Today marks Day 25 since the amended Electoral Act Bill 2021 has been on the table of President Muhammadu Buhari for assent into law.
The nation is waiting for the electoral law to open a new vista for a credible electoral process in our democracy. And should Buhari fail to append his signature in the next five days, the National Assembly has the veto power to pass the bill.
That tortuous way will painfully be in a manner that depicts the president as anti-democratic and blameworthy for everything that goes wrong in the 2023 elections. President Buhari does not need such a scenario to perfect his ambition to finish well and not as a failure.
Perhaps much more than any Nigerian, the President seems to have been pondering on a fitting legacy for his administration. Just at the weekend, he told American President, Joe Biden, and the international community that his administration was strengthening necessary mechanisms to bequeath free, fair election and peaceful transfer of power in 2023. Months ago, Buhari had told his service chiefs that he would not exit government as a failure and he would not tolerate actions or inactions that would put his administration in a bad light.
In January 2019, at the inauguration of the APC presidential campaign council in Abuja, he had also promised to leave a legacy of credible elections, describing the same as the foundation of political stability and peace in any nation. Indeed, Buhari’s search for a lasting legacy readily finds one in the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021.
Apparently on the same page with Buhari and on the side of Nigerian masses, the National Assembly on November 9, 2021, passed the much-debated Electoral Act Amendment Bill and has since November 19 sent it to Mr. President for assent. Among the provisions of the amended law are the electronic transmission of results and the adoption of the direct primary by all the political parties. Adoption of electronic transmission of results has been less contentious than the parties going the route of direct primaries, especially by state governors who prefer the indirect delegate system more than a free-for-all open electoral system. Clamour has been coming from this latter group against the Electoral Act Amendment bill. We would like to counsel in the public interest that the president should not listen to them; for the public good and in his own enlightened self-interest.
Buhari has on three occasions turned down an amendment to the Electoral law, which already puts the president in a negative light and among those that do not want democracy to flourish. In March 2018, he rejected the bill on the grounds that the proposed law would usurp the constitutional powers of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to decide on election matters. In September the same year, Buhari also turned down the bill citing some clauses that needed revision and mechanical accuracies. In December 2018, some months after the general election, Buhari refused to assent to the Electoral Bill saying it stands a chance of creating “uncertainty and confusion” in the general election where he was seeking a second term in office. But to the president belongs a rare golden opportunity to erase the past and set a new record in electoral reform through signing the Electoral Act 2021 into law.
Buhari has reportedly written to the INEC chairman for his impression on the amendment and Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, the INEC boss has responded with an endorsement of the Act for obvious reasons. The amendment presents a lot of positives for democracy and devolves on the deployment of technology to ensure credible polls. The Act sanctions electronic transmission as an extension of electronic voting, both of which are consistent with the technology age such as is done in other advanced democracies. Besides, it opens the floodgate for peoples’ participation in the party and selection process; eradicates imposition of candidates and bribery of delegates, stems the tide of corruption in the process, and promotes early nomination of candidates and preparation for the election itself. Simply put, it makes the process more transparent and democratic, which is consistent with the powers constitutionally vested on INEC. Therefore, the amendment has provisions that will make the electoral process stronger and more credible, which should be the ultimate goal of well-meaning politicians and political parties.
Indeed, no well-meaning politician should be afraid of electronic transmission of results or people’s participation in a democracy that is all about transparency and a credible process. The last American presidential election was a good example of e-transmission of results that gave real-time instant results and to the knowledge of all, without opportunity for behind-the-scenes manipulation of result sheets or its hijack on the road. The U.S. episode was in a way comparable to the Nigerian 1993 presidential election so far as the release of results was transparent across the voting centres. But the American election became a stark contrast to the 1993 general election when the final result was kept away from the electorate and the election summarily annulled. The world democracy has advanced far beyond that perfidy and Nigeria should not be any different in its choices at this time.
Buhari has done well in affirming the well-known 1993 victory of Moshood Abiola by conferring the posthumous award of the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) on him, some 25 years after the election that has remained clearly the most credible in the country. Buhari should therefore align with the National Assembly to block loopholes for the electoral injustice of 1993 repeating itself. Already, there are many dangers awaiting non-passage of the Electoral Act Amendment bill and electronic transmission of results: Buhari, our leader alone will be blamed if anything goes awry in the crucial 2023 general elections.
The majesty of democracy manifests only through a free and fair election that reduces doubts, and it is for this reason that Section 160 (1) of the Constitution empowers INEC to be free in selecting the strategy to conduct credible elections. Section 160 reads:
‘‘Subject to subsection (2) of this section, any of the bodies may with the approval of the President, by rules or otherwise regulate its own procedure or confer powers and impose duties or any other officer or authority for the purpose of discharging its functions, provided that in the case of the Independent Electoral Commission, its powers to make its own rules or otherwise regulate its own procedure shall not be subject to the approval or control of the President…’’
INEC has rightly chosen the path of transparency by going through this amendment bill that would not have been necessary in a sane society since the constitution has guaranteed that. And so, the election management agency should be supported by all. After all, countries less endowed with infrastructures, such as Ghana, Kenya and South Africa have successfully deployed technology in the electoral process and their democracies are better for it. INEC has also tested re-transmission of results in the Edo gubernatorial poll and in a by-election in Delta State, producing an outcome that is acceptable to winners and losers. So, the argument of some localities not having Internet facilities for electronic transmission of results is infantile and dismissible in the face of greater benefits that await the transparent protocol. The disadvantage of some centres should never be used as an excuse to trample on the advantage of other centres.
Behold, we are aware that neither the electronic transmission of results nor the Act itself will solve all problems bedevilling democracy in Nigeria, but they will turn the corner for good. Going forward, the electorate still also requires vigilance at all levels of the process. Similarly, the party system needs to embark more on the enlightenment of members to collectively work for peace and progress. The politicians too must show a good character that allows all members to have their say in the electoral process. Those itching to manipulate the process and the results themselves are self-serving. Their scheming is not in the interest of the democracy, the people or the president.
The onus is therefore on Buhari to reject self-serving arguments against the Electoral Act Amendment bill, sign the bill into law and write his name in gold. That way, he would have defined one of his legacies and executed his promises on free, fair and credible elections in 2023. And so, if Buhari bows to the whims and caprices of the scoundrels in his party and allows this opportunity to elude him, he will go down in history as the president who threw away the opportunity Nigeria has had to be the authentic leader of Africa and indeed the black race.