Only Uwais' Panel Report Can Save Nigeria's Electoral System - Jega
Chairman of Nigeria's Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega, has called for the urgent implementation of Justice Mohammed Uwais' electoral panel report to save the country's electoral system from collapse, Huhuonline.com can report. This, he has emphasised, is one sure way to surmount many challenges confronting the Commission and ahead of the 2015 general elections in 2015.
Jega, who was guest at a live television programme, which Huhuonline.com monitored in Lagos Friday evening, agreed that the Commission had not fully met the expectations of Nigerians despite the recorded success before and after the general elections of April 2011.
Some of the challenges bedevilling INEC, according to him, is the use of a small legal department which has to handle both pre and post electoral matters for the Commission, resulting in staff stress, as they work 24-hours to resolve all legal issues concerning INEC.
Jega complained that the INEC has not been able to prosecute enough electoral offenders because the law enforcement agents who are supposed to implement the laws against offenders have not been up to their tasks.
He also accused the courts of delaying cases against electoral offenders. According to him, even when a judge is aware that the accused actually committed the offence, he still goes ahead to delay the judgement and adjourn continuously.
"We are not the law enforcement agents that should implement the laws...the only way we can solve this problem is to create special courts to try those who commit offences.
"The NYSC members who have issues are through with their service and have gone back to their respective states. Now if there are hearings, we have to make use of resources to bring them to court. So like I said earlier, we have to ensure the full implementation of the Justice Uwais' Panel report so we can record better success than we have recorded so far."
While justifying the over N80 billion made available for the conduct of the 2012 election, Jega said the Commission's spending is currently undergoing some auditing and the report would be available soon.
"We spent the money appropriately and we have done the job. Everybody knows if there was a best thing we have done, it was the voters' registration. It was the best voter registration that has ever been done in this country."
Jega further clarified the controversies resulting from the use of university dons as returning officers during elections rather than the use of Electoral Commissioners, saying that the Commission has not lost confidence in the Electoral Commissioners but to reduce the stress they go through during elections.
Apart from this, he said: "we want to isolate them from the controversies that usually attend to them as returning officers in the past. When we came in as a Commission, there were all sorts of allegations, some of the people very unfairly accusing INEC staff of selling results to the highest bidder.
"So this time around in order to restore public confidence and insulate our officials from the process, let us get other people of integrity to come and do this job so that whatever happens, they won't say it is the INEC officials that have done it again."
Jega confirmed that of all the elections the Commission had handled, the recently held Bayelsa state election was the most challenging, not just because of the terrain of the state alone, but also because of legal issues that emanated even before the actual election.
Explaining why the Commission was absent at the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) primaries in the state prior to the governorship election, he said: "we got a court order and when we got it, it seemed clear to us that the judge was saying we should not monitor the primaries. So in compliance with the court injunction, we did not monitor the primaries in Bayelsa.
"When the PDP concluded the election, they sent us the name of Dickson as the candidate who had emerged from the primaries, but we also know that there was a pre-election litigation matter going on in court on the question of who should be the candidate of the PDP."
He said since the Appeal and Supreme Courts had in the past sometimes indicted INEC for proceeding to take an action when a matter is being determined in court, "so knowing that, we decided that we would not recognise the name that was sent to us by the PDP since there was a pending litigation.
So what we did was when we published the list of candidates, we left the space for PDP blank on assumption that anytime the case was concluded and a candidate is identified by the court, then that candidate would be the one that would stand for the election.
"But then, almost immediately, the PDP went to court and obtained an order that said we must recognise Dickson as the candidate for the PDP in the election. As a law abiding Commission, we fixed the name of Dickson on the ballot and went ahead to conduct the election."