Legislature, Interview

INTERVIEW: NASS manipulated Electoral Bill to legitimise their electoral corruption — Yiaga’s Samson Itodo

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The Electoral Act Amendment Bill has continued to get many backlashes from the members of the public and Civil Societies. Top of the controversy is the allegation that some content of the proposal submitted by the Joint Committee of the National Assembly on Electoral Amendments has been altered by the lawmakers.

IssueApproved TextForged Text
Release of INEC funds – Section 3(3)To be released in yearly instalments starting two years before election and ending not later than 180 days to the electionTo be released not later than one year before election (no provision for    instalments)
Electronic Transmission of Results – Section 50(2)Procedure for voting and transmission of results to be determined by INECProcedure for voting of results to be determined by INEC, provided that transmission of results shall not be electronic
Declaration of Scores Under Duress – Section 65Decision of a Returning Officer on declaration of scores and return of candidate shall be final, provided that INEC can within 7 days review the declaration and determine that is was made under duress or contrary to the provisions of the lawDecision of a Returning Officer on declaration of scores and return of candidate shall be final (no power of INEC to review)
Judicial Review of INEC Decision – Section 76INEC’s decision not to register a party can be challenged in court, provided that legal action is commenced within 14 days from the date of receipt of the decisionINEC’s decision not to register a party can be challenged in court, provided that legal action is commenced within 45 days from the date of receipt of the decision
Campaign Financing – Section 88Limits on campaign expenses: President N1B; Governor N200M, Senate N40M , House of Reps N30M, State House of Assembly N10MLimits on campaign expenses increased as follows: President N15B; Governor N5B, Senate N1.5B, House of Reps N500M, State House of Assembly N50M
Table Provided in a Communique Signed by Yiaga, EiE, Others

Meanwhile, the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, has said the National Assembly NASS) is working towards passing the Bill in less than two weeks.

Lawan advised, “It is very important that those who feel very strongly about any amendment that they think should be effected in the Electoral Act should contact or talk to their members of House of Representatives as well as distinguished Senators”.

In this interview with NewsWireNGR, Samson Itodo, the Executive Director of Yiaga Africa, expressed his concern about the altered proposal and the significance of the new inserts on the nation’s election.

NewsWireNGR also asked Itodo on his stand regarding the nomination of Lauretta Onochie by President Buhari as INEC commissioner.

Itodo disagreed with the age limit stipulated by the constitution for office contenders. Read on to have a peep into the mind of one of the vanguards of Nigeria’s civil society. In the end, you shouldn’t forget, any politician above the age of 30 should not claim to be a youth; we never said that, that was Itodo’s words.

Why is the increase of the limit for campaign expenses a problem? What would be its significant effect on Nigeria’s election?

This proposal is just a testament of a political class in Nigeria that wants to retain power at all costs and exclude other people, particularly vulnerable and marginalised people in Nigeria.

The significance is, you have a political class that wants to ensure that access to public office is for the highest bidder and the highest spender. And when you commercialise your political process through a legislature of this nature, what you do is you not only increase the cost of running for office, but you are simply encouraging electoral corruption because we know the impact of money in our politics.

Competent capacity will be relegated and buried on the altar of incompetence, favouring money bags who don’t have the common good and the interest of the people at heart.

Nigeria’s Samson Itodo awarded a scholarship to study at University of Oxford

So you are going to have a political process and leadership dominated by people who have the economic power and resources but don’t have the moral capital or the competence and capacity to be in office. And in any case, you are undermining a fundamental principle of democracy that access to public office shouldn’t be based on the amount of money and financial resources that you have, but should be based on the core principles of integrity, competence, capacity and resilience.

It is just unfortunate that the National Assembly has chosen to increase the cost as though we are in a market and we are buying and selling.

This is unfortunate for our democracy.

How do you think this could affect youths aspiring for political offices in Nigeria?

It is going to affect youths, women and persons with disabilities a lot. I say this because, these are marginalised populations that have been excluded from political space and leadership. Look at the calibre of people that have dominated the political offices since 1999, they are people who have recycled themselves in office.

They have used their political offices to acquire wealth and strong networks. That is why it is easier for them to reinvent themselves and recycle themselves in office. That must stop!

You can’t have this kind of people using the state’s resources to enrich themselves, use political power to feather their nest, and build structures.

It is unlikely for young people to afford that kind of money.

What the proposal is equally saying is that to be president of Nigeria, you can spend as much as N15 billion.

It is going to affect these categories of persons. The initial proposal submitted by citizens was that the Act should limit the amount parties can charge candidates.

Instead, the NASS rejected that proposal and decided to increase the spending limit. We know that in reality, they spend that amount of money today, during elections.

Samuel Itodo
Samuel Itodo

What they want to do is to legitimise electoral corruption. And that is unacceptable. Why can’t you use the political authority you have to make a law that is favourable to people instead of otherwise.

The recommendation of the NASS committee is different from the proposal the legislators are considering to pass. The committee for instance recommended N5bn spending for the presidential campaign, while the legislators on their part increased it to N15bn.

There is a conflict between what the committee resolved and what the leadership decided to insert.

On the matter of e-Collation, how regressive/progressive (as the case may be) do you think this could be?

Prohibition of the electronic transmission of results. That is problematic. INEC successfully deployed the electronic viewing portal in Edo and Ondo elections.

By that action, the perception of the fairness of the elections increased because results from polling stations were uploaded from the polling stations and the public could see. So, you could not rig the results at the collation level because the results are already out there in the public.

How come the National Assembly is now trying to undermine such a process and considering passing a bill that is retrogressive in every respect.

What they are trying to do is they are creating a space where they will rig the 2023 elections and still be protected by the law.

And that is unacceptable. Nigerians need to rise and ask their legislators to reject this proposal and remove that proviso in section 50, subsection 2. Voting in elections should be either manual or electronic and should be decided by the electoral commission.

But the transmission of the results should also be based on the procedure as determined by INEC. And could be either manual or electronic. Totally prohibiting INEC from the electronic transmission of results is not only mischievous, but it is also criminal and totally unacceptable.

It shows that these lawmakers are more interested in what they will gain in 2023 and not in the progress of our electoral process.

Any comment on the nomination of Lauretta Onochie as INEC Commissioner?

The desperation of the ruling political class to rig the 2023 election is horrifying. How do you justify the nomination of Onochie? It is just shameless. It is a level of impunity and disregard for the Nigerian people and our collective morality that a President would recommend his aide. Not just his aide, his aide who under oath claimed to be a member of the ruling political party (APC).

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How did we get to this point where there is no shame even in public leadership. That appointment is unacceptable.

Civil society has written a petition to the National Assembly. We condemn this attempt by the executive to undermine and assault the independence of the electoral commission. We’ve asked that the National Assembly do not proceed to confirm her or even screen her.

They should reject the nominee and let the president reappoint someone who has the moral integrity and nonpartisan to hold that office. The constitution is very clear on the criteria for membership of INEC.

The National Assembly should not play the game they intend to play.

We are asking the question, how come it took them this long to reject her nomination since 8 months ago when her name was submitted on October 13, 2020, when Nigerians rose and spoke about it.

We are going to be filing a case in court, at the Federal High Court in Abuja challenging that appointment and we are seeking for a perpetual injunction because it does not meet the constitutional requirement

Being an advocate of Youths in Politics, any comment on the stipulated age by the constitution?

The constitution is clear. 25 years should be the year of entry into the political space. To be honest, I will propose this age-limitation can be removed.

There are places where once you are 18, you are qualified to vote and also run for office. I think we should reduce voting age from 18 to 16. There are demographic shifts, the world is changing.

We are seeing people who at 16 they can take decisions for themselves; they are inventors and matured enough.

If we want to encourage political participation, 16 might just be the age to pursue it through. To run for political offices, I think once you are 18, if you are deemed to be qualified to vote, you should be allowed to be voted for.

UN pegged 18-30 as the age range for youth. At what age do you think someone contesting for a political office shouldn’t be considered a youth anymore?

There is no universally accepted age range for being youth. Different societies adopt different age range. The reason is because that age category is a transient category.

United Nations (UN) actually defines youth as the age between dependence and independence. In societies that are already advanced, at 21, people are already dependent. They have gotten the basic education including attending a university and most probably have a job.

I think after 30, you shouldn’t be considered a youth. I agree with the UN classification of youth being age 18 to 30.

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