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The raft of proposed amendments to the electional law is only meant to benefit INEC, but is likely to create massive complications in the conduct of polls in Nigeria

For what can be appropriately termed as an attempt to trigger political anarchy, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is seeking wider powers including powers to disqualify candidates, which will make the current sectarian tensions engulfing the polity child’s play. This is clearly revealed in a fresh letter dated June 13,2013 addressed to the National Assembly by the Chairman of the body, Attahiru Jega, seeking amendments of the Constitution and Electoral Act. These include amendments to Sections 8,13,25,28,30 and 33.

INEC requested that Section 8 of the Electoral Act 2010 (2011 as amended, which provides for a five-year single tenure for the Secreatry of the Commission, to be amended to a four-year renewable tenure. On the surface, this sounds like a fundamental change, but if given a critical look it shows the bereaucratic running of the Commission. In other words, this amendment is seeking to allow the Secreatry of the Commission, or any candidate for the same, to enjoy two terms of eight years as against the current five years.

In another proposal for the amedment of Section 13(2) of the Act on transfer of voters, INEC wants a framework where an applicant seeking transfer of registration as a voter to accompany the application made to the Resident Electoral Commissioner with their voter’s card not later than 60 days before the date of the election. In every way this would cause untold hardship on such applicants within the limited framework of 60 days. As against the proposition of INEC, a voter seeking transfer of registration should have the latitude of time to do same.

The electoral body is also seeking amendments to Section 28(1) of the Electoral Act 2010(2011 as amended) which deals with the requirement of oath-taking of neutrality and loyalty by the members of staff of INEC to be applied to registration and all electoral activities including referendum. The question is : is mere oath-taking a guarantee of neutrality by members of staff of INEC? This raises the fundamental issue of the nature of the composition of INEC. To guarantee genuine elections that satisfy the aspirations of the working masses and the poor, INEC should be administered by direct representatives of the rank-and-file of the workers’ unions, students’ and youth organisations, artisans and farmers’ associations, etc. Without illusions, this can only come into being if the mass of the working people strive to carry out system change wherein the main organs of political power and the commanding heights of the economy are under their democratic control.

It is also proposing that Section 30(3) of the Act be deleted consequent upon the proposal that the provisions of Section 75(2) and 116(2) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) be amended to allow for two periods for elections to fill vacancies, that is bye-elections. To say the least, this is an unwarranted restriction on the staggered elections as they arise within the special circumstances of the Nigerian political terrain. INEC should be prepared to conduct elections as they arise and not restrict them to two-year period only.

For what can be further described as unwarranted pursuit of ascription of powers by INEC, it is seeking amendments to Section 48, 49,50,52,54,55 and 60 of the Electoral Act. It wants the National Assembly to replace the same with the provision that ‘voting at an election under this Act shall be in accordance with the procedure determined by the Independent National Electoral Commission’. In other words, INEC is seeking to bring the voting procedure during elections under its whims and caprices.

The major blow to all-known democratic norms is the power being sought by INEC to disqualify candidates. This is as well as powers to be the sole authority to determine the names and logos on the ballot papers.The warped argument canvassed in this respect by INEC is that it is not only a mangement body but also a regulatory one and it should have powers in this respect just like other bodies such as the NDIC (National Deposit Insurance Commission) or Central Bank of Nigeria(CBN) or National Agency for Foods, Drug Administration and Control(NAFDAC) in revoking bank licenses or banning unregistered drugs.

In short, INEC shows a shallow understanding of the socio-political ripples that this would create given the rabid quest for political power among the looting gangs of the ruling elite.This is also with the terrible prospect of mass disqualification of genuine working class candidates. Candidates democratically produced by their respective parties are not mere drugs or bank licenses that must be revoked, or properly put in this scenario, disqualified.

To justify further its proposition, INEC is seeking powers to disqualify for 10 years anyone convicted of electoral offences by a court or tribunal. It is already settled law that a person convicted of a criminal offence cannot stand for elections in Nigeria, why is INEC seeking extra-powers for disqualification in this respect?

It is also seeking that the proviso of Section 31(1) ‘List of Candidates’ be made subject to Section 87 of the Electoral Act in order to have powers to disqualify a person who has qualified as a candidate.It recommended as an alternative that political parties submit the name of a candidate who won a primary election along with the name of the candidate who scored the second highest number of votes at the primaries as the substitute candidate. In short, INEC is seeking to override the internal democracy of the political parties. This would only lead to outright socio-political anarchy and disaster.

Equally, it is bidding to have the power to determine the political parties that would have their names and logos on the ballot papers. This would be a further attack on multi-party democracy in Nigeria. Presently, Section 78(7) of the Electoral Act 2010 (2011 as amended) empowers INEC unconstitutionally to deregister parties that do not have political office holders at National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly. INEC’s fresh proposals would only open the way to chaos.

The Supreme Court decision in INEC vs. MUSA(2003) 3 NWLR has laid down through the doctrine of ‘covering the field’ that INEC’s exercise of its powers in the Electoral Act is subject to the supremacy of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). INEC’s voyage to acquire wider and unconstitutional powers is a journey to hell paved with ‘good intentions’. What needs to be done by the National Assembly is to entrench genuine multi-party democracy by removing or deleting Section 78(7) of the Electoral Act 2010 (2011 as amended) as it is undemocratic. Any attempt by the National Assembly to allow the proposed amendments of INEC is a big invitation to disaster.

* Ayo Ademiluyi is director, Social Justice Institute.