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Nigerian Activists Push Buhari to Sign Election Reform Bill

Protesters from various civil society groups hold placards in Abuja demanding president Buhari to sign the electoral bill in Abuja On Tuesday, February 22, 2022. (VOA/Timothy Obiezu)

A coalition of Nigerian activists demonstrated Tuesday in the capital city Abuja, demanding President Mohammadu Buhari sign a bill that aims to improve transparency, inclusion, and planning for national elections.

More than 200 participants from various civil society groups chanted as they converged at unity fountain Tuesday in Abuja.

The activists are demanding President Mohammadu Buhari sign into a law a bill that would promote the early release of funds for elections, the inclusion of marginalized groups in voting, and would authorize the electronic transmission of election results.

"In 2019, one truth that we're not telling Nigerians is that resources were released six weeks to the elections," said Paul James, one of the organizers of the protest. "So, if these things are coming close to the elections, it affects everybody that is working on the process."

Activists at the protest say the new bill will make elections more organized, inclusive and credible if signed into law.

There are more than 30 million Nigerians living with disabilities.

"Election after election, people with disabilities have to surmount whatever challenge it is to vote," said Grace Jerry, executive director Inclusive Friends Association, a group representing disabled citizens at the protest. "President Buhari, in case you do not know, people with disabilities had to crawl on the ground because of inaccessible polling units. To vote for you, people who are blind had to rely on somebody to vote and could not experience the secret ballot process.”

The president’s office released a statement late Monday denying claims of foot-dragging in Buhari signing the bill.

The president spokesperson, Femi Adesina, said the president had only received the bill from the senate on January 31 and had until March 1 to sign it.

He also said interest groups were taking advantage of "what they consider a delay in the signing of the electoral bill by the president to foment civil disorder."

During an interview Tuesday with Lagos-based Channels television, Adesina said Buhari would sign the bill soon.

But protester James Paul has doubts the president will follow through.

"The government has not been very truthful with Nigerians, they have been dilly-dallying with what we thought would help to improve on the transparency and integrity of our elections," said Paul. "Since 1999, the more money you pump into the election, the less participation you see in the election.”

Allegations of rigging and corruption are common during Nigerian elections.

Activists say the president already has declined to sign the bill five times and are hoping he will sign it this time round.