No doubt, Nigeria is enjoying democracy to an extent but the truth remains that the nation nascent democratic system can still be better with the amendment of it’s electoral process to deepen citizens participation in democracy.
As part of efforts to deepen citizens democratic participation, civil society organisations (CSOs) have called on the National Assembly to hasten the process of the electoral reforms to ensure the concerns of critical stakeholders are adequately met.
The coalition organisations with support of the European Union Support to Democratic Governance in Nigeria (EU- SDGN) are: Institute for Media and Society (IMS); International Press Centre (IPC); Centre for Citizens with Disability (CCD); CLEEN Foundation; Inclusive Friends Association; National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), and Nigeria Women’s Trust Fund.
Others are: Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC); Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ); The Albino Foundation; Yiaga Africa; Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD); Kimpact Development Initiative (KDI) and Peering Advocacy and Advancement Centre in Africa (PAACA).
Speaking at a joint press conference in Lagos, Lanre Arogundade, Executive Director, International Press Centre (IPC), explained that there is the need for the National Assembly to adopt a set of citizens’ priorities for the 2021 Electoral Amendment Bill
“We are here gathered to further amplify these and related issues for the purpose of enlisting the support of the media, as the fourth estate of the realm, with the constitutional mandate to monitor governance and hold the government accountable to the people, for the citizens-driven electoral reforms that we seek.
“In the above regard the underlining principle behind our call on you to play a vanguard role in the process is for the media to ensure that the National Assembly is accountable to key stakeholders in the Nigerian electoral process in making any amendments. Among these stakeholders are the civil society, the women, the youths, the people living with disability and the election management body itself – the Independent National Electoral Commission. Any amendment that fails to reckon with the demands of these groups will not help to strengthen the electoral processes,” he said.
Parts of the demand of the coalition on media include: That there should be recognition of, distinction between and provision for free access and paid access for political parties and candidates to the media during election campaigns; that public media (broadcast and print) should provide equitable airtime/coverage to all political parties and candidates during election campaigns- under both free and paid access arrangements; that Public media (broadcast and print) should grant the usually underserved and marginalised groups, particularly Women and People With Disabilities (PWDs), special discounted airtime/advert rates during election campaigns.
That the media should publish airtime/space tariffs before, during and after elections.
That the penalty for contravention of the provisions in Section 100 should be restricted to the offending entity (the media house). It should not be extended to the “principal officers” and “other officers’ of the media house.
“One important frontier at which information could serve as public good is the electoral process and that is why we are proposing some amendments that will ensure that the media is not encumbered in the coverage and reportage of political parties and candidates, especially as self-regulatory frameworks, including the Nigerian Media Code of Election Coverage require that the media should give them equitable access while also promoting the inclusive issues of women, youths and people living with disabilities. Indeed, all the frameworks governing media role in elections require that journalists should adhere to the ethical and professional imperatives of fairness, balance, accuracy, conflict sensitivity and avoidance of hate speech.
,”The above demands reflect our rejections of the proposed amendments to the Electoral Act in the bill before the National Assembly especially in Section 100 (6 (a) of the bill proposing that the fine for media houses be increased to N 2millon in the first instance and N5million upon subsequent conviction a d Section 100 (6) (b) proposing that: “Principal officers and other officers of the media house to a fine of N2 million or to imprisonment for a term of 12 months,” Arogundade declared.
In the current Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) the penalties for contravention of the provision in Section 100 (3) and100 (4) as stipulated in Section 100(6) is: A maximum fine of N 500, 000 in the first instance, and a maximum fine of N1million for subsequent conviction.
While maintaining that there is high expecrtation from the media, Executive Director, Institute for Media and Society (IMS), Dr. Akin Akingbulu said the electoral law must ensure the media perform it’s role without inhibitor.
“The expectation from the media is very high. Media should ensure equal and equitable coverage of political parties, women and people with disabilities during electoral process,” he said.
In the area of inclusion issues, the coalition organisations eiterated their demands for the National Assembly to give utmost consideration to: protecting the voting rights of the blind and visually impaired voters;
regulating the cost of nomination of candidates to promote political inclusion and;
promoting the inclusion of women, youth, and persons with disability in politics.
“Electoral reform remains the only way an inclusive electoral system can be achieved. Hence, the continued call for the enabling legal instruments wherein inclusive participation of all Nigerians to participate in the electoral process (without being disenfranchised, without fear of attack by hoodlums and political hooligans, without fear of insecurity, without denials based on gender or disability, and without any restrictions in the ease to emerge as a candidate, and without any inhibition to vote and the votes to count during the election, etc) is guaranteed.”
Similarly, David Anyaele, Executive Director, Centre for Citizens with Disability (CCD) declared that access to voters education and political positions are great challenges for people with disability.
“There is no enabling platform for people with disability to make our voice heard and become visible. Access to voters education and political positions are our great challenges . People think because of our condition we cannot participate in the electoral process,” he said.
Director of Programmes, Women Advocate Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC) Mary George-Peluola, stressed that women still face a lot of challenges which hamper them from pursuing their political career and getting political leadership positions.
Adeola Ekine Chairperson, Nigeria Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ) Lagos State Chapter, enjoined women to support each other in every area including politics and urged media houses not to be gender biased in sharing responsibilities.
On his part, Chairman of Lagos State Council of Radio and Television Theatre Art Workers Union (RATTAWU), Dare Durosinmi called on media houses in Nigeria to provide life insurance for journalists during the electoral process.
On the Issue of INEC and conduct of credible and acceptable elections, the CSOs therefore demand for: Strengthening the financial and operational independence of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC); publication of polling unit level results by INEC to promote transparency in the results process; legitimising the use of technology in the electoral process through electronic accreditation of voters; electronic voting, electronic collation and transmission of results;
Introducing stiffer sanctions for electoral offences and establishment of the Electoral Offences Commission;
Improving election security and comprehensive regulation of the conduct of security personnel on election duty;
Introduction of early voting for Nigerians on essential election duty and voting rights for Nigerians in the diaspora;
Eliminating judicial actions/proceedings that ridicule or make a mockery of citizens will and choices in electing their representatives.
According to the coalition organisations “It was a welcome development when the National Assembly began a process in 2020 to amend the electoral laws..The urgent need for a new law is founded on the broad-based consensus by all Nigerians and electoral stakeholders on the need for a more credible and improved electoral process that encourages active citizens’ participation while genuinely guaranteeing their rights in choosing leaders that will provide quality representation and sustainable governance. There’s no doubt that over the last two decades of uninterrupted civil rule, there is still a deep yearning for reforms that can significantly inspire citizens’ trust in democracy.
“However, the silence from the National Assembly on the Electoral Amendment bill since the public hearing in December 2020 and the retreat to consolidate citizens’ feedback into the bill in late January 2021 is worrying. Nigerians deserve that the elected representatives readily respond to the needs of the people and grant the request for a new electoral law that genuinely captures the wishes of the people. This delay in concluding the process serves as a reminder of the failed process in 2018 and the lost opportunity to consolidate Nigeria’s democracy in 2019.”