The Joint Civil Society comprising 19 groups says the 2023 general elections may not hold as scheduled by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) if President Muhammadu Buhari fails to sign the electoral bill sent to him latest February 22, 2022.
INEC had scheduled the 2023 presidential and National Assembly elections for February 18, 2023.
But barely a year before the presidential election, the commission has 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.
Reacting, the Joint Civil Society in a statement said the failure of the President to sign the bill into law will directly impact preparations for the 2023 elections, which is 366 days away.
The statement read in part, “Civil Society groups urge President Buhari to give assent to the Electoral Bill on or before 22nd February 2022. On the 31st January 2022, the National Assembly transmitted the Electoral Bill 2022 to the President for assent after expeditiously reworking the bill to meet the President’s expectations.”
“The civil society community is deeply concerned with the delay on the part of the President to give assent to the bill despite the resounding clamour for the speedy conclusion of the amendment process to avert legal uncertainties that will certainly occasion logistical, financial, and programmatic difficulties that threaten the integrity of the off-cycle elections in Ekiti, Osun and the 2023 general election,” it said.
The civil society groups said their concerns were further “heightened with the President’s delay in fulfilling a promise he made to Nigerians during an interview on national television indicating he will assent to the Electoral Bill if the National Assembly reworks the bill and expands the procedure for nomination of candidates”.
The undersigned CSOs made reference to the provision of “Section 58(4) of the 1999 Constitution, which gives the President a timeline of 30 days to assent or withhold assent to a Bill”.
The statement further read, “However, a combination of the newly introduced timelines for electoral activities in the bill and imperative for INEC and other stakeholders to commence early preparations for the upcoming elections provides a compelling justification for immediate assent of the bill.
“For instance, Clause 28 (1) of the Electoral Bill 2022, requires INEC to issue Notice of Election not later than 360 days before the day appointed for an election. As indicated by INEC, the scheduled date for the 2023 Presidential and National Assembly election is 18th February 2023. Therefore, the Notice of Election for the 2023 general election should be issued on 22nd February 2022 because the total number of days from 22nd February 2022, to 17th February 2023, is 360 days.
“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. 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.”
The undersigned CSOs noted that President Muhammadu Buhari has declined assent to amendments to the Electoral Act on five occasions in the last five years.
“In March 2018, he rejected the Bill due to some provision that would usurp INECs powers on electoral matters. In July 2018, he outrightly vetoed the Bill by refraining from making comments on the Bill until the expiration of the 30 days’ timeline. In September 2018, he rejected the Bill on the basis of drafting errors and cross-referencing gaps.
“In December 2018, he rejected the Bill because it was too close to the 2019 General Elections. Lastly, he rejected the current Bill in December 2021 based on the adoption of direct primaries as the only legally approved procedure for the nomination of candidates.
“If the current Electoral Bill suffers the same fate, it will amount to a subversion of popular will and national interest. As the nation prepares for the off-cycle governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun and the 2023 general elections, a new legal framework is required to safeguard the integrity of these elections. The current Electoral Bill 2022 contains provisions that address electoral manipulation and the intractable problem of poor election logistics,” it said.
The 19 undersigned CSOs include Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, Yiaga Africa, Partners for Electoral Reform (PER), International Press Centre, Institute for Media and Society, Nigerian Women Trust Fund and The Albino Foundation.