By NBF News

ESTABLISHED by Decree No. 17 of 1998, the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria vests in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the power to organise, undertake and supervise all elections to the offices of President, Vice President, the governor and deputy governor, and the membership of the legislature, at both states and federal levels.

The constitution also vests in INEC, the power to register all political parties and arrange for annual audits of the accounts of these parties, among other responsibilities. Arguably, few statutory bodies of government are saddled with such enormous tasks by the constitution.

However, in recent years, INEC has been perceived by a large spectrum of the Nigerian society and even beyond as having performed below expectation, especially in such areas as the conduct of elections, voters registration, voters education, and the monitoring of political parties. Indeed, it is incontrovertible that in the absence of a free, fair and transparent election, democracy is greatly undermined. It is only when votes count that democracy truly finds its meaning.

It is in this respect that widespread allegations that INEC is corrupt have become a serious concern. Officials of the commission have been accused of aiding and abetting election rigging. The view in many quarters is that they are incapable of conducting free and credible polls.

Only recently, former governor of Cross Rivers State, Mr. Donald Duke, at a public function in Abuja, alleged that state governors, Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs), Presiding Officers and Electoral Officers constitute a ring that rigs elections. While not exonerating himself, Duke, who governed Cross Rivers for eight years, said the RECs have the habit of coming cap in hand to state governors, asking for all manner of assistance. The governors, he claimed, often obliged.

Duke's revelation, apparently, has been taken seriously by the chairman of INEC, Prof. Attahiru Jega. In what amounts to reading the 'riot act', Jega has warned the RECs ahead of their re-deployment to the states, this week, not to seek or accept any form of assistance from state governors. He advised them to always get in touch with the commission headquarters concerning any needs they may have in the discharge of their duties, and on any matter they might face in their states of primary assignment.

The INEC chairman admitted that dalliance by the RECs with state governors, as alleged, could compromise the electoral process and the wishes of the people. We heartily welcome the wise counsel of the chief electoral umpire. Coming few months to crucial general elections next year, the advice is timely.

But, such advice will only yield the necessary result if the RECs have the moral fibre and personal integrity to reject financial inducement. We doubt if Jega can vouch for the personal integrity of most of the RECs. That is where the dilemma may lie. Nonetheless, we urge the RECs to heed the warning. They need no reminding that their job is a national assignment that requires utmost patriotism, trust and honesty of purpose.

It is heartwarming that recent amendments of the 1999 Constitution provide for a first line charge in the funding of INEC through the Consolidated Revenue Fund. With this autonomy, INEC officials no longer need to go cap in hand to the presidency for funds.

We urge INEC to institute in-house surveillance on the RECs and presiding officers, and those found to have compromised their positions should be shown the way out. More importantly, the INEC chairman himself must lead by example. He must show at all times, in word and action, that he is above board. If he fails to lead by example, he loses that moral authority to point accusing fingers at the RECs, or any erring official of the commission.