Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on Wednesday came hard on the judiciary and politicians, blaming them for the nation’s electoral woes.
The agency also said the smart card reader, whose introduction into the electoral system in 2015, is seen as a game changer, has outlived its usefulness.
INEC National Commissioners Festus Okoye and Haruna Mohammed gave the agency’s position on these issues at the Nigeria Civil Societies Situation Room (NCSSR)’s review of the Kogi and Bayelsa states governorship elections in Abuja yesterday.
In response to the argument that INEC ought to have cancelled the Kogi election as a result of the pervasive violence that characterized it, the top officials said the agency lacks the power to cancel an election after being held.
Okoye said the smart card reader has lost relevance because even the courts do not recognise it as a means to prove over-voting.
He said the courts still rely on voter register and election results as means to prove over-voting.
“We must also find solution to the issue of smart card reader. The smart card reader has. lost its efficacy. The smart card reader has lost its vibrancy in relation to the electoral process, because the political elite has found a way around it.
“So, rather than use the smart card reader, they just ignore it, because ultimately, they know that when they get to the court, what the court will be saying is that: ‘you want to prove over voting? We want to see the voter register and we want the INEC forms and not the smart card reader’.
“So, as far as I am concerned, the smart card reader has become a redundant instrument and inconsequential,” Okoye said.
On the call for the reform of the electoral process, Okoye said: “My understanding of electoral reform is that electoral design alone cannot solve our electoral challenges unless we have a concomitant underpinning of the democratic spirit.
“Unless the political elite in this country believes in democracy and democratic processes, even if you amend our laws 20 times, it will not solve the problem.”
The convener of NCSSR, Clement Okoye, said INEC ought to be strict and apply the rules when necessary.
He said the brigandage, violence and malpractices recorded in the Bayelsa and Kogi elections would have been averted if INEC was firm.
“It is for INEC to put its foot down and insist that the right things must be done. If a governor gets N10billion two days to an election, what do you expect? With the case in Kogi, INEC did not put its foot down,” Nwankwo said.
Okoye said: “On whether INEC could have cancelled the election, Section 26 of the Electoral Act gives the Commission the power to postpone, not cancel. To postpone an election before the election starts.
“There is no provision of the law that gives the Commission the power to cancel. The law gives the Commission the power to postpone an election and go back if the condition has improved.”
Okoye said by the decision of the Supreme Court, once a presiding officer announces the result of an election from the polling unit, no body, not even the Chairman of INEC has the power to cancel the result from that particular polling unit
He blamed the courts for circumventing the efforts of INEC to sanitise the electoral process and play its regulatory roles.
He cited instances where courts have reversed the decisions validly made by INEC, which in most instances, disrupt plans for election.
“In two senatorial zones in Imo State, in one federal constituency in Benue, in one state constituency in Niger, in one state constituency in Akwa-Ibom, we made the point that the returning officers for those constituencies announced the results of the elections under conditions that were cloudy and we decided to withhold the certificates of return for those constituencies.
“They simply went to court and the court said the moment a returning officer has made a return, only a court of law can reverse whatever return he has made.
“Just before the elections, the political parties were asked to submit the names of their candidates and the list of their candidates. Around seven of the political parties, or is it 14, submitted the names of underage candidates to the commission.
“And we said those nominations were invalid, and we said we are not going to take them because we believed, that we are a regulatory commission and that since the Constitution says only a Nigerian by birth can contest governorship election, that it will be irresponsible for the commission to sit back and then a Chinese national will be nominated to contest a governorship election.
“And it is in an affidavit and the person said I am from China or somebody is nominated and he said he is 25 years old. And there is an affidavit backing it, then we sit back and do nothing. So we wrote to the political parties and said your nominations are invalid.
“They went to court and the court said no, before we can even remove the name of an underage candidate or before we can remove the name of a Chinese, if the person has been nominated, we must come to court. and get permission before we can take action,” Okoye said.
Mohammed, who supervised the Kogi election said: “They are saying we should have cancelled the Kogi election. This is something we have done before.
“But, the problem is that if you cancel, you do not have any guarantee that it will not be worse the next time. So, how many times are you going to cancel elections?,” he said.
Yakubu said the unruly behaviour of political actors during elections is not something you can legislate against.
“The basic problem is that of attitude. No matter how many reforms we do, so long as the politicians behave with impunity and get away with it
“This attitude thing is one of the problems. I don’t know how we are going to change it. Because even if you have the best laws. you have the best Constitution, the problem will still persist
The INEC chief said no amount of reforms would address the challenges associated with elections unless the politicians change their ways.
He noted that the politicians are emboldened to act with impunity because “no penalties are provided in the electoral laws for most of the offences.
“For instance the pasting of candidates’ posters and banners on public buildings and infrastructure as was the case in Kogi State, which amounts to using government’s resources to advertise, there is no punishment for that kind of act.
“Anytime you do a reform, it seems that any solutions you come up with, another set of problems will come and overshadow them.
He urged civil society organisations to focus more on the activities of the politicians who act with impunity and sponsor electoral violence.