The Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), a coalition of civil society organisations in Nigeria working on electoral issues, has expressed concerns over the refusal of Assent by President Muhammadu Buhari to the Electoral Amendment Bill.
The group, in a statement by its chairperson, Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, warned that “this is capable of undermining the marginal gains towards achieving credibility in our electoral system”.
In the past, the TMG had raised concerns over the timeframe for the amendment of the electoral act and its likely implication to the 2019 Elections. While TMG recognizes this fundamental challenge, the reasons upon which the presidency is hinging its withholding of assent on is unattainable, as the journey to the version passed into law by the legislature is a product of extensive deliberation between the executive and legislature.
Dr. Akiyode-Afolabi completely agrees that our elections must respect international standards and protocols for the conduct of elections especially those the country has signed unto. However, she is of the opinion that the ECOWAS protocol on elections on which the presidency hinges part of the decisions that forbids amendments to laws 6 months to an election must be properly situated and the context within which that provision was made be properly articulated. The provision was made to deter sight tight leaders in the region from making fundamental changes to their laws to hold onto power and gain unfair advantage in the electoral process, in this case there seems to be a general consensus and agreement of all stakeholders on the urgent necessity of the amendments to the Electoral Act.
Dr. Akiyode-Afolabi also reiterated the fact that the amendment as it is, gives no candidate any advantage rather it provides a level playing field to all the players in the elections and therefore the argument of the ECOWAS protocol is not tenable. The Presidency rather is taking undue advantage of its political power to rescind ascent on an issue of utmost importance to the people without being mindful of the implication on the 2019 Elections and the credibility of elections in Nigeria
According to Dr.Akiyode-Afolabi, the amendments would have addressed some gaps in the present electoral act that had negatively affected the credibility of Nigeria’s elections in the past and incorporated some of the recent innovations and developments in the system, The off season elections she added had given INEC reasonable time and grounds to try out some of these key innovations especially bordering on the application of technology such as the elimination of manual accreditation which had been one of the biggest challenge of dealing with rigging in the country.
While she agreed that the law does not totally address some of the key issues the TMG has raised in the past such as electoral offences among others, the amendment she said will help to consolidate the gains made so far in strengthening our electoral system and protect the integrity and credibility of the process while providing the framework for progress in the future
The current impasse further serves to cast doubts on the commitment of the government to credible free and fair elections in the country. According to Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, issues such as this have been the primary drivers of voter apathy in the country. Electoral democracy in the country she added must serve the democratic aspirations of Nigerians if we want to achieve a participatory and responsive democratic system in the country.
The TMG as a matter of urgency calls on the President to reconsider his position, assent to the bill and save the country the uncertainty that his actions might cast on the integrity and credibility of the 2019 general elections. Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi reiterated the fact that the survival of Nigeria’s democracy is far more important than the interest of its political actors and calls on all Nigerians to use all the legitimate means possible to hold the leaders and institutions to account on delivering on the 2019 elections.