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Nigeria needs stricter laws, penalties on campaign expenses – Gbajabiamila

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, has said voter education and enlightenment could help increase the rate of voter participation in the forthcoming general 2023 elections.

Gbajabiamila also proposed amendments to the Constitution and the Electoral Act to regulate political spending and impose sanctions.

The Speaker made the call at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, on Thursday, where he presented a paper on ‘Consolidating Nigeria’s Democracy: Prospects for Strengthening Nigeria’s Electoral Systems Ahead of 2023 Elections.’

This is according to a statement issued on Friday by the Special Adviser to the Speaker on Media and Publicity, Lanre Lasisi, titled ‘2023: Addressing Voter Apathy Will Improve Elections Outcomes – Gbajabiamila…Highlights the Need to Reform Campaign Finance Laws.’

Gbajabiamila said, “Voter education and enlightenment campaigns can help increase the rate of voter participation, getting more people to believe that there is power in the vote and that a ballot can change the course of a nation and improve the conditions of its people.

“Enhancing citizen participation is also about ensuring that the nation’s diversity is reflected in the composition of its political actors. The variety of voices, perspectives, and experiences can only improve the quality of debate and enhance the quality of outcomes.”

Speaking on the need to review the campaign laws of the country, especially in the area of finances for elections, he said, “Clearly, we need to reform our campaign finance laws and the entire system through which we fund politics and political operations in the country. This would require amendments to both the Constitution and the Electoral Act.

“To be effective, such campaign finance reform legislation will impose a financial reporting mandate on candidates and campaigns and impose severe penalties on violators,” Gbajabiamila stated.

The Speaker noted that it may help clean up the flow of money into the political process. “But there is a real risk that this ends up making the process more expensive by creating regulatory compliance costs. So, as we consider this option, we will consider others too and remain open to new ideas,” he added.

Gbajabiamila listed some of the steps taken by the National Assembly to ensure substantial improvement in Nigeria’s electoral system, saying, “After every election cycle, the National Assembly has initiated steps to document experiences, extrapolate lessons learned and, on that basis, amend the electoral laws to plug gaps and remove bottlenecks.

“Each electoral amendment effort reflects a considered attempt to provide a more robust statutory framework for elections. From the internal party processes to the final declaration of results and even pre and post-election litigation.

“At the same time, the Independent National Electoral Commission has in the last decade shown a remarkable willingness to learn from its own mistakes, embrace new technology, engage stakeholders, and take proactive action to ensure public faith in the electioneering process.

“They, and indeed the legislature, have often been helped in our joint efforts by aid and support from our international friends who understand that Nigeria’s democracy has been hard-won and deserves to be protected by all prudent and necessary means.”

The Speaker also mentioned the efforts the parliament and the government as a whole have made towards ensuring that the forthcoming elections are free, fair, and credible.

He said, “In the 2022 Appropriations Bill, the legislature has made provisions to allow both INEC and the security agencies to make adequate plans for these contingencies.

“And I am aware that in addition to funding issues, efforts are already underway to prepare for the unique challenges we face as we plan to deliver free, fair, and credible elections across the country.”

Acknowledging that democracy in Nigeria is still young and fragile, Gbajabiamila said sustaining it requires dedicated efforts as the success or failure of the 2023 elections would impact the Nigerian people, the African continent, and indeed, the world.

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