National Commissioner and Chairman Information and Voters Education, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Mr Festus Okoye, speaks with Senior Deputy Editor, TAIWO AMODU on the Electoral Act 2010 (Amendment) Bill, and National Assembly’s resolutions on the contentious issue of electronic transmission of results among other issues.
How did the INEC receive the news that the National Assembly gave a proviso for electronic transmission of results while passing the Electoral Act 2010 (Amendment) Bill, 2021?The commission is a public trust with clearly defined powers and mandate. The commission derives its powers from the fundamental law of the land and the National Assembly and the Executive are also products of the constitution and the law.
Section 4 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) domiciles and vests the legislative powers of the federation in the NASS and they have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the federation or any part thereof with respect to any matter included in the Exclusive Legislative List. By section 9 of the constitution, the NASS is also vested with the power to alter any of the provisions of the constitution. It can be seen that the powers of the NASS are clearly defined.
In the same vein, section 118 of the constitution provides that “the registration of voters and the conduct of elections shall be subject to the direction and supervision of the Independent National Electoral Commission”. Furthermore, section 160(1) of the constitution provides that “Subject to subsection (2) of this section, any of the bodies may, with the approval of the President, by rules or otherwise, regulate its own procedure or confer powers and impose duties on any officer or authority for the purpose of discharging its functions, provided that in the case of the INEC, its powers to make its own rules or otherwise regulate its own procedure shall not be subject to the approval or control of the President.”
The commission participated in retreats, conferences, public hearings and technical committees’ meetings leading to the production of the clean copy of the bill. Ultimately, the power to make laws resides with the NASS. Our expectation is that all organs of government would remain separate and work cooperatively within the confines and ambit of the constitution. Since the constitution is the fundamental law of the land, no other law can override the clear provisions or intendment of the constitution.
In the area where the constitution has covered the field, any other law that attempts to compete in the same area will be declared as unconstitutional. Hopefully, the Conference Committee of both Houses of the NASS will reflect deeply on the contentious issues and pass the version of the bill that reflects the popular will and accords with constitutional dictates.
But did INEC really feel that its power on conduct of elections is being surrendered or transferred to the National Communications Commission? Will it challenge the National Assembly in court, once the Bill is passed into law?
The powers of the commission are clearly defined in the constitution and the law and the commission will remain faithful to the powers conferred on it by the constitution. Presently, the NASS has not concluded work on the Bill and nothing has been transmitted to the president for his assent. It will be speculative to assume that the powers of the commission have been taken away when the NASS has not concluded work on the Electoral Amendment bill.
The commission will continue to work with and collaborate with government agencies with the requisite expertise in certain areas, the constitution and government and impose duties on any officer or authority for the purposes of discharging its functions. There is no provision of the constitution that subjects the performance of the functions of the commission to any other agency or organ of government. It is therefore rational and safe to wait for the outcome of the conference committee of both Houses of the NASS regarding the final version of the Bill.
The PDP has alleged that against the background of the passing of the Electoral Act 2010 (Amendment) Bill, 2021 by both chambers of parliament, which practically vetoed electronic transmission of results, INEC has embargoed procurement of electronic machines. Is that the true picture?
The business of the commission is anchored on facts, evidence and transparency. It is dangerous and self-serving for any individual or group of individuals or organizations to anchor its policy or response to issues with national security implications on an “unnamed source”.
The commission is not aware that the provision for Electronic Transmission of Results was vetoed by both Houses of the National Assembly. The commission is aware that the Senate and the House of Representatives passed different versions of the provision relating to Electronic Transmission of Results and these will be harmonized during their conference committee meeting.
The commission will wait for the conclusion of the processes before taking a position. Furthermore, the commission did not inform any individual and did not issue any statement to the effect that it has embargoed the procurement of electronic voting machines.
As far as the commission is concerned, the procurement and introduction of Electronic Voting Machines in the electoral process is not dependent on the passage of the provision relating to electronic transmission of results. The processes leading to the procurement of Electronic Voting Machines are ongoing and the commission is committed to deepening the use of technology in the electoral process.
We know there must be pending applications by associations seeking to assume status as political parties. How many are they and are you willing to register more political parties ahead of 2023?
There are pending applications by associations desirous of transmuting to political parties. Sections 221 to 225 of the Nigerian constitution give the commission the power to register associations that meet the constitutional threshold. Furthermore, section 78 of the Electoral Act provides that “any political association that complies with the provisions of the constitution and this Act for the purposes of registration shall be registered as a political party provided that such application for registration as a
political party shall be duly submitted to the commission not later than six months before a general election.”
In the online registration by prospective voters in the Continuous Voters Registration, certain political parties have picked holes in the statistics from Osun State. What reasons could you advance for the high figure from Osun State whose eligible voters are taking advantage of online platforms? The opposition parties are alleging that figures are being simulated?
The online registration process is called “pre-registration”. It is not full registration. The online pre-registration elapses at the end of 14 days if the applicant does not activate the last physical biometric capture at the state or local government offices of the commission.
You can see from the online registration figure for 16th August 2021 that the preregistration figure for Osun State stood at 346, 819 and that of Anambra stood at 107,217. In the completed registration, the figure for Osun for the same period stood at 19, 771 while that of Anambra stood at 23, 314. The two states have the highest number of completed registration. These figures and the data will be subjected to claims and objections and reduplication at the back end of the commission’s registration processes.
Nigerians know and the registrants know that it is an offence to register twice and the commission will not hesitate to prosecute any individual involved in double registration.
Looking at INEC regulations on political parties, the commission is vested with powers to look at audited Accounts of parties, after the general election. The parties must also have a noticeable presence in Abuja and states across the federation, including functional national working committees and Boards of Trustees. But these provisions are often observed by the parties in the breach. But Nigerians are saying INEC can only bark and not bite, since you treat this violation of your rules with kid gloves. What is your take?
The commission is not a bull in a China shop. It follows the constitution and the law. The commission does not have appropriate powers not donated to it by law.
Section 225(A) of the constitution gives the commission the power to deregister non-performing political parties and the commission deregistered 74 political parties leaving 18 functional ones. Section 221 to 225 of the constitution obligates the political parties to have functional and verifiable offices in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja alone, but the members of their executive committee must reflect the federal character of Nigeria. The commission cannot deregister a party on the basis of extraneous issues not captured in the constitution and the law. Political parties are creations of the law and the constitution and it is incumbent on them to carry out their own constitutional and legal responsibilities without being coerced to do so and when they fail, the media and the public should hold them accountable.
In relation to the Annual Statement of Political Parties, section 89 of the Electoral Act requires political parties to submit to the commission a detailed annual statement of assets and liabilities and analysis of its sources of funds and other assets together with statement of its expenditure in such a form as the commission may from time to time require and the commission shall publish the report on such examination and audit in three national newspapers and no more.
Furthermore, the law requires political parties and candidates to submit to the commission their election expenses and prescribes penalties for non-submission. Political parties should comply with the provisions of the law and prevent a situation where the commission will be forced to drag them and their officials to court for electoral offences and infraction of the law.
Can you give us an update on preparation, in terms of logistics for Anambra governorship election?
The commission is preparing for the Anambra governorship election. The commission is within the timelines and schedule in our Timetable and Schedule of Activities. The commission published the personal particulars of the candidates on the 16th July 2021. The political parties commenced their campaigns on 8th August 2021. We are on the 8th item out of the 14 items in our Timetable and Schedule of Activities. As you are aware, we have expanded the polling units and created additional ones. The new polling units will come into force for the first time during the governorship election in Anambra State. The commission is presently proceeding with the Continuous Voter’s Registration Exercise. The procurement processes are in progress and we are confident that we have things under control.
Still on Anambra November election, which faction of the All Progressives Grand Alliance is INEC according recognition?
Most of the cases relating to the leadership of APGA and their party nomination processes have gone to the Court of Appeal and to the Supreme Court. One or two Court Orders and judgments have been served on the commission from the Court of Appeal. The commission will in the next few days meet as a commission and give effect to the judgments or decisions of the said courts and the public will be informed accordingly.
Finally, the two major political parties are embroiled in crisis: the APC and PDP. I am sure INEC must be taking more than passing interest in the ongoing power tussle in the two major parties. Has the commission noticed or observed any infraction of its rules by these parties? What advice do you have for Governor Mala Buni and Prince Uche Secondus?
Political parties are constitutional and legal entities. There are 18 registered political parties in Nigeria and all of them are equal and have the same incidents of registration.
The commissions will not micromanage the existing political parties. Most of them have their own mechanisms of resolving disputes and they must utilize them. But when the disagreements boil over and affect the nomination processes as enunciated in the law, the commission and the courts will definitely intervene. The Nigerian people must pay more than a passing interest in the management, organisation and operation of political parties. Political parties are the weak link in our democratic process. The bulk of the cases that go before the courts as pre-election disputes and post-election disputes relate to the lack of internal democracy in the parties.
Credit: Nigeria Tribune