Supreme Leader President Muhammadu Buhari finally signed the Electoral Act Amendment Bill into law on February 25, 2022.
He rejected it five times since 2018 and needed some encouragement to finally sign, but Nigeria can finally prepare for the 2023 general elections.
What is this Electoral Act about?
Elections in Nigeria are majorly guided by the laws in the Electoral Act.
These laws determine if we’re casting votes with cowry shells or ballot paper.
The last major changes were made in 2010 when Goodluck Jonathan was still president.
Much of the content of the Electoral Act 2010 has since been considered outdated, but Buhari refused amendment proposals, until now.
How’s this my business?
Nigerian elections are not the most trusted in the world, especially locally.
Much of this lack of trust is informed by how elections are conducted and how easy they are to manipulate.
Some of the things that make this culture of manipulation easy can be fixed by updating the laws.
As a voter, the signing of this bill is good news because it’s filled with improvements that can build trust.
We can’t go over everything yet, but here are some nice ones:
Electronic transmission of results
This law gives the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) the freedom to determine whether election results are transmitted manually or electronically.
Manual transmission of election results has made vote-rigging easy to do in Nigeria for years.
The electronic transmission will fix that in a big way, and INEC is very interested.
Election rigging is a game of numbers. You want to make sure 2+2 = 7, and be able to turn 6 upside down to become 9.
Even when ballot boxes are snatched, it’s to ensure voters in that location don’t contribute to the final tally.
The numbers can sometimes be overcooked so that there are more votes than voters. This is called overvoting.
The old law only accounted for overvoting when it exceeded the number of registered voters, but the new one is more specific and targets the number of voters that actually show up on election day.
If only 12 out of 100 registered voters are accredited for an election, then the result cannot show that 13 people voted.
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[Image via Channels TV]
The new law has legalised the electronic accreditation of voters. INEC could electronically accredit voters in the past, but this was inadmissible in court because it was not backed by law.
Upgrading the process that confirms the number of people that show up to vote is an effective way to prevent easy manipulation.
Review of results
INEC now has the power to review election results that are declared by its officers under duress.
Politicians have in the past intimidated electoral officers to declare results in their favour against the wishes of the officers.
It was impossible for INEC to overturn such fraudulent results on its own authority even with evidence of intimidation. No more of that illegality with this new law.
The new law places a burden of responsibility on INEC to ensure that polling units are equipped to cater to people living with disabilities.
This includes the provision of communication materials such as Braille, sign language interpretation, etc.
According to the old laws, candidates were only allowed to campaign for 90 days before election day. The new law allows them 150 days.
This gives voters a lot more time to get to know candidates, ask hard questions and make better choices. We hope.
What’s Buhari unhappy about?
We mentioned before that Buhari has rejected five different opportunities since 2018 to review the laws.
While giving his post-signing speech on February 25, he mentioned that he was still uncomfortable about one thing in the bill he signed.
Section 84 (12) stops serving political appointees from voting or being voted for at the convention or congress of their parties.
This means a minister in Buhari’s government cannot contest for an executive or legislative position without first having to resign from office.
They could contest in the past and only needed to resign from office 30 days to the election after they had secured the party’s ticket.
Buhari considers Section 84 (12) a constitutional violation of the rights of appointees and wants it amended immediately.
But critics have already tackled him and asked lawmakers not to amend the section.
What happens now?
INEC is expected to release election guidelines and the timetable. The 2023 general elections are finally underway.
May the best candidates win.