Electoral Act 2022 forces INEC to reorder 2023 polls

Barely 24 hours after President Muhammadu Buhari signed the Electoral Act amendment bill into law, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), yesterday, readjusted the 2023 General Election timetable.

INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, who announced the review at a briefing in Abuja, assured that the commission would transmit the 2023 general election results electronically.

Similarly, nearly 24 months of moving round a circle in its efforts to set up a substantive National Working Committee (NWC), the revised timeline has put pressures on the governing All Progressives Congress (APC).

APC had rescheduled its national convention, which would have held yesterday (February 26) to March 26, even as it announced that it would publish the list of subcommittees for the convention.

Incidentally, going by the INEC timetable, the notice for the 2023 general elections would be published on Monday, February 28, to beat the 360 days stipulated in the Electoral Act 2022.

Releasing the revised timetable and schedule of activities for next year’s polls, INEC chairman noted that “under the law, there are critical time bound activities from the publication of Notice of Election to the Conduct of Polls, which form the Timetable and Schedule of Activities for elections.”

He said the Presidential and National Assembly elections will now hold on Saturday, February 25, 2023 as against February 18 earlier announced, while governorship and state houses of assembly elections hold on March 11, 2023.

Yakubu explained that the new time frame is to allow for conformity with the provisions of the Electoral law, which stipulates that elections notice be published at least 360 days to the elections.

“From the pilot conducted regarding transmission results to its Results Viewing Portal (IREC),” Yakubu disclosed, “the commission has capacity to transmit results electronically.

“From the pilot we have conducted regarding transmitting results to our IREC portal, we have covered all the nook and cranny of Nigeria and we have no challenge whether in the remote or urban areas.

“That has convinced us that we can transmit election results just by uploading polling units results from the over 176,000 locations nationwide. Therefore, we are encouraged by the pilot that we have conducted that we have capacity to transmit results from the polling units.”

While warning politicians and political parties against campaigning before the designated time, the INEC boss said the commission was working with stakeholders to ensure marked improvement on the processes for seamless transmission, especially with the enactment of the new Electoral Act.

On whether INEC would sanction erring candidates, who beat the gun by starting campaigns ahead of the dates, the chairman declared: “This is not just a matter of electoral act, it is a constitutional provision that there is a timeframe for the commencement of campaign, which is 150 days to the election and there is also a period for end of campaign, which is 24 hours to the election.

“Let me seize this opportunity to call the attention of parties and candidates that the law makes specific definite provisions for the commencement of campaigns and end of campaigns and all Nigerians are required to adhere to the provisions of the law including parties and candidates.

“We will hold meeting with all parties in Nigeria to discuss not only the issue of campaign but all the issues that require the attention of parties as provided in the Electoral Act.”

Earlier in his address, Yakubu said with the adjustment to the date of the elections, the 2023 General Election is now 363 days away, adding, “campaign for Presidential and National Assembly election by political parties will commence on Wednesday, September 28, 2022.”

The INEC boss stressed that submission of nomination forms to INEC via the online portal for Presidential and National Assembly election would commence from 9.00am on Friday, June 10, 2022 to 6.00pm on Friday, June 17, 2022.

“You may recall that in 2017, the Commission decided to establish fixed dates for General Elections in Nigeria. This decision was based on our determination to create certainty in the electoral calendar and to enable all stakeholders in the electoral process (the electoral commission, political parties and candidates, security agencies, observers, the media etc.) to prepare adequately for elections.

“By that decision, Presidential and National Assembly elections shall hold on the third Saturday of the month of February of each General Election year, while Governorship and State Houses of Assembly elections shall follow two weeks later.

“Consequently, the 2023 General Election was scheduled to commence on February 18, 2023 with the Presidential and National Assembly elections, followed by the Governorship and State Houses of Assembly elections on March 4, 2023.

However, the Commission could not release the detailed Timetable and Schedule of Activities for the General Election, as it normally would, because of the pending enactment of the Electoral Act 2022. The Bill has now been signed into law.

“Therefore, the Electoral Act 2022, together with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), form the legal basis for conducting all elections in Nigeria. In particular, the Electoral Act provides strict timelines for the implementation of electoral activities based on the date of the General Election. One of the significant timelines is the publication of Notice of Election not later than 360 days before the day appointed for holding an election which has now lapsed for the 2023 General Election.

“Consequently, the Commission has decided to adjust the dates of the 2023 General Election to ensure compliance with the provisions of the new law.

“Accordingly, the Presidential and National Assembly elections will now hold on Saturday, February 25, 2023 while the Governorship and State Houses of Assembly elections will hold two weeks later on Saturday, March 11, 2023. With this adjustment, the 2023 General Election is now 363 days away.”

He said with the coming into force of the Electoral Act 2022, the Commission would work assiduously to conclude and publish new Regulations and Guidelines for the Conduct of Elections that are consistent with the Act.

According to him, “it is necessary that all political parties comply with the extant legal framework, ensure proper organisation and management of party primaries and the nomination of qualified candidates in order to prevent unnecessary litigations and rancour.”

Yakubu maintained that apart from the slight changes in date for the 2023 elections, the new law does not impose extra cost on the conduct of the 2023 general elections.

Commenting on the development, a chieftain of APC, Engineer Sam Oraegbunam, said the governing party would do all it could to structure its activities in line with the timetable, assuring that there is no cause for alarm.

But a former member of the APC NWC, Chief Hillard Etta, said the party shot itself on the foot, adding that whatever APC is doing, including the zoning of political offices “is just a continuation of illegality and unconstitutionality.”

Etta said it was obvious that the illegal contraption called Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) could do what is legal, “because you cannot build something on nothing.”

Also, in his reaction, a former Director General of former Governors Bola Tinubu, Babatunde Fashola and Akinwunmi, governorship campaign organisations in Lagos State, Fouad Oki, described APC as a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) designed to take power for President Muhammadu Buhari, and thereafter, dissolve or die.

Oki said with the new INEC timetable, a legal opportunity has been tactically opened for the opposition parties to challenge whatever the Mai Mala-Buni-led CECPC does and the implication is all the candidates the party will or most likely going to present for next year’s election might be nullified.

According to him, “I wonder how APC will address the crises currently in court concerning the last congresses across the country and what time it will have to address disputes that are definitely going to come up out of the primaries.

“I can tell you that INEC has just nailed the coffin of our party with the new timetable. You will see what will happen in the next four weeks because there is going to be many cases. The ruling party will implode in the next five weeks.”

Oki also said that those who vowed to fight dirty saw this coming and the message is, “if I don’t get it, we will pull down the roof. Or I am short-changed and the party implodes. This timetable has given such people the leeway now.”

For now, there are court cases against the last congresses in almost every state. For instance, The Guardian authoritatively learnt yesterday that the aggrieved progressive arm of Oyo APC has instituted suit challenging Isaac Omodewu’s state chairmanship in court and also joined Mai-Mala Buni in the suit asking for the party to be returned to it.

Oki wondered how such state like Oyo and or Lagos that is also having court issues will present unquestionable candidates for the 2023 elections.

However, another chieftain of APC in Osun State, Alhaji Laid Tella dismissed fears concerning the INEC new timetable, saying, the party can adjust to meet up with any challenges because it’s a solid association.

He also dismissed fear about the legality of Buni-led CECPC, saying, “The fact is Buni had been appointed before the new Electoral Act 2022 was signed into law. No electoral law can nullify him.”

But Tella, who said should the umpire decide to go Ultra vires, it will be challenged, added: “It baffles one imagination though that the President signed the Electoral Act 2022 into law on Friday and INEC came up with timetable the following day, could that have been a premeditated plan. INEC action looks very suspicious, but we are totally ready for it.”

Meanwhile, leaders and principal officers of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) are expected to meet this week to review some provisions of the new Electoral Act as well as guidelines released by the INEC.

The meeting will pay special attention to the dates for conduct of presidential elections which according to the new law, must take place between April 4 and June 3, 2022.

When contacted, National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Debo Ologunagba, said no specific official statement could be made until sufficient levels of consultation have been carried out among party leaders.

However, a member of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party confirmed that before the end of this week, crucial meetings will be held to consider all issues arising from the signing of the Electoral Bill into law. He also hinted that the Wednesday meeting of the National Working Committee (NWC) of the PDP may provide opportunity for a formal decision to be taken.(The Guardian)