By Angela Atabo
Abuja – The Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth and Advancement (YIAGA-Africa) on Monday said the non-conclusion of electoral amendments constituted a major threat to the credibility of the 2019 elections.
Mr Ezenwa Nwagwu, a board member of YIAGA Africa made this known at press conference of Watching The Vote (WTV), a project of YIAGA Africa on the status of the electoral amendment bill.
Nwagwu said that the YIAGA Africa WTV was concerned with the secrecy of the electoral amendment process.
He described the situation as worrisome because of the failure of the National Assembly to inform the public on the amendments transmitted to the President Muhammadu Buhari for assent.
He said the group was also worried with the silence on the part of the president when a modified version of the electoral amendment bill omitting key amendments was transmitted to him.
Nwagwu said that YIAGA Africa WTV was also concerned that some proposed amendments in the electoral law had implications for ongoing electoral activities conducted in line with the extant electoral law.
He said that this might be a subject of litigation if not properly managed.
“The Electoral (Amendment) Act, 2018 Bill forwarded by the National Assembly to President Muhammadu Buhari for assent in August 2018 contained only 15 clauses as opposed to 41 clauses in the original version of the bill.
“What happened to the remaining 26 clauses?
“In the version of electoral amendment bill transmitted to the president for assent in August 2018, the amendment to Section 49, legalising the use of Smart Card Reader or any other technological device for accreditation of voters was omitted. ‘’
Nwagwu said that the group observed that in line with its statutory mandate, the National Assembly proposed and passed amendments to the 2010 Electoral Act as amended.
He said that these amendments were transmitted to the president for assent three times.
He said the president declined assent to the bills sighting interference with INEC constitutional powers, drafting irregularities, cross referencing errors and competence of the National Assembly to legislate on local government elections.
He said that the proposed Electoral Act, 2018 amended 42 clauses of the Electoral Act. No 6, 2010.
Nwagwu said that the goal of the electoral amendment as enunciated in the explanatory memorandum to the bill was to restrict the qualification of elective office to relevant provisions of the constitution.
He said that it was also to recognise the use of Smart Card Readers and other technological devices in elections and provide for sequence of elections and party primaries among others.
Nwagwu said that the National Assembly however deleted some controversial sections highlighted by the president in the subsequent versions of the bill it transmitted to him.
He said that these sections included Section 25 on sequence of elections and Section 152 on local government elections.
He said that the National Assembly also redrafted some clauses of the bill to address concerns expressed by the president.
“The latest rejection of the electoral amendment bill by the president was communicated to the National Assembly on Aug. 30.
“This is the third time the president is declining assent to the electoral amendment bill, ‘’ he said.
Nwagwu said the group recommended that the executive and the National Assembly should work together to conclude all the electoral amendments by the end of September.
He said that this included ensuring key amendments that would deepen the integrity of the electoral process such as legal recognition for the use of card reader for elections.
Mr Samson Itodo, the Execurive Director of YIAGA Africa also urged the president to fulfill his promise of promoting electoral reforms by expediting the assent of the electoral amendment bill when transmitted to him by the National Assembly.
Itodo called on the executive and the National Assembly to rise above politics and conclude all amendments to the electoral act to safeguard the integrity of the 2019 elections.
He said that YIAGA Africa WTV issued the statement because of the present status of electoral amendment bills.
He said that this was in line with its firm commitment to electoral integrity and responsibility of providing citizens oversight on the electoral process.