TWO incidents, the good and the bad, happened last week about that operations of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). While answering questions from newsmen at an interactive session at the INEC headquarters, the Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu was asked which Electoral Act his commission would be relying upon for the conduct of the 2019 elections. His answer was straight to the point.
He said that the electoral Commission would rely on existing laws of the land and that as far as INEC was concerned, the existing law for now is Electoral Act 2010. Notwithstanding that variety of headlines that adorned the front pages of newspapers and replete the online media sites afterwards, the INEC Chairman had spoken right.
The second incident was the release of the 36-year electoral calendar by INEC. I wouldn’t know the justification for that. And I concluded it’s just an overdrive in an attempt to drag the electoral commission into the arena of the unfolding battle between the executive and the legislature over the emerging electoral act amendment bill 2018.
It would look as if the measured response by the INEC Chairman on what becomes of the ongoing electoral act amendment bill did not go down well with some forces who have now decided to engineer the release of a 36-year time table to showcase INEC’s pre-eminence and powers to fix election dates.
I cannot understand what purpose that is meant to serve, especially because the dates released by INEC were not lifted from the Constitution of the Federal Republic, 1999.
What if a future National Assembly decided to amend the Constitution and insert a definite election date? What if the ongoing amendment sails through and is given legal teeth? What if the nation in the future decides to adopt mid-term elections for legislators? And what if the nation returns to parliamentary system of government, which was adopted in the defunct First Republic?
As if the overdrive was not enough, INEC Chairman was further quoted in some media outfits as saying that he cannot be “intimidated.”
The drama over the amendment of the Electoral Act 2010 as captured in the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2018 is a drama that is bound to hit the crescendo and eventually dovetail into a denouement. The countdown is already on. It is a battle that should be principally fought by the executive arm of government, represented by the president and the legislature. The National Assembly has passed the amendment bill, which contains so many laudable clauses including the sections justifying the use of Smart Card Reader, and the introduction of electronic components to collation of results and accreditation of voters.
If the president decides to veto the bill, as he has done to a number of bills in recent times, the National Assembly has two options; look the other way and allow the bill to die or convey a joint session to override the veto.
If the first step is taken, it will not be the first or the last in the process of lawmaking. The Peace Corps Bill was just rejected last week and no one is talking of taking another look at the level of the legislature so far.
If the second step is taken, however, I do not see why anyone should begrudge the National Assembly. The Constitution of Nigeria, 1999 has already spelt out the processes the lawmakers can adopt in such circumstances.
So what is the business of INEC putting itself in the middle of a war it doesn’t have to join?
Not a few observers would read the lines, read between the lines and as well, read beyond the lines.
Already, we have an INEC that has been unable to wriggle itself out of the mire of registration of under aged voters. Yes, the Commission has set up a committee to investigate the saga witnessed during the Kano state local government election. We also have an INEC, whose spokesman has admitted that registration of under aged voters was inevitable because the officials were “threatened,” while Prof. Mahmood’s predecessor in office, Prof. Attahiru Jega had also admitted that the saga of under aged voting might be difficult to annihilate.
Besotted by the danger of under aged voting and the ills of rigging that comes with it, you don’t expect INEC to start scrubbing for challenges that are not principally its own.
It is clear that the Electoral Commission cannot clean the under aged voters from its register before the close of elections in 2019. It is also clear that the saga of under aged voting has been there before now. There were reports and pictures of similar incidences in the 2011 election especially in some Northern states.
Whatever the submissions the INEC investigative committee of INEC comes up with at the end of the day, scratching the surface will be the right conclusion. The fact remains that the said under aged voters have the Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVC) and they readily displayed them in previous elections. Who issued them such cards? And why did the so-called cleaning system of INEC not identify the anomalous registrations before the cards were issued.
Rather than concern itself with 2050, which is certainly not under its control, INEC should concern itself with resolving the pertinent questions of today as they will likely affect 2019.
Rather than concern itself with the 36-year timetable, INEC should be helping the nation on how to improve the quality of candidates that emerge into leadership positions.
Why won’t INEC release a time table for debates ahead of the 2019 elections? Why won’t INEC join in the efforts of the NGOs to create a debating platform for aspirants and candidates? That would have helped in sanitising the leadership recruitment system as citizens will scrutinise emerging leaders well ahead of the ballot.