The Derailing Of INEC
It may be too early in the day for anyone to allege that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is being derailed. But the truth of the matter is that it is indeed being derailed. And the department that would have prevented that derailment through pointing to the powers INEC has under the law is the very department orchestrating the derailing. Pity that someone is opening the vault in which, happily, we thought the memory of Iwu had been buried; and those who should shout and yell in their own interest are watching! If they are part of the problem, watching while someone is committing judicial murder, then the lapse many thought could be attended to without much ado is a huge manhole on our way to credible elections.
It is either that those undermining the highly trumpeted integrity of the new INEC are not aware that Nigerians really do believe that the INEC of Professor Attahiru Jega will make a difference or they do not believe that the days of Professor Maurice Iwu can be over. I believe that Nigerians, if INEC is not seen to be acting above reproach, may be forced to review that comfortable trust they had in a body that they thought would perform magic in the elections. With what is happening with the handling of the list of those to contest elections in April, INEC has a lot of image redeeming to do.
INEC is a product of the law. It is even more. It is a product of the Constitution, being one of the executive bodies that the president is empowered to set up under section 153 of the Constitution. It is empowered to register voters for elections. It has exclusive power so to do. It is empowered to conduct elections, in fact all the elections in the country except elections to local government areas. Even in the last case, it is the only body that can provide the register of voters for the areas. It also has power to register political parties and moderate their operations. The operative instrument of INEC is the electoral act. It seems that every election has to have an electoral act. Since the return to civil rule in 1999, we have had as many electoral acts as there have been elections. The latest act, the one of 2010 as amended many times, is the operative one and it is with this act there seems to be problems. The problems seem to be compounded by the very department that would have resolved them through proper pointers to what the electoral body ought to do.
But listen to what Barrister Philip Umeadi, INEC National Commissioner in charge of Legal Services, was telling the Daily Trust of Wednesday, February 9 on why they replaced the name the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) supplied as their candidate for the governorship slot for Kano State . He said Mohammed Abacha who was one of the candidates of the CPC that took part in the primaries for governor won the election and that was why they removed the name sent to INEC by the CPC and inerted Abacha's! 'We got a petition from Abacha (before the CPC submitted the list) and it was on that petition we acted.'
This is the most uninformed statement a person of the high office of INEC's legal services department can be credited with. If it is true that Barrister Umeadi said what he was reported to have said, then the Commission must meet and sort itself out so that the likes of Umeadi do not destroy the name the new INEC is trying to build. Umeadi must be told that the days when the old team of Maurice Iwu polluted our electoral space are over. The most effective way to tell it to him is to remove him before he destroys what Jega and his other hardworking colleagues have been doing.
Where for God's sake is the word 'proactive' part of the provisions that would enable INEC remove the name submitted to it and insert another? Umeadi says Abacha reached out to them with a petition before the CPC sent in its list of nominees. He seems to be saying that there are two ways INEC can entertain and act on protests from those who feel aggrieved -- they may go to court to stop the submission of the list not favouring them, or be 'proactive' enough to send a petition to INEC. After the lists had been sent to it, Umeadi, in sorting out those who had been 'proactive', inserted the name of Mohammed Abacha as the governorship candidate of the CPC for Kano and removed the name the party submitted! This is blatant abuse of office because of the breach of the clear provisions of he law.
I do not know if there are provisions of the Electoral Act 2010 that can be more correct than the one published on INEC's website which I have in front of me as I write this. Two sections are relevant, sections 31 and 87. Section 31(1) demands that every political party must submit to the commission the list of the candidates the political party intends to sponsor at the election. It needs no special interpretation to see what is demanded. It is the political party that wants to contest an election that must sponsor the candidates it intends to sponsor. INEC is not a political party and can therefore not choose candidates for political parties. Any INEC official that endorses the action of the legal department headed by Philip Umeadi should be watched to expose whatever agenda they have to make Attahiru Jega fail in his mission to redeem the heavily dented image of INEC.
Under the same section 31, paragraph 5, provision is made for what you can do when you have reasonable grounds to believe that information given by a candidate … is false. Head for the Federal High Court or the High Court of a State and file a suit against such a person that the information given in the person's documentation with INEC is false. INEC has no power to initiate such moves. Under section 87 which deals with nomination of candidates by political parties, what should be done is clear, as clear as the water of a spring. Voting will take place in every local government area when a party wants to nominate a candidate for the office of governor. The aspirant with the highest number of votes at the end of voting shall be declared winner of the primaries of the party and 'the aspirant's name shall be forwarded to the INEC as the candidate of the party for the particular state.' It is not INEC that does the forwarding or any other person but the party that conducted the primaries.
Let us look at some other requirements that may affect the choice of a candidate even if on the face he has the highest number of votes. The Constitution is the overriding law of the land. It provides for who qualifies for which office in the polity. In 1999, the first Speaker of the House of Assembly on return to civil rule had to quit office because he claimed to be old enough to be a member of the House of Representatives. But he was less than 30 and he lost the seat. Constitutional demands for qualification to assume office include the level of education you acquired, your state of mental health and whether or not you have ever been convicted of a criminal offence.
The truth is that the party that fielded a candidate is responsible for lapses which opposition parties may expose. That is why political parties set up appeal committees that would attend to problems arising from the primaries. In our experience, such problems may have to do with abuses of the ballot, inflation of figures, absence of voting. There may also be abuses arising from use of thugs and undue influence in acquiring votes. Where there is proof that there were infractions of the rules, the party proposing candidates should attend to them, shouldn't it.
The final provision on what to do about candidates is section 87 (10) which says, 'Notwithstanding the provisions of this Act or rules of a political party, an aspirant who complains that any of the provisions of this Act and guidelines of a political party has not been complied with in the selection or nomination of a candidate of a political party for election, may apply to the Federal High Court or the High Court of a state for redress.'
Is there any reason, with the clear provisions of the Electoral Act which the legal department of INEC should be the chief interpreter of, why anyone can forgive Umeadi for what is clearly not the case? Who should therefore be blamed and suspected of helping to act out a script written by those we may know in due time?
A day or two before I wrote this, the electioneering had started. The reaction to President Goodluck Jonathan's failure to make an impact in Lafia where he made his first stop is as embarrassing as the laying of the blame on other quarters. Arresting leaders of the CPC because young persons in Nasarawa State carried Buhari's posters and shouted 'Sai Buhari' where they were expected to shout 'Sai Jonathan' will not grow our democracy. Tanko Al-Makura, the CPC governorship candidate, was arrested and taken to Abuja where he was questioned. A former minister of works who also recently joined the CPC had a large army of plain-clothes visiting. They took him to their office and a day later, the EFCC went to the SSS and took the former minister away. See how so soon after many promises to the world community that we would make a difference this time around, we are already making ourselves a laughing stock by doing those very things that would not make us meet the irreducible minimum standards of behaviour the world will accept in assessing who has chosen to travel the democracy highway!
Prince Tony Momoh, National Chairman, Congress for Progressive Change (CPC),