The Role of the Electoral Act and the Future of Elections in Nigeria

Elections

Rules and regulations are usually put in place to guide things or people on the best method of performing a task. They give a sense of order and this is necessary in all aspects of life. Where there exists no laid down rules or regulation, anarchy and injustice is sure to follow.

Various laws and guidelines have been put in place to make sure elections in Nigeria are conducted properly and to ensure that they are free and fair. These laws and guidelines will be discussed in this article.

Principal Laws Governing Elections in Nigeria

Below is a list of laws that govern the process of elections in Nigeria and they are as follow;

  1. The 1999 Constitution
  2. INEC Regulations and Guidelines for the Conduct of Elections 2019
  3. The Electoral Act

The 1999 Constitution

Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (As amended) provides for the right of persons to form a political party or association.

It states that;

‘every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interest provided the provisions of this section shall not derogate from the powers contend by the constitution on the Independent National Electoral Commission concerning the political parties which that commission does not accord recognition.’

Qualification for Senate and House of Representatives

Section 65 of the 1999 Constitution provides for qualifications necessary for a person vying for positions in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Under this section, for people to qualify they need;

  1. Be a citizen of Nigeria and have attained the age of 35 for Senate.
  2. Be a Nigerian citizen and must have attained the age of 30 for House of Representatives.
  3. Such person has to at least attained SSCE (i.e. WAEC) or its equivalent.
  4. Such person is a member of a political party and is sponsored by that party.

People who do not Qualify for the Position of Senate and House of Representatives

Section 66 of the 1999 Constitution mentions people who do not qualify for positions of Senate and or House of Representatives. They are;

  1. A person who has acquired citizenship of another Country or except as prescribed by the National Assembly sworn allegiance to that other Country.
  2. A person found to be of unsound mind or a lunatic.
  3. A person who has a death sentence or who has been sentenced to imprisonment or fine for committing an offence of dishonesty or fraud.
  4. A person who has been convicted and sentenced for an offence involving dishonesty or has gone against the Code of Conduct within a period of 10 years before an election into the legislative house.
  5. An undischarged bankrupt
  6. A person employed in public service and has not resigned, retired or withdrawn from such employment 30days before election.
  7. A member of a secret cult
  8. A person indicted for embezzlement or fraud.
  9. A person who has presented a forged certificate to the INEC.

Qualification for the Post of President

This is contained under Section 131 of the 1999 Constitution and it is the same with qualification for the positions of Senate and House of Representatives except that the person must have attained the age of 40.

What disqualifies a person from vying for the position of President is same for Senate and House of Representatives with an addition that the person must not have been elected to the post of President in any two previous election.

Section 142 (2) of the 1999 Constitution talks about the Vice President. It states that election, tenure of office,
disqualification, declaration of assets and liabilities and oaths of President can also be used to refer to the Vice President.

Qualification for the Post of Governor

Section 177 of the 1999 Constitution talks about the qualifications for a person vying for the post of Governor of a state. It is the same with qualifications for the post of Senate.

What disqualifies a person from vying for this position is the same with that of the President.

INEC Regulations and Guidelines for the Conduct of Elections 2019

In exercising powers conferred to it by the Constitution (as amended) and the Electoral Act (as amended), the INEC (Independent National Electoral Commission) issued the following Regulations and Guidelines for the conduct of elections in Nigeria.

This Regulation was signed on the 12th of January, 2019 by the Chairman of INEC Prof. Mahmood Yakubu.

Some issues discussed in the Regulation include but are not limited to;

  1. Date of Elections (Third Saturday of February of every General Election year)
  2. The Elections covered by the Guidelines
  3. Who can vote
  4. Where to vote
  5. Polling units, Polling officers etc.
  6. PVC (Permanent Voters Card)
  7. Use of electronic devices at polling units
  8. Collation and declaration of election results

You can read the Regulation here.

The Electoral Act

The Electoral Act was created in order to guide the process of Elections in Nigeria and ensure that Elections conducted in Nigeria were both free and fair. It established the INEC and the elections which it can regulate (Section 3 of the Electoral Act).

In addition to the functions provided under the 1999 Constitution for INEC, Section 2 of the Electoral Act made mention of 3 (three) extra functions of INEC, which are;

  1. conduct voter and civic education.
  2. promote knowledge of sound democratic election processes.
  3. conduct any referendum required to be conducted pursuant to the provision of the 1999 Constitution or any other law, Act of the National Assembly. (A referendum is a direct vote by the electorate on a particular proposal or issue).

This means that INEC has the duty of creating awareness about the democratic process of election as well as conducting both voter and civic education. Conducting such sensitization before each election will ultimately enable voters understand why and how to vote.

Section 10 (1) of the Electoral Act provides that the Commission i.e. INEC shall keep a Register of Voters. This is a register of all the people who are entitled to vote in any Federal, State or Local Government/Area Council Elections. A Register of Voters shall be kept at every State and the Federal Capital Territory.

Qualification for Registration of Voters

Under Section 13 of the Electoral Act, a person shall be qualified for registration as a voter if such a person:

  1. is a citizen of Nigeria;
  2. has attained the age of eighteen years;
  3. is ordinarily resident, works in, originates from the Local Government/Area Council or Ward covered by the registration centre;
  4. presents himself to the registration officers of the Commission for registration as a voter; and
  5. is not subject to any legal incapacity to vote under any law, rule or regulations in force in Nigeria.

A person is not allowed to register in more than one registration centre or register more than once in the same registration centre. A fine of N100,000.00 (One Hundred Thousand Naira) only or imprisonment for a term not more than 1 year or both for anyone who goes against this rule.

Some Notable Sections Under the Electoral Act

Section 10 (5) – National Register of Voters and Voters’ Registration

‘The registration of voters, updating and revision of the register of voters under this section shall stop not later than 120 days before any election covered by this Act.’

Section 47 – Polling

‘The Commission shall, not later than 14 days before the day of the election, cause to be published, in such manner as it may deem fit, a notice specifying (the following matters, that is to say)-
(a) the day and hours fixed for the poll;
(b) by way of indication, the persons entitled to vote; and
(c ) the location of the polling stations’

Section 53 – Open Secret Ballot System

(1) (a) Voting at an election under this Act shall be by open secret ballot.

(b) The use of Electronic voting Machine for the time being is prohibited.
(2) A voter on receiving a ballot paper shall mark it in the manner prescribed by the
Commission.
(3) All ballots at an election under this Act at any Polling Station shall be deposited in the
ballot box in open view of the public.

Section 84 – Merger of Political Parties

Political Parties intending to merge shall each give to the Commission six months notice of their desire to do so before a general election.

Section 87 – Offences in relation to finances of Political parties

Any Political Party that-

(a) holds or possesses any fund outside Nigeria in contravention of section 225(3)(a) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 commits an offence and shall forfeit the funds or assets to the Commission and on conviction shall be liable to a fine of not less than N500,000.00;

(b) retains fund or other asset remitted to it from outside Nigeria in contravention of section 225(3)(b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 is guilty of an offence and shall forfeit the funds or assets to the Commission and on conviction shall be liable to a fine of not less than N 500,000.00.

The Role of the Electoral Act

As explained above, the Electoral Act serves as a sort of guideline for INEC. It establishes INEC alongside with the 1999 Constitution, lists its functions in addition to those listed by the Constitution and also lays down punishments for offenders of the Act.

The Electoral Act can be said to be the ‘Constitution’ for Elections. It is the primary legislation guiding elections, pre elections, political parties, voters, voters registration and the likes.

The Future of Elections in Nigeria

Digitalization of elections is the future of elections. The current Electoral Act Amendment Bill, 2018 attempts to address the express prohibition of the use of electronic voting contained under Section 53 of the Electoral Act.

Unfortunately, this Bill has been delayed from being passed into law. In 2018, the President refused to give his assent to this Bill as passed by the National Assembly stating that it was too close to the then 2019 General Elections. Since then, despite numerous promises and efforts, the passing of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, 2018 has been met with difficulties.

Numerous Countries have adopted an electronic form of voting; Brazil, India, Estonia, Philippines to name a few.

Adapting electronic voting will enable a lot of people like those living with disabilities to vote.

The use of biometric scanners at polling units is a welcome development by the INEC although this method also has its setbacks. However, the unfortunate destruction of polling booths and stealing of ballot boxes continues to hinder the growth of election process in Nigeria.

Conclusion

In order to enable a truly free and fair election, there is need for better security at polling units and sensitization. Sensitization can be done in various ways; through social media platforms, radio stations, television programs, newspapers i.e. print media, and this should be done regularly and not limited to months leading to a general election. After all, general elections aren’t the only elections conducted by INEC.

People should also understand that stealing ballot boxes and destroying polling units will not benefit anyone in the long run.

Laws Regarding Elections You Should be Aware of

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