to spend up to N15 billion, raised from N1 billion; a governorship candidate could spend up to N5 billion raised from N200 million; a Senator is free to spend up to N1.5 billion from N40 million; a candidate for House of Representatives could spend up to N500 million raised from N30 million; and a candidate for State house of Assembly could spend up to N50 million, raised from N10 million (Section 88).

“Unless this Section is addressed and the thresholds drastically scaled down, the National Assembly would legalize electoral contests for the highest bidders and the richest candidates! For elections to be truly representative, candidates and party election financing need to be curbed appropriately to create a level playing field for all contestants, not just the rich.

“In view of all these, the PRP wishes to call on the National Assembly to halt the passage of the so-called new Electoral Bill 2021 scheduled for passage this week, until appropriate corrections are made, consistent with citizens’ popular demands.”

It added: “For example, Section 50 (2), if passed as it is, would prohibit the use of electronic transmission of results by INEC.

“Yet, globally, once done robustly and appropriately, electronic transmission of results adds remarkable integrity to a country’s electoral process, by among other things, removing human interference and tampering with results; making results tabulation real time and transparent; and also speeding up the process of tabulation and declaration of results in the shortest possible time.

“Thus, electronic transmission of result has become a global best practice for electoral integrity, being introduced and/or perfected in many electoral jurisdictions.

“Yet, the National Assembly seems set to prohibit INEC from doing it! By prohibiting rather than legalizing it, the National Assembly members would seem to endorse tampering with results collation, tabulation and processing of results, which the current manual/analogue processing entails, with all the accompanying fraudulent activities.

“Secondly, the initial draft of Electoral Bill 2021 sought to grant INEC powers to quickly address a recent dangerous tendency which has emerged, in which powerful but crooked politicians compel Returning Officers (ROs) to declare results under duress.

“In past elections, politicians have found ways of either threatening or inducing Returning Officers (ROs) to declare false results in their favour hiding under the legal cover that once ROs declare results only the Tribunals can review them.

“In the 2019 general elections in particular, two  Senators from Imo State got ‘elected’ in this manner, and somehow scaled the legal hurdles at the Tribunals. This is a crass irregularity and fraudulent activity, which INEC could have easily resolved had it got the legal power to review petitions regarding the results before declaration by ROs.

“Given this trend, citizens groups have demanded that INEC be given the power to review results declared under duress or in contravention of electoral law and guidelines. This was accepted and incorporated into the new Bill; yet, somehow, in the version now before the National Assembly, in Section 65, this power to INEC has been removed.

“If this section is left as currently is, politicians in future elections would very likely be even more brazen in either buying off Returning Officers or literally ‘putting guns to their heads’ to get them to declare fraudulent results while INEC watches helplessly, as was the earlier cited case in Imo State.

The party also faulted the proposal to prohibit the use of electronic transmission of results by INEC.

It added: “For example, Section 50 (2), if passed as is, would prohibit the use of electronic transmission of results by INEC.

“Effectively, women and young persons are disenfranchised as the campaigns are highly monetized and affordable to only the rich.  “This provision will inadvertently promote vote trading during elections.

“We are worried that the National Assembly seems to be more interested in reforms that will benefit them instead of improving our elections and the integrity of the electoral process across the entire electoral value chain.

“The members of the National Assembly are accountable to Nigerians and therefore, the aspirations and wishes of Nigerians must subsume any parochial or selfish interest.

“The National Assembly must not be seen as sabotaging the efforts of the Election Management Board by making laws that are retrogressive, unproductive, negative and retards the growth of Democracy.

“The Centre for Transparency Advocacy is in support of having a strong INEC that will conduct free, fair, and credible elections that will stand the tastes of time.

“We equally, call on citizens, patriots, the civil society, students, religious and traditional leaders to prevail on the National Assembly to do the wishes of the people.”

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