Senate Committee Chairman on Independent National Electoral Committee (INEC), Kabiru Gaya, has said that the Legislative arm of the Federal Government is ready to do whatsoever that is required to improve elections in Nigeria.
According to him, ‘’whatever we need to do to improve the elections, the quality of our elections, we will continue to do that.’’
Gaya who was speaking at a forum of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja used the occasion to thank the leadership of the National Assembly for encouraging his panel to make sure that they fast track work on this issue of Electoral Act.
‘’People must have free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria and therefore we have to amend the Electoral Act, the law that will allow us achieve success in election; free, fair and credible”, the senate committee chair said.
He has accordingly reassured the citizenry that the National Assembly will submit the Electoral Act Amendment Bill to President Muhammadu Buhari for his assent before the end of this February.
“We are doing the Electoral Act, we have virtually completed work. What we are supposed to do at this stage is to bring it to the floors of the Senate and the House of Representatives for consideration. We are doing a joint hearing made up the Senate and the House, so that we can fast track work and also reduce the issue of having so many differences in the bill.
“If we are working together with the House, it means the bill will be one. The House bill and the Senate bill will be one. There will be no need to go for concurrence. I believe Nigerians will be happy with the Electoral Act 2021, which hopefully before the end of this month, will leave the chambers of national assembly to Mr. President for his assent.
‘’As we have promised that within the first quarter of 2021 the bill be signed, we hope and pray that it will be signed and it will enhance democratic progress in the country”, Gaya says, adding that his panel was doing its best to ensure an electoral act that would guarantee free, fair and credible elections in the country.
Gaya also said the electoral act amendment bill cannot accommodate independent candidacy. He said the provision cannot be considered as part of the bill because it had no constitutional backing. There is, however, a separate bill proposing such a constitutional amendment.
The House of Representatives had in 2020 proposed the piece of legislation that gives legal backing for individuals not sponsored by any political party to contest for elective offices.
According to him, unless the constitution is amended, the electoral act cannot adopt provisions for independent candidacy.
“A lot of views have been expressed in the report on the electoral act amendment bill. Some are talking about the independent candidacy of which we say we cannot do that. This is because the independent candidacy is still not in the constitution and the electoral act is inferior to the Constitution so we cannot have another law which supersedes the constitution”, he said.
The 1999 constitution currently allows candidates nominated by political parties to contest in elections.For that to change, both chambers of the national assembly alongside the 36 state houses of assembly must adopt the constitutional amendment bill seeking to alter the provision.
Gaya has however, assured that Nigerians in the Diaspora will be able to vote from their countries of residence during elections, once the constitution was amended.
“The issue has been discussed. We certainly don’t have problems with the people in Diaspora voting for the president or governors they want or whichever position. I know it is also a constitutional issue but we may have to amend the Constitution to ensure that.’’
Adding, he said that some groups had sponsored a bill for constitutional amendment to accommodate Diaspora voting.
“We are waiting; Nigerians should wait for the National Assembly to deliberate on that. And when the issue of amendment of the Constitution comes up, that issue I know will be inserted in the amendment, but it has to be approved.
While adding that state Houses of Assembly and governors will have to be involved for the process to go through, Gaya also said, ‘’you know that approving constitutional amendment is not an easy thing, the Senate, Reps, and state Houses of Assembly have to agree.’’