By Babajide Okeowo
Former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega, has disclosed that the passage of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021 will go a long way in improving the integrity of Nigeria’s elections.
Consequently, he urged the National Assembly and President Muhammadu Buhari to immediately pass the bill.
The former INEC Chairman, therefore, asked the government to do everything possible to ensure that the country goes into the next election with a new bill.
“This country will be better off if we go into the next election with a new electoral law which will enhance the integrity of the preparations and conduct of the elections,” he said during a Town Hall on the Electoral bill on Sunday.
While the debate over the choice of direct and indirect mode of primaries still lingers, Professor Jega noted that the bill contains a lot of new amendments that are crucial to the integrity of the electoral process and he believes that should be the primary focus.
36 recommendations had been made for the bill by INEC to the National Assembly; 31 of which were approved with little to no amendments.
According to Jega, the amendments are the first in the last 12 years, and withholding assent to the bill, over a clause, would, therefore, be detrimental to INEC’s ability to adequately prepare for coming elections.
“A good legal framework helps to create elections with integrity and electoral integrity helps to enhance democratic consolidation and the preparation and conduct of elections democratically.
“Since 2010, we have not had substantive improvements in the electoral legal framework until now and clearly, the bill contains quite a lot of substantive improvements, so we must do everything possible to ensure that we go into the next election with a new bill.
“We already have some fundamental elements that can improve the integrity of the elections, let this be passed immediately, drop this issue of direct primaries, think more seriously about it. It is good, it should be done but if we proceed to do it the way we are trying to do it now, we are likely to create more problems than it will solve,” he said.
Recall that President Buhari had declined assent to the bill in December 2021, citing the cost of conducting direct primary elections, security challenges, and possible manipulation of electoral processes by political actors as part of the reasons for his decision.
But in a recent interview with Channels Television, he noted that for him to accent to the Bill, changes must be made to include the addition of consensus candidates, indirect primary options to the mode of selecting a candidate for an election, as against the initial direct mode as the only option to conduct primaries by political parties.
“There should be options, you can’t dictate to people and say you are doing democracy. Give them other options so they can make a choice,” he said.