A Bill for an Act to amend the Electoral Act to prohibit Electoral Officers from engaging in partisan politics within five years of retirement, resignation and official relief of duties has passed second reading in the House of Representatives.
The bill, which seeks to ensure equal playground for all contestants in elections, was sponsored by Rep. Olawale Raji (APC-Lagos) at the plenary on Tuesday.
Leading the debate, Mr Raji said that Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution provides that every Nigerian is free to belong to any political party, trade union or any other associations for the protection of his/her interest.
He said that in line with the section, every Nigerian adult has the inherent constitutional right to participate freely during an election and cannot be disenfranchised unduly.
Mr Raji, however, said that Section 45 (1) of the Constitution provides that nothing in Section 40 of the Constitution shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society.
According to him, laws with respect to the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health, or for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedom of other persons.
The lawmaker said that a high level of information is available to the National Electoral Commissioner and the Resident Electoral Commissioner during their period of service as electoral staff.
He explained that such information, especially the methods and the procedures on how elections are conducted, are not privy to the general public.
“It has become imperative to restrict them from taking part in aspiring for elective positions in government for a period of at least five years of their disengagement from the commission.
“This is to ensure that such an officer has lost touch with recent events in the Electoral Commission.
“In addition, this Act is tailored towards the protection of the integrity of the electoral body and elections at large.
“It is also a way to build the confidence of the electorate towards the activities and affairs of the commission.
“By isolating these officers from engaging in active politics, this amendment will prevent any possible abuse of office or using a position once occupied to gain undue advantage during an election,” he said.
He recalled that in August, 2019 the Resident Electoral Commissioner in charge of Cross River State, Dr. Frankland Briyal, resigned his appointment in the state headquarters of INEC in Calabar, to enable him contest in the governorship race in Bayelsa State.
He said that the action did not escape criticism as it caused discomfort within the political party and created a national embarrassment for the electoral system.
Mr Raji urged members to support the bill in order to checkmate the loopholes in the principal Act as it would strengthen Nigeria’s democratic culture.
Speaker of the house, Rep. Femi Gbajabimila referred the bill to the House Committee on Electoral Matters for further legislative actions.