There are various electoral laws in Nigeria that govern the process of electing people into political offices. The major laws governing the electoral process in Nigeria are as follows:
- The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999
- The Electoral Act 2010;
- The INEC Regulations and Guidelines for the Conduct of Elections, 2019.
Some of the crucial provisions of the above laws will be examined individually in detail.
THE CONSTITUTION OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA 1999
The major law that governs the electoral process in Nigeria is the 1999 Constitution (as altered). The Constitutional provisions relating to elections in Nigeria will be highlighted below;
Right to Peaceful Assembly and Association- Section 40 of the Nigerian Constitution provides for the right of persons to form a political party or association. It states that every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union, or any other association for the protection of his interest, provided that the provisions of this Section shall not derogate from the powers conferred by the Constitution on the Independent National Electoral Commission concerning the Political Parties to which that Commission does not accord recognition.
Qualifications for Election- Section 65,105 and 131 of the Constitution provides that a person shall be qualified for election in the various elective offices if he;
- He is a citizen of Nigeria and has attained the age of 35years.
- A member of the House of Representatives if he is a citizen of Nigeria and has attained the age of 25years.
- He has been educated up to at least a secondary school leaving certificate or its equivalent;
- He is a member of a political party and he is sponsored by that party.
Disqualifications- Section 66,107, 137,182 of the Constitution provides that no person shall be qualified for election to the Senate or the House of Representative if the following exists;
- He has voluntarily acquired the citizenship of a country other than Nigeria or has declared allegiance to such other party.
- Under the Law in any part of Nigeria, he has been adjudged to be a lunatic or declared to be of unsound mind.
- He is under a sentence of death imposed on him by a competent Court of Law or Tribunal in Nigeria or is under a sentence of imprisonment or fine for an offense involving dishonesty or fraud or for any other offense imposed on him by any court or tribunal or substituted authority.
- Within a period of less than ten (10) years before the date of the election to the office of the President, he has been convicted and sentenced for an offense involving dishonesty or he has been found guilty of contravention of the code of conduct.
- He is an undischarged bankrupt, having been adjudged or otherwise declared bankrupt under any law in force in Nigeria or any other country.
- He is a person employed in the civil or public service of the Federation or State and does not resign, withdraw or retire from the employment at least 30 days before the date of the election.
- He is a member of any secret society.
- He has been indicted for embezzlement or fraud by a judicial committee of inquiry or an administrative panel of inquiry or a tribunal and which the indictment has been accepted by the Federal or state government.
- He has presented a forged certificate to the independent national electoral commission.
Supervision of Election- Section 78 of the Constitution provides that the registration of voters and the conduct of elections shall be subject to the direction and supervision of the Independent National Electoral Commission.
Restriction on Formation of Political Parties- Section 222 of the Constitution provides for the restrictions of any association to be called a political party unless the following requirements are met;
- The name and address of its national officers are registered with the Independent National Electoral Commission.
- The membership of the association is open to every citizen of Nigeria irrespective of his place of origin, ethnic group, sex, religion, or circumstance of birth.
- A copy of the Constitution is registered in the principal office of the Independent National Electoral Commission in such form as may be prescribed by the Independent National Electoral Commission.
- Any alteration in its registered Constitution is also registered in the principal office of the Independent National Electoral Commission within 30 days of making such alteration.
- The name of the association, its symbol or logo does not contain any ethnic or religious connotation or give the appearance that its activities of the association are confined to a part only of the geographical area of Nigeria and,
- The headquarters of the association is situated in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
Aims and Objectives of a Political Party- Section 224 of the Constitution in line with election matters provide that the aims and objects of a political party must conform to the provisions of the Constitution.
De-registration of Political Party- Section 225 provides that the Independent National Electoral Commission has the power to de-register a political party for the following reasons;
- Breach of any of the requirements for registration.
- Failure to win at least 25% of votes cast in the state of the Federation in a presidential election or one local Government of the State in a Governorship election.
- Failure to win at least one ward in the Chairmanship election.
- One seat in the National or State House of Assembly election or;
- One seat in the Councillorship election.
THE ELECTORAL ACT 2010
The Electoral Act is enacted by the National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Part one of the Act provides for the establishment and functions of the Independent National Electoral Commission. The Commission is established by Section 153 of the 1999 Constitution and it is a body corporate capable of suing and being sued. Section 2 of the Electoral Act provides for the functions of the Commission as conferred on it by the Constitution as follows;
- That INEC has the power to conduct voter and civic education;
- The Commission has the power to promote knowledge of sound democratic election processes;
- Conduct any referendum that is required to be conducted under the provisions of the Constitution or any other law or Act of the National Assembly.
The Electoral Act also provides under Section 3 for the establishment of the Independent Commission Fund for the Electoral Commission. The Fund requires that the following be paid into it;
- Such sums and payments available to the Commission for carrying out its functions and purposes under the Electoral Act and the Constitution and all other assets from time to time that will accrue to the Commission;
- Sums that may from time to time be credited to the Commission;
- Aids and grants that may accrue to the Commission from time to time to perform its functions.
These funds can only be disbursed by the Commission following the provisions of the Act as provided in Section 4. The disbursement of funds can be made in the following;
- To discharge the cost of administration of the Commission;
- To reimburse members or members of the committee set up by the Commission for expenses that will be expressly authorized by the Commission in accordance with the rates approved by it;
- The funds can be disbursed to pay salaries, fees, or other remuneration of allowances and pensions, superannuation allowance and gratuities payable to officers and servant of the Commission;
- For the maintenance of any property vested in the Commission and;
- Any matter in connection with all or any of its functions under the Electoral Act.
The Commission after its disbursement of funds is required to submit to the Ministry of Finance not later than 31st of August in each financial year, an estimate of its expenditure and income including all payments to the Independent National Electoral Commission during the net succeeding financial year.
Part One of the Electoral Act also provides that each State of the Federation and Federal Capital Territory, must establish an INEC office which shall perform functions that will be assigned to it from time to time by the Commission, and any person appointed to the office shall be answerable to the Commission and will hold office for five years. This provision is made under Section 6 of the Act.
In relating to election processes, the Act provides under Section 9 that the Commission shall compile, maintain and update continuously a National Register of Voters for each State and the Federal Capital Territory and Local Government, which will include the names of all persons entitled to vote in any Federal, State, Local Government or Area Council elections in Nigeria
Section 9(5) of the Act provides that the registration of voters, updating and revision of the register of voters shall stop not later than 30 days before any election in Nigeria, and the registration shall take place at registration centers designated for that purpose and shall be communicated to the general public by the Commission.
Section 12 of the Act further provides for the qualification of persons to be registered as a voter in the National Register of Voters. These qualifications are;
- The applicant must be a citizen of Nigeria;
- The applicant is 18years and above;
- He is an ordinary resident, works in, originates from the Local Government/Area Council or Ward covered by the registration center;
- He presents himself to the registration officers of the Commission for registration as a voter and;
- He is not subject to any legal incapacity such as insanity, to vote under any law, rule, or regulation in force in Nigeria.
A voter is prohibited from registering in more than one registration center or even registering more than once in the same center, the Act provides under Section 12(3) that anyone who contravenes this provision commits an offense and is liable to pay a fine not exceeding N100,000 (One Hundred Thousand Naira) or imprisonment not exceeding one year.
The Act also provides for procedures for conducting elections in Nigeria. It provides under Section 25 that the days of an election in Nigeria will hold on a date appointed by INEC by the Constitution. The dates that apply to elections are;
- Election to each House of the National Assembly will hold not earlier than 150 days and not later than 30 days before the House stands dissolved or where the election is to fill a vacancy occurring more than 90 days before such date, not later than 30 days;
- Elections to the office of the President will be held on a date not earlier than 150 days and not later than 30 days before the expiration of term of office of the last holder of that office, while;
- Elections to the office of the Governor of a State will be held on a date not earlier than 150 days and not later than 30 days before the expiration of term of office of the last holder of that office.
Section 31 of the Act provides that every political party shall not later than 60days before the date appointed for the general election, submit to the Commission in the prescribed forms, the list of the candidates the political party proposes to sponsor at the elections, which shall be published within 7 days of receipt, provided the Commission does not disqualify the candidate for any reason. The list of candidates is to be accompanied by an affidavit at the Court, indicating that the candidate has fulfilled all the constitutional requirements for election into that office.
Another important provision of the Act is Section 69, which provides for the declaration of result. It states that in an election to the office of the President, Governor whether or not contested or in any contested election to any elective office, the result will be ascertained by counting the votes cast for each candidate, the candidate who receives the highest number of votes will be declared elected.
THE INEC REGULATIONS AND GUIDELINES FOR THE CONDUCT OF ELECTIONS, 2019
The regulatory body for elections in Nigeria is the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). In exercising the powers conferred on it by the Constitution and the Electoral Act issues guidelines for the conduct of elections into any elective office in Nigeria. The 2019 regulations and guidelines supersede all other regulations on the conduct of elections that have been issued by the Commission and it shall remain in force until replaced by a new regulation or its amendment.
The Regulations and Guidelines apply to all conduct of elections in the various elective offices from the President to the Councillors of Area Councils.
Some salient provisions of the Regulations and Guidelines are highlighted below.
Date of general elections - Rule 1 of the Regulations and Guidelines provides that elections to the office of the President, Vice-President, and National Assembly shall hold on the third (3rd) Saturday in February of any general election year while elections into the office of the Governor and States House of Assembly shall hold two (2) weeks after.
Eligibility of Voters- Rule 2 of the Regulations and Guidelines provides that a person is eligible to vote when he meets the following criteria;
- He/she is a Nigerian;
- He /she is registered as a Voter;
- His/her name appears in the register of voters;
- He/she presents a valid permanent Voter's Card (PCV) at the polling unit.
Where to vote- It provides that voting in an election shall take place at the Polling units and Voting Points as provided under Rule 3 of the Regulations and Guidelines.
Appointment of Presiding Officers- the INEC Regulations and Guidelines provide that each polling unit will be manned by a Presiding Officer and three Assistant Presiding Officers. The Presiding Officer must delegate the responsibility of accreditation, preparing, and issuing of ballot papers to the Assistant Presiding Officers by virtue of Rule 4 of the Regulations and Guidelines.
Accreditation and Voting Procedure at Elections- Rule 8 of the Regulations and Guidelines provides that the method of voting in Nigeria must be in accordance with the Continuous Accreditation and Voting System (CAVS) procedure, the Election Manual, and any other Guide issued by the Commission. Accreditation and voting shall commence at 8.00 am and close at 2.00 pm, provided that all voters are already in the queue. The accreditation involves the following process;
- reading the permanent voter's card (PCV) and authentication of the voter's fingerprint using the smart card reader;
- checking of the register of voters and;
- Inking of the cuticle of the specified finger of the voter.
Mandatory use of Smart Card Reader (SCR)- Rule 10 of the Regulations and Guidelines provides that a person who intends to vote shall be verified to be the same person in the Register of Voters by use of the Smart Card Reader.
Visually impaired/blind or incapacitated Voters- Rule 14 of the Regulations and Guidelines also provides for visually impaired/blind or incapacitated Voters, that the Presiding Officer at the Polling Unit will allow a person who is blind, visually impaired, or unable to distinguish symbols or who suffers from any physical disability to be accompanied into the Polling Unit/Voting Point and will be assisted to vote by a person chosen by him/her, other than an election official, polling agent or security personnel.
Close of voting- the Regulation and Guideline provides under Rule 21 that after every voter on the queue has voted, the Presiding Officer will declare the voting closed and upon that, the Officer will cancel all unused ballot papers by crossing them out. The Presiding Officer will also sort out the ballot papers by each party and loudly count the votes scored by each political party in the presence of the Polling Agents and observers. The result of the election will be transmitted in a tamper-evident envelope to the Registration Area/Ward Collation Officer in the company of security agents.
Collation of Election Results- Rule 27 provides that the collation and declaration of election results shall be done at the following levels depending on the type of election;
- Registration Area-RA/Ward (Collation for all elections) including that of Councillor in the case of the FCT.
- Local Government Area- LGA (Collation for all elections) including that of Chairman in the case of the FCT.
- State Constituency (Collation and Declaration of State House of Assembly elections).
- Federal Constituency (Collation and Declaration of House of Representatives elections).
- Senatorial District (Collation and Declaration of Senatorial District elections).
- Governorship (Collation and Declaration of Governorship elections) and
- Presidential (Collation and Declaration of Presidential election).
Access to Polling Units and Collation Centres- Rule 48 provides that the persons to be allowed access to the electoral material distribution centers, polling units, Collation Centres are;
- Voters at Polling Units only;
- INEC officials on election duty;
- Security agents;
- Candidates or their accredited polling agents;
- Accredited journalists/media;
- Accredited domestic and foreign observers.
Nigeria as a Federation of 36 States conducts that elections periodically to fill up the various political offices. An election is an important formal and organized decision-making process by which the citizens elect who holds political offices in the country, therefore, there must be laws and regulatory bodies that will ensure that it is conducted in a free and fair manner and is also properly regulated. Apart from the above laws, case laws or judicial decisions also to a large extent provides guidance and clarity on the electoral process in Nigeria.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.