By Tony Akowe and Victor Oluwasegun, Abuja
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on Thursday unfolded plans to seek legal backing for electronic voting as from 2023.
Its chairman, Prof Mahmud Yakubu, began the push for the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act to be amended to make provision for electronic collation and transmission of election results.
He said the manual collation, which is enshrined in the laws, is too cumbersome and expensive.
Yakubu, who spoke on preparations for future polls, announced that the next presidential election will take place on February 18, 2023.
The electoral boss, who spoke at the inauguration of the House of Representatives Special Ad-hoc Committee on the Review of 1999 Constitution, urged speed, saying the lawmakers have exactly 855 days to amend the law before the commencement of the general elections.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo reiterated the Federal Government commitment to constitution review, urging the stakeholders to cooperate with the committee.
Emphasising the importance of technology, Yakubu said: “We have to also address our electoral process, which is manual. It is too expensive and cumbersome.The process of collating result is sometimes chaotic because the law says that you must write results manually and collate them manually right from the polling unit to the ward, from the ward to the local government, then, the state and from the state to the national level in the case of the presidential election.
“A lot has been achieved aboard with a simple application of technology. So, the encumbrances to the deployment of technology in the transmission of election results should be removed as part of this process.”
Urging the legislators to expedite legislative action on the setting up of the Electoral Offences Tribunal for the trial of electoral offenders, he said: “There must be a way, either by way of an amendment to the constitution to effectively penalize electoral offenders in the country. You cannot have a flourishing democracy in which laws are violated with impunity and nothing is done about that.
“That is why we must have an electoral offences tribunal. This has been recommended by several commissions and election observers. It was recommended by the Justice Uwais Commission.
“I must commend the role of the National Assembly, especially the Deputy President of the Senate, for championing the enactment of the Electoral Offences Tribunal.”
Yakubu said INEC will always exercise its power to fix timetable for election, reminiscent of how it unfolded the election sequence ahead of 2019 polls.
He stressed: “This is what happens in Ghana and every Ghanaian know that every December 7 is their presidential election. Every American knows that the date of their presidential election. In Nigeria, the third Saturday of February in the election year is the election date.
“Therefore, when is the 2023 general election going to hold? It will hold on the third Saturday of February of the election year, which is the 18th of February 2023. That means that from today till the 2023 general elections, we have exactly 855 days.
“I am not reminding members of the National Assembly that their tenure will soon end. But, the truth is that there has to be certainty of tenure. Between election and inauguration, there is time. So, between now and the next general election is 855 days.”
The vice president, who was represented by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, said constitution review will address societal ills and propel the nation towards greatness.
He said: “Looking at its leadership, membership composition and the expertise at its disposal, it is my firm conviction that the Committee will discharge its mandate excellently by liaising with relevant government agencies, civil society organizations, multi-lateral and supranational agencies and bodies to achieve a wholesome amendment to the Nigerian constitution.”
He urged the lawmakers to avoid the pitfalls that had aborted previous exercise.
Dakas said: “I will like to draw attention to a few pitfalls that I think you need to address. First, to ensure that this is a process that is not driven by a personality call or hidden agenda or agenda that is not consistent with the imperative need to move the Nigerian state forward. In this context, I refer to the experience that we had in relation to the ‘third term agenda.
The professor of Law said the constitution amendment committee must address the interface between state and religion, and ponder on whether Section 10 of the 1999 Constitution should provide clarity in terms of the interface between state and religion.
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