•INEC may announce dates, calls for nominations in Feb 2022

•Electronic transmission of results on the cards as legislature drops proposed child-wives’ voting rights

The National Assembly has moved to alter the current timing and schedules for the conduct of primaries by political parties in the on-going constitution amendment process.

If carried through, parties may be required to submit the names of their candidates to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) one year before a general election, THISDAY has learnt.

Accordingly, all registered political parties may have to submit names of their candidates for the 2023 general election between February and March next year.

The proposed model is patterned after the Ghanaian electoral system to ensure that all pre-election litigations are concluded before the elections in 2023 and the subsequent ones.

The National Assembly is also mulling the option of electronic transfer of results, but it has dropped the proposal to grant child wives, who are not up 18 years, the right to vote, as was suggested by some members.

INEC had complained at different times about the burden pre-electoral litigations placed on it in election management.

A source said the National Assembly Joint Committee on Electoral Reforms cited the Bill to Repeal the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) and Enact the Electoral Act, 2021.

The source said, “Under section 178(1) and (2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) and Section 25(7) and (8) of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended), election into the office of a state governor shall hold not earlier than 150 days and not later than 30 days before the election. This shall be amended to reflect the new dates of 360 days thereof.”

The source said with the amendments of the relevant sections of the Electoral Act, it follows that the 1999 Constitution currently under review would be amended to reflect the new changes.

The source stated, “If the Electoral Act of 2010 is amended, it equally follows that the 1999 Constitution shall be amended as well, as the Electoral Act shall remain inconsequential and irrelevant until there is a constitution amendment to that effect.”

A former Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, while confirming these developments said, “Timelines for the conduct of the presidential, National Assembly, governorship, and State Houses of Assembly elections will change in favour of early primaries if the proposals by the Joint Technical Committee on the Electoral Act and the Joint National Assembly Committee on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) are passed by the two chambers of the National Assembly and signed into law by the President.

According to him, the essence was to allow INEC ample time to prepare for elections and for Nigerians to sufficiently know and interrogate the candidates.

He said this was an improvement on other timelines for electoral processes, which the National Assembly had experimented with in previous amendments and found them very helpful in improving the electoral system.

“Our Electoral Act has been a work-in-progress. In 2008, we started the process that would give Nigerians the best possible electoral process. That gave birth to the 2010 Electoral Act, which has been in operation since then.

“Now, we intend to improve further on our Electoral Act in a number of areas. One of the major problems we have with our Electoral Act is the issue of timing and time lines.

“We have tried to deal with those issues in terms of the time frame within which to file and conclude pre-election cases and election petitions.

“We have tried to deal with how the election petitions will be concluded within sufficient time and then the highest courts to deal with different matters probably arising from National or State Assembly elections, which must end at the Court of Appeal and the presidential and governorship litigations, which must end at the supreme court

“Now, we are looking at some other timelines. We discovered that one of the major problems INEC faces is the issue of time within which to conduct a very credible election, because under the current Electoral Act, the parties are required to send the name of their candidates within 60 days, which is just two months to the elections.

This puts INEC under severe pressure and most times, you see a mix up. You see materials meant for Sokoto sent to Rivers State and vice versa.

“In doing this, we are going for the best examples and we believe this will work for us. In Ghana, for instance, the primaries for candidates take place between a year and a year and six months. The party in power usually conducts its primaries a year to the presidential election.

“The party out of power conducts their primary a year and six months before the election. This gives the election management body sufficient time to process the candidates, prepare the materials, and then get ready for the elections. And if there are pre-election issues, they are determined before the election. But it is not so in Nigeria,” he explained.

He noted that the Joint Committees believe that it would be good for the electoral system if INEC called for nominations 360 days to an election and if political parties submitted the list of their candidates not later than six months to any election.

“So, what we have tried to do now is to propose to our colleagues sufficient timelines for these things to take place. We are hoping that if they accept our proposal, the primaries will take place much earlier in the 2023 elections than used to be the case.

If they accept our proposal, the candidates will emerge and be sent to INEC not less than 180 days before the elections. So, that means that sometime in July this year, the candidates would all have been sent to INEC.

“But remember that the primaries cannot take place, unless INEC fixes dates for the elections. So, we are now proposing that INEC should call for the elections not later 360 days before the election. This means that about February next year, INEC would have proposed dates for the election and primaries would start.

“So, we are hoping that primaries will start early, candidates will emerge and be known early. Then INEC will process them and Nigerians will interrogate them. And if there are pre-election maters, they will be determined possibly before the elections”, he explained.

The Senator, who also steered the electoral reforms that birthed financial and administrative autonomies currently enjoyed by INEC as the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Constitution in 2010, added that the Joint Technical Committee on the Repeal of the Electoral Act 2010 and the Joint National Assembly Committee on INEC were also working assiduously to ensure the use of technology in conducting elections.

“In 2015, as I mentioned earlier, we amended the Electoral Act to give the INEC an option to use electronic means. They have not really tried that, but I heard they intend to try it in the Anambra election.

“But in the one we are currently working on, we want to take a step further by saying that you don’t just conduct the elections through electronic means, but importantly you also need to transmit it through electronic means, because most of the troubles we have with our elections happen between the polling booth and where they do the collation. So, this can be bypassed by using the electronic means of transmission.

“I was in Edo election and where electronic transmission of results was used and it worked. They simply uploaded the results from the polling booth straight to the INEC website and people could have access to it and could monitor the election as the results were coming in.

“But it wasn’t in any part of the Electoral Act or the constitution. So, we intend to bring it into the electoral act and hoping that our colleagues will also accept that and pass it into law”.

Ekweremadu reassured Nigerians of the National Assembly’s commitment to a better electoral management, stressing: “We are prepared to lay a better legislative structure that will ensure a proper electoral system”.

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