By Abdulrasheed Akogun
The Kwara State Independent Electoral Law as amended, regulates the conduct of local government elections in Kwara State. The law consists of 123 sections and covers various aspects of the electoral process, including electoral boundaries, voter registration, campaign financing, and dispute resolution etc.
Over the years, one of the major criticisms of State Independent Electoral Commissions across the country is its substantial non-alignment with the Nigerian Electoral Act as amended. This non-alignment has over the years posed significant challenge to the credibility and efficacy of the local government elections across the country and that’s largely responsible for the existential threat the third tier of Government is bedeviled with in Nigeria today.
If we must kick-start the badly needed revival and resuscitation of the third tier of Government, then the Nigerian Electoral Act as amended must be made the foundational guide for State Electoral Commissions across the country. Wherein, it’ll be the baseline framework for the conduct of free, fair, and credible elections in Nigeria.
There’s no gainsaying that the Kwara State Independent Electoral Law as currently operational, deviates significantly from this framework, which raises concerns about the transparency and impartiality of the electoral process in Kwara State and thus, requires a surgical amendment, although the timing is subject to diverse discourse.
Let us dive into the dissection of the proposed sections of the law, which include sections 20, 21, 25, 26, 27, 29, and 105 and juxtapose with the Electoral Act (EA) as amended.
SECTION 20: NOTICE OF ELECTION
While the KWASIEC law as amended makes provision for notification not later than 90 days (3 months) before the conduct of elections, the Electoral Act states that “The Commission shall, not later than 360 days before the day appointed for holding of an election under this Act, publish a notice in each State of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory —
(a) stating the date of the election; and
(b) appointing the place at which nomination papers are to be delivered.
(2) The notice shall be published in each constituency in respect of which an election is to be held.
(3) In the case of a by-election, the Commission shall, not later than 14 days before the date appointed for the election, publish a notice stating the date of the election.
(4) There shall not be substitution of candidates in a by-election except where a candidate of a political party in a by-election dies, the party shall submit to the Commission the name of its substitute candidate within seven days of the death of the candidate in the
Form prescribed by the Commission
PROS AND CONS
Although, with the impending new reality, the much anticipated local government elections might likely not hold (ceteris paribus) in at least the next one year, which invariably means the Kwara Local Governments will continue to be governed by unelected hands for a much longer than initially thought.
However, amending the State electoral laws to be in conformity with the Electoral Act, which stipulates election notification of 360 days, as against 90 days in the State electoral laws is a step in the right direction.
The propensity of outgoing Governors to conduct hasty and ill-prepared local government elections, sometimes just a few days before the inauguration of the new government, not only creates banana peels for the incoming government but also causes unnecessary political tension and crisis in such States.
Conducting elections requires adequate planning, budgetary provisions, and general preparations. The provision of 360 days in the Electoral Act for election notification is aimed at giving the national and state electoral bodies ample time to prepare for free, fair, and credible elections. It allows for the procurement of materials, deployment of staff, and training of ad-hoc staff. It also enables adequate voter education and sensitization to ensure maximum participation in the elections.
The State electoral laws should, therefore, be amended to align with the provisions of the Electoral Act to avoid a situation where local government elections are conducted in a rush, which often results in irregularities, violence, and disputed results.
Furthermore, conducting local government elections just a few days before the inauguration of the new government is against democratic norms and principles. It is a ploy to create banana peels for the incoming government and make it difficult for them to effectively and efficiently govern the state. Such practices must be discouraged and eliminated through appropriate legislation and policy frameworks.
SECTION 21: SUBMISSION OF LIST OF CANDIDATES
While the existing KWASIEC LAW
2a and 3 respectively states that “The list shall be accompanied by High Court affidavit, indicating that the candidate is a Nigerian citizen, not less than 30 years old for Chairman and 25 years old for Councillor.
“The commission shall within 7 days publish the details of the candidates in their ward where they’re contesting.
On the other hand, the Electoral Act states that (1) Every political party shall, not later than 180 days before the date appointed for a general election under this Act, submit to the Commission, in the prescribed Forms, the list of the candidates the party proposes to sponsor at the elections, who must have emerged from valid primaries conducted by the political party.
(2) The list or information submitted by each candidate shall be accompanied by an affidavit sworn to by the candidate at the Federal High Court, High Court of a State, or Federal Capital Territory, indicating that he or she has fulfilled all the constitutional requirements for election into that office.
(3) The Commission shall, within seven days of the receipt of the personal particulars of the candidate, publish same in the constituency where the candidate intends to contest
PROS AND CONS
While the amendment will among other things push the political parties into organising primaries and selecting candidates for the various offices, it deprives the party membership from having extended internal campaign and horse trading before the primaries and emergence of candidates.
However, this seeming disadvantage is a huge advantage to the populace in that they’ll now have the opportunity of knowing the various candidates, have ample opportunity to do background checks on the array of candidates and settle for the best.
In the same vein, it gives the electoral umpire ample time to plan and put all machineries in place to deliver a free and fair election.
Furthermore, it allows for more flexibility and potentially faster response times in the event of unexpected political developments or candidate substutution.
Finally, the ultimate beneficiaries are the electorates for whom this opportunity provides sufficient time for voters to familiarize themselves with the candidates, their platforms, and their qualifications.
SECTION 26: PUBLICATION OF NOMINATIONS
According to the existing KWASIEC law, it shall be done at least 14 days before the elections. The Electoral Act, on the other hand, says,
The Commission shall, at least 150 days before the day of the election, publish by displaying or causing to be displayed at the relevant office or offices of the Commission and on the Commission’s web site, a statement of the full names and addresses of all candidates standing nominated.
(2) Any registered political party that observes that the name of its candidate is missing on the list published in accordance with subsection (1) shall notify the Commission in writing, signed by its National Chairman and Secretary, supported with an affidavit not later than 90 days to the election.
It is glaring that safe for the likelihood of the proposed amendments, especially section 20, which if amended gives legal teeth to the possibility of the much anticipated local government elections in Kwara, being farther than earlier anticipated.
This comes at a critical time when the state has been without elected Local Government executives for the past four years. This has negatively affected governance and development at the grassroots level, and the amendment of the electoral law is a necessary step to remedy the situation.
By amending the law before the elections, there will be a level playing field for all candidates and political parties, and the people of Kwara State will have the opportunity to choose their leaders through free and fair elections.
They will promote consistency and uniformity in the electoral laws, and they come at a critical time when the state has been without elected Local Government executives. It is imperative that the amendments are made before the elections to ensure free, fair, and credible elections in Kwara State.
Hopefully, the fears of ENETSUD and others will be aired, documented and addressed at the bill’s public hearing, so the final draft will have a consensus and be the possible best we can get at this material time, that other States will take a cue from.
Therefore, all lovers of a sustainable and virile local government system should show interest in these fundamental amendments.
Abdulrasheed Akogun is a Media Practitioner, Public Perception Researcher and Good governance advocate, he can be reached via email@example.com