Indications have emerged that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) may have to postpone the scheduled conduct of the 2023 general elections if President Muhammadu Buhari acts on the electoral bill sent to him after February 22, 2022.
LEADERSHIP Friday reports that immediately after the 2019 general elections, INEC, which is the electoral umpire empowered by law to fix dates of elections, scheduled the 2023 presidential and National Assembly elections for February 18, 2023.
But barely a year to the presidential election, INEC is yet to issue guidelines for the conduct of the election on the ground that it is waiting for a new electoral act.
According to Section 28 (1) of the Electoral Bill 2022, INEC is required to issue a notice of election not later than 360 days before the day appointed for an election.
INEC had already scheduled the 2023 presidential and National Assembly election for February 18, 2023.
LEADERSHIP Friday reports that the Electoral Bill 2022 stipulates that the deadline for INEC to issue the notice of election for the 2023 general election is February 22, 2022.
The executive director, Yiaga Africa, Samson Itodo, said, “In line with the Electoral Bill 2022, the deadline for INEC to issue the notice of election for the 2023 general election will be 22nd February 2022 and not February 18, 2022 – the reasons being that the total number of days from February 22nd, 2022, to February 17th, 2023, is 360 days.”
The Electoral Bill 2022 was transmitted to President Muhammadu President for assent on January 31, 2022., and by virtue of Section 58(4) of the 1999 Constitution, he has a timeline of 30 days to give or decline assent to the Bill.
On the contentious 2022 electoral act amendment bill sent to Buhari, he has up to March 2, 2022 to indicate where he stands on the bill.
“If the president gives assent to the bill on or before February 22nd, 2022, INEC will be legally bound to issue Notice of Election, and the dates for the 2023 elections will be maintained,” Itodo said.
“However, if the president acts on the bill after 22nd February, 2022, the dates for the 2023 election and other subsequent electoral activities will be affected, which will force INEC to reschedule the 2023 general election dates.
“Granting presidential assent to the Electoral Bill, 2022, on or before 22nd February 2022, is in the best interest of our electoral democracy,” Itodo added.
Civil society organisations (CSOs) have reiterated their call on President Buhari to sign the electoral bill transmitted to him by the National Assembly bureaucracy on time if the dates of elections are to remain unchanged, warning that time was running out.
According to the CSOs, if the president signs the bill on time, it will help the INEC to issue guidelines for the 2023 general elections and make all the necessary preparations as required by the new law.
The CSOs urging Buhari to sign the bill are: Yiaga Africa, International Press Centre (IPC), Centre for Citizens with Disability (CCD), The Albino Foundation, CLEEN Foundation, Institute for Media and Society (IMS) and Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF).
Others are: Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ), Partners for Electoral Reform (PER), Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC), Nigeria Network of Non-Governmental Organisations (NNNGO) and Inclusive Friends Association (IFA).
Speaking to LEADERSHIP Friday, the executive director, Yiaga Africa Samson Itodo said the CSOs are happy the errors they found in the bill earlier rejected by Buhari had been corrected.
Itodo also pointed out that the issues raised by the president had also been addressed, and now it is for him to sign the bill on time to enable smooth preparations for the 2023 general elections.
“The National Assembly should be commended for accelerating the entire process of the review. We are glad that they reworked the bill and the drafting errors might have been resolved. We hope that there are no errors and there are no cross-referencing gaps.
“Now that it has been transmitted, we hope that the president will assent to the bill on time because we are running out of time. All the issues that he raised have been addressed and we expect him to sign the bill within one week.
“The law said that within 360 days to election, INEC is required to issue the notice of election. We don’t want the president to waste any further time because this is a critical moment for democracy,” Itodo added.
Meanwhile, the Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC), which raised a fresh concern over plans to scuttle the signing of the 2022 electoral act amendment bill, said President Buhari must side with the majority of Nigerians.
IPAC chairman, Yabagi Sani, said like most enlightened Nigerians, they had expected that following the withholding of assent by the president when the Bill was first transmitted to him by lawmakers, the reworked version submitted afterwards would have been such that possible areas of conflicts were avoided.
The umbrella body of all political parties said it is loath to buy into the opinion held in many quarters that all the controversies over the electoral bill might have been a deliberate and conscious conspiracy by powerful interests in the Executive and the Legislature who are averse to positive changes that make it difficult for them to continue in their old game of manipulating the electoral process.
“If that is the case, all democrats and patriotic Nigerians owe it a duty to stand up against these retrogressive forces who are bent on retarding the progress of our hard-won democracy.
“IPAC is calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to go ahead and give his assent to the Bill as presently transmitted by the National Assembly.
“This will be demonstrating his avowed commitment to bequeathing a culture of transparent and credible elections to the country. The Bill can afterwards be revisited and amended again if compelling reasons emerge to do so, either before or after the 2023 elections.
“In other words, IPAC is of the standpoint that under no circumstances or pretext must we throw away the grains with the chaff which will be the case if the Electoral Act, for reasons of some clauses in it, is thrown away in its entirety,” Sani added.
INEC had earlier said that it could not issue guidelines for the 2023 general elections if the electoral legal framework was not ready.
Even though the commission could not respond to inquiry yesterday, the INEC chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, had said that the commission would not release the 2023 general elections timetable until the Electoral Act Amendment Bill was signed into law.
He made the comment during a consultative meeting with political parties in Abuja last month
“As soon as it is signed into law, the commission will quickly release the timetable and schedule of activities for the 2023 general election based on the new law,” Yakubu told heads of political parties during a meeting on January 18, 2022.
LEADERSHIP Friday reports that with INEC required to issue a notice of election not later than 360 days before the day appointed for an election, if Buhari acts on the bill after February 22, 2022, INEC may have no option than to postpone the 2023 presidential election to a later date.