By NBF News

Most of the court cases threatening the conduct of elections next month are direct results of lack of internal democracy in the political parties, and this makes us wonder if the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is not fighting shy of using powers accorded it by our laws.

According to the Electoral Act, INEC must witness the conduct of party primaries, and has the power to reject any candidate brought forward, who has not been chosen at a free and fair contest. But across the political parties, there are legal tussles and contests on who the duly elected candidate is, and the electoral commission seems to be rather helpless.

Most of the candidates of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) emerged through the consensus arrangement, to the chagrin and consternation of some contestants, who felt cheated. They cried foul, but mum was the word from INEC.

In the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), particularly in Ogun State, two parallel primaries were held. Only one was witnessed by INEC, in conformity with the Electoral Act. But while the legal battle rages, the candidate listed by INEC emerged from the primary not attended by the electoral body. Does INEC lack the guts to stick to its empowered position? Yes, it must obey all court orders lest it be deemed contemptuous of the laws of the land, but the way the list of candidates has been shuffled, with names appearing and disappearing from the recognized list, despite such people not partaking in the authentic primary, leaves much to be desired.

Also in the PDP, former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, petitioned INEC on the primary that gave victory to President Goodluck Jonathan, held at the Eagle Square on January 13, this year. First, the electoral body denied receiving the petition, and then, last week, INEC chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega, said the issues raised in the petition were the internal affairs of the PDP, and that Abubakar should go to court to seek redress, if he felt terribly injured.

But INEC took another position in the cases emanating from the primaries of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) in Kano and Katsina states, respectively. Mohammed Abacha and Yakubu Lado had protested that they were the duly elected candidates, but the CPC awarded the tickets to Alhaji Aminu Masari and Jafaru Isa, respectively. INEC identified with the petitioners, and very significantly, in the ruling declaring Lado the duly elected candidate for Katsina, Justice Abdul Kafarati of the Abuja Federal High Court submitted that 'the issue is no longer an internal affair of the party since the rights of the plaintiff were breached.'

We believe it does not necessarily have to take the court to determine when the rights of an aspirant have been breached within a party. INEC has been vested with such powers, and it must begin to wield them, so that the process leading to general elections is not widely clogged with legal encumbrances. Let INEC rise up to the challenges of enforcing internal democracy in parties, which the law has empowered it to do.

Let the electoral commission not allow itself to be accused of favouritism, insisting on internal democracy in some parties, and overlooking brazen undemocratic acts in some others. This can only smack of double standard, which will deal serious blows to the impartiality of the electoral umpire.

We recognise that the extant Electoral Act is contradictory in two sections, where it gives INEC powers to exclude any candidate not democratically chosen, and in another breath the electoral body is stripped of powers to disqualify any nominee already brought forward by a political party. But happily, the Constitution contains no such contradiction, and INEC still reserves the right to exclude any candidate nominated undemocratically. We, therefore, do not expect the provisions in the Electoral Act to constitute any impediment.

Courage is what we expect from our electoral body on all fronts, and most especially in tackling the hydra-headed monster of lack of internal democracy in the parties. It must be even-handed in relating with all the parties, with none treated as sacred cow. It should not just encourage aggrieved candidates to go to court, when it already has the requisite powers to deal with the issues that cause contention. INEC should wield the powers it has been invested with, and not be diffident in any way. That is how to develop and strengthen internal democracy in the parties.