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Nigerian Lawmakers Set July 2nd Deadline for Constitutional Changes

Nigerian lawmakers and officials have set a July 2nd deadline to conclude all business on proposed constitutional changes and amendments. However, there’s still much disagreement over which amendments should be approved and some question whether the target date is realistic.

VOA reporter Chinedu Offor, who is in Abuja and following developments, says there’s still much disagreement over some issues.

“One of the main issues being debated is how to fund the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Some people support direct funding, making it truly independent from the federal government. Others are saying an important agency like that should not be without adequate supervision in terms of the disbursement of funds.”

Another issue being hotly debated, says Offor, is what, if any, action should be taken when an elected official defects from his or her party and joins another political party.

“Should he or she continue to hold onto that office or relinquish the office and go for fresh elections?”

What’s been approved

Among the changes approved so far is the requirement that electronic voting machines and registration lists be used to help ensure accurate vote counts.

“Also, anyone found guilty by any administrative panel of the federal government would not be allowed to contest elections,” he says.

Some pro-democracy groups say the change doesn’t go far enough.

“They are asking that anyone who has been indicted by any government panel should not be eligible for election, but the new amendment did not specify that,” he says.

The groups are also calling for tougher action on electoral fraud.

“That anyone convicted of electoral fraud,” Offor says, “should be sent to jail for several years. The government has not… included these demands by the pro-democracy groups into the final document so far.”

July 2nd

With much work to be done on proposed constitutional amendments, how realistic a deadline is July 2nd for lawmakers to finish their work?

Reporter Offor says, since the proposed changes still must be sent to the state assemblies for approval, the target date is “not very realistic.”

After state assemblies approve the changes, the National Assembly must then take a final vote.

“A lot of people think it’s a tall order to expect 36 state assemblies to finish this work by July 2nd, but they’re willing to try. At least that’s what the Senate President David Mark says.”

Why so important?

“It’s important because the more you delay, it impacts preparations for next year’s elections. By July or August, all the parties will be having their conventions to pick their representatives and candidates. Electoral laws are part of the new amendments. If there are no laws, then there can’t be any election,” says Offor.