This Day (Lagos)

4 December 2012

Nigeria: Constitution Review - INEC Seeks Full Autonomy, Amendment to Electoral Act

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INEC is Nigeria's election commission.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has asked the National Assembly to grant it sweeping powers to enable the commission to be the sole authority on the disqualification of candidates as well as determining the names of political parties that would have their names and logos on the ballot papers.

The commission is also asking that bye-elections for vacant seats at the National and State Assemblies be conducted twice a year, instead of whenever there are vacancies in the state and federal assemblies.

In a letter dated November 13, to the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who is the Chairman of the National Assembly Committee on Review of the Constitution, the Chairman of INEC, Prof. Attahiru Jega, is also seeking an amendment to the Electoral Act, 2010, as amended.

The commission is further seeking for the amendment of Section 153 of the Constitution to read thus: "The Independent National Electoral commission shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other authority or persons in all its operations," as is the case with other regulatory bodies.

INEC is seeking an amendment to its power to disqualify candidates at any election. Under the constitution and Electoral Act, which deal with the disqualification of candidates, INEC lacks the power to disqualify any candidate sponsored by political parties for elections.

In the letter, the commission cited the case of Atiku vs INEC, where the Supreme Court ruled that INEC could not stop the former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar from contesting the 2007 presidential election.

By the provisions of the Electoral Act, INEC can only disqualify any candidate based on judicial orders.

In making its case, INEC said: "The commission should be empowered to disqualify any candidate, if there is a prima facie case shown from the presentation that the candidate is unqualified, after all, it (INEC) is not only a management body, it is also a regulatory one and should have some powers in this regard just like such bodies as the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC) or Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in revoking bank licences, approving bank director nominees, or National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) in sealing unregistered pharmaceutical premises or seizing bad or expired drugs."

Accordingly, INEC said that the constitution and Electoral Act should be amended to: "Disqualify candidates who evidently do not satisfy the requirements for the position, he or she is vying for as provided in 65, 66, 106 107, 131, 137, 177 and 182 of the Constitution."

The commission is also seeking powers to disqualify for 10 years anyone convicted for electoral offences by a court or tribunal, as well as powers to determine the names of political parties that would have their names on the ballot papers.

INEC argued that since the commission has the power to register and deregister political parties, "it is for the above reason that INEC should be empowered in consultation with political parties to determine the criteria by which political parties get on the ballot.

"This is consistent with best practice in many parts of the world. The criteria for being on the ballot shall include: payment of fees prescribed by the commission, securing certain percentage of votes at general elections and winning a minimum number of seats in the legislative election."

In addition, INEC wants the power to determine the dates of presidential, National Assembly and other elections, noting that for the Electoral Act to be the sole determinant of any election is not proper.

In this regard, INEC is proposing that the amendment should read: "Elections to each House of the National Assembly shall be held on a date to be appointed by the Independent National Electoral Commission." The same amendments were proposed for the conduct of the presidential and governorship as well as the state Houses of Assembly elections.

With respect to bye-elections, INEC proposed that whenever there is a vacancy within 90 days, the commission should be empowered to reserve two periods for bye-elections within a year.

INEC has also recommended the establishment of an Election Offences Commission, as it does not have the capacity to handle electoral offences, which shall be headed by a secretary for a four-year period that is renewable, while staff of the commission shall affirm to an oath of neutrality.

The commission would also want legislative pronouncements to assist women participation in elections, while seeking legal provisions for Nigerians who have attained the age of 18, but are resident outside the country, to enable them vote.

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