The Nigerian Senate has reaffirmed its commitment to eradicating all legal impediments to a smooth and successful conduct of future elections in the country.
One of the strategies to actualize this target came into force on Monday with a brainstorming session between the legislators, and some civil society organizations and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), on aspects of the electoral laws that must be reformed.
Declaring the summit open, President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki warned Nigerians particularly the political elites and electoral umpires, against undermining the gains of the 2015 general election.
“Our electoral successes in the last general election have created the impression that we have achieved electoral universality and integrity but recent events and emerging issues have served as a reminder to us that there is still a lot of work to be done. This is why this retreat has become indeed both timely and critical.
We must remain keenly aware that more than ever before the Nigerian people demand a responsible government whose fate, they alone can determine. It all starts with having a virile electoral system with impeccable integrity and universal application must be the minimum standards. We must fashion out an electoral scheme that does not disenfranchise any Nigerian, one that does not have room for ballot tampering and manipulation.”
In his earlier presentation on deepening the democratic principles in Nigeria, the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremmadu advocated for early and direct primaries by political parties to make the nation’s electoral process more credible and deepen her democracy.
According to Senator Ekweremadu, late conduct of primaries by political parties owing mainly to constitutional restrictions posed serious challenges to the electoral system, while the parties’ penchant for indirect primaries had undermined internal democracy in the political parties.
The Deputy Senate President who also chairs the Senate Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution, described the benefits of early primaries as manifold, stressing that, early primaries would allow the winning candidates the foothold to raise sufficient campaign funds for the larger contests.
“Early primaries afford parties and candidates the time to visit every part of the country/constituency. “It also allows them to initiate and shape the national conversation about their identity and future direction, defining ideologies and manifesto. “Early primaries will help the judiciary to conclude all pre-election litigations and assist the election management body to have ample time to plan and deliver credible elections.”
On the imperatives of direct primaries, Senator Ekweremadu regretted that while Section 87 (2) of the Electoral Act provides for the nomination of candidates by political parties for the various elective positions through direct or indirect primaries, parties had always favoured indirect primaries, which, according to him, were less transparent, participatory, and democratic.
Consequently, he suggested the amendment of Section 87 of the Electoral Act to make the conduct of direct primaries compulsory for all political parties, noting that presently, mandatory direct primaries only apply to the election of councillorship candidates.
The Chairman of INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, while corroborating Senator Ekweremmadu’s position on early primaries, also called for the removal of re-run elections from the electoral Act.
“What we are asking for is that the Electoral Act should be amended to make clear provisions that, where an election is nullified because the winning candidate was disqualified, then, there should be no re-run election in that constituency rather, the certificate of return should be issued to the runner up to the person who caused the nullification of that election.
Doing so would compel the political parties to toe the path of propriety, and save the Nation the cost of conducting re-run elections arising from candidates’ disqualification, so once parties know that if they fill an unqualified candidate and the election is nullified, they lose out, and the next person with the highest number of votes should be declared winner and INEC should issue certificate of return,” he submitted.
Some of the areas of focus at the brainstorming session include, Diaspora voting, voting opportunity for IDPs, role of the military in elections, electoral violence, independent candidacy, the use of card reader for accreditation & voting, how to manage the anxiety of inconclusive elections, and the neutrality of electoral umpire (INEC).
The one-day summit on electoral reform was organised by the senate committee on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), in collaboration with the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC) at the National Assembly, in Abuja on Monday.