By Chimezie Godfrey
The Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu has commended the National Assembly’s decision to grant the commission the powers to determine technology to be deployed in subsequent elections in Nigeria.
Yakubu said this in his remark at the Meeting of the Senate and House of Representatives Conference Committee on the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021 on Thursday in Abuja.
He noted that for almost two years, the Commission has interacted with the Senate Committee on INEC and the House of Representatives Committee on Electoral Matters, including a retreat in Lagos, to consider their extensive proposals to amend the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended).
The INEC Chairman who disclosed that the Commission was part of the technical committee that reviewed the draft Bill before the clause-by-clause consideration by the National Assembly, was glad that they are now at the last stage before the passage of the Bill by the National Assembly and submission to the Executive for assent.
He stressed that the Electoral Act is one of the most important laws in any democracy, adding that election is a process anchored on a legal framework.
He said first is the Constitution, followed by the Electoral Act, pointing out that in all jurisdictions, the Electoral Act provides more detailed provisions to govern the conduct of elections and the electoral process.
According to him, one of the unique aspects of the current amendment of the Electoral Act is that it started well ahead of the forthcoming General Election, unlike previous exercises which came too close to elections.
He stressed that the importance of starting early is that it allows for a thorough debate by citizens on aspects of the Bill long after the conventional public hearing as witnessed recently, adding that the Electoral Amendment Bill 2021 is one of the most extensively debated Bills in Nigeria.
Yakubu noted that understandably, the issue of technology in elections has dominated recent public discussions in Nigeria, adding that the Commission appreciates the decision of the National Assembly to empower INEC to determine and deploy appropriate technology in future elections.
He said,”For us in INEC, this is one of the progressive decisions by our National Assembly. As you finalise on the Electoral Amendment Bill,
“I urge you to continue to endow the Commission with power to determine what technology to deploy in our elections at the appropriate time.
“One way of doing so is to make broad provisions of the law that will empower the Commission to continue to innovate without restricting us to a specific technology such as the Smart Card Reader which could in due course become obsolete, inapplicable or irrelevant as is already the case following the recent introduction of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) by the Commission.
“The Commission looks forward to the conclusion of the process without which we cannot make the Regulations and Guidelines to give effect to the provisions of the law. Without the Regulations and Guidelines, we cannot finalise on the manuals for the training of officials that will conduct elections.
“There are extensive provisions in the current Bill that require clear guidance by the Commission. With only 484 days to the 2023 General Election, time is of the essence. In addition to the Anambra State Governorship election holding on 6th November 2021, the Commission has already scheduled three major elections to be conducted next year.
“First is the Area Council election in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) holding on 12th February 2022, followed by the Ekiti Governorship election on 18th June 2022 and the Osun Governorship election a month later on 16th July 2022.
“The Commission also has five pending bye-elections made up of three Federal Constituencies and two State Constituencies to contend with.”
He assured that in a proactive manner, the Commission has been studying aspects of the amendment Bill and identifying areas that require the formulation of regulations and guidelines as well as the review of prescribed forms for implementation.
According to him, this will enable the Commission to test-run procedures and pilot innovations ahead of the 2023 General Election, adding that the speedy passage of the Bill will be in the best interest of our electoral process.
The INEC Boss also said that INEC will continue to work closely with the National Assembly.