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The Nigerian electoral process and the imperatives of reform (IV)

More so, there is also the urgent need to review and amend section 156 (1) (a) of the 1999 constitution which provides that qualification for…

More so, there is also the urgent need to review and amend section 156 (1) (a) of the 1999 constitution which provides that qualification for appointment into INEC is the same as qualification for membership of the House of Representatives. The same constitution, in section 66(1) provides the qualification into the House of Representatives to include membership and sponsorship of a political party. The implication of this is that constitutionally, only party members could be appointed into INEC. This implies that the body can never be as independent as envisaged by section 153 of the same constitution. This point is so because the ruling party at any point in time will use the powers vested in the executive to constitute INEC to appoint their members into the body. Therefore, instead of being neutral and independent, INEC will be a partisan and biased electoral umpire as it has been all along.  

INEC should equally develop a career professional service, equivalent to the career foreign service. As observed by Robert (2005), Mexico made the transition from a weak electoral system to a highly trained and professional institution in less than a decade, and a key element in its success was training.

Furthermore, there is need for the unbundling of INEC as the body is presently saddled with a lot of responsibilities all of which have to be carried out almost at the same time. As noted by the National Democratic Institute (2008), when it ought to have been preparing for elections, INEC was struggling to monitor the activities of political parties, attend their conventions, and monitor their spending and so on. Therefore, the functions of INEC should be distributed to other agencies so that not everything rests on the decision of its Chairman. In line with this, the responsibility of monitoring political parties should be devolved to other bodies. Delineation of constituency and wards should also be devolved to another agency. In fact, INEC shares this responsibility with the National Population Commission and the National Boundary Commission. As suggested by the NDI, the role of the two bodies should be harmonized so that INEC is obliged to consult both of them and make the entire process transparent.

A part of the unbundling will include the creation of an Electoral Offences Commission as recommended in the ‘Uwais Report’. The present situation whereby INEC is saddled with the responsibility of prosecuting electoral offences where it always is an offender does not create room for transparency in the process. Besides, INEC has shown persistent incompetence in the discharge of this all important responsibility. In the various rulings upturning various elections in 2003 and 2007, the judiciary noted non-conformity with the Electoral Act, yet nobody has been punished for deliberately flouting the law.

The prosecution of electoral crime primarily requires the enforcement of existing legislations prohibiting same. Enforcement of election laws and regulations is an essential element of free, fair and reliable elections, no matter where they are held. Good enforcement not only ensures that the legal and regulatory framework for elections is applied and respected, but also reassures voters of the legitimacy of the electoral process. It also encourages accountability, acts as a deterrent, increases transparency and builds confidence in the election results. Since INEC itself is an offender and cannot naturally be a judge in its own case, responsibility for the prosecution of electoral offences should be vested in an Electoral Offences Commission as recommended by the ‘Uwais Panel’.

Voters’ registration is a crucial aspect of the electoral process. In fact, rigging actually commences from this point with practices as multiple registration, proxy registration, diversion of registration materials and so on. The introduction of Direct Data Capture Machine is an effort to remedy shortcomings that attend this aspect of the electoral process. Unfortunately it has not brought about improvement in voter registration due to problems ranging from shortcomings in power supply for recharge of the machine in very remote areas, non-procurement of sufficient quantity of DDC machines, diversion of some of the available machines by politicians. A certain political entrepreneur in Oyo State was said to have diverted some of the machines to his personal residence. There is equally the problem of lack of personnel with sufficient skill to operate the machine. Some registered voters had reported that their particulars were not found in the machine. Consequently, they could not vote.

The point of note here is that conducting registration only during electioneering period is quite cumbersome and could lead to rigging of the process. Therefore there is need for a change in the voters’ registration process as part of the envisaged electoral reform.