Daily Trust (Abuja)

16 December 2012

Nigeria: Politicians Disagree On INEC's Quest for Disqualification Power

Politicians have expressed divergent views over the recent move by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to get, among others, power to disqualify questionable candidates from participating in elections.

Chairman of the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP) Alhaji Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa, whose Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) was recently de-registered by INEC, said the powers vested on the electoral body were already enough.

Musa, who expressed displeasure with the capability of INEC, said: "As far as we are concerned, we are not satisfied with the competence of INEC and therefore the National Assembly should not give them any more powers because there is no proof that they can competently exercise the power, particularly their request for power to enable them disqualify candidates.

"The National Assembly should not give them that power. The powers they have under 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and under the Electoral Act 2012 as amended are sufficient. INEC should not be given any more powers while we are not asking for the disbanding of INEC because of the situation in the country".

Sunny Moniedafe, a former chairman of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), advised the commission to utilize its existing powers instead of seeking fresh ones.

Moniedafe, who supported INEC's request for electoral offences tribunal, tasked the commission to urge its officers to do the right thing while monitoring party congresses and conventions instead of looking for ways to disqualify candidates.

"I think INEC has enough power but they are not using it in the first place. They should use the power they have to give us credible elections rather than asking for more powers that will infringe on other people's rights.

"No matter what they can say about the process through which people come out to be candidates, if their officers should do the right thing at various conventions and congresses, what we have right now can still be workable. But apparently, their workers are compromised most times and they don't do their work.

"I believe they have enough under the current laws to do a very credible job if they want it. Is it not the same law that Professor Maurice Iwu used that Jega is using? Jega should use the power that he has already. We can have electoral offences tribunal. If that one will come out, I will not mind that. But as per infringement on political parties' rights to elect their candidates, they don't have any business there," he added.

However, Chairman of the Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC) and the National Chairman of the de-registered Republican Party of Nigeria (RPN) Alhaji Shittu Muhammed, did not see anything wrong in the request of INEC to get power to disqualify candidates.

"I think it is a welcome development. We, in the RPN and IPAC, believe that INEC must be truly independent. They must be given power. They must be allowed to prosecute electoral offenders. First of all, they must be given autonomy of their finance like Ghana did. They must also be given free-hand by allowing the composition of INEC to come from the public and not from the executive.

"We are also proposing that there must be Electoral Offences Commission so that one can prosecute people who commit electoral offences or violate electoral rules. They should equally be allowed to carry out some functions that are in the new constitution.

"INEC should have that power to disqualify candidates because there is no need for an umpire that cannot prosecute or discipline the people you oversee. If they oversee elections, they should be given that power. We stand that INEC should be given that power. IPAC stands by INEC on this matter," Shittu said.

INEC Chairman Professor Attahiru Jega had, in a proposal he sent to the National Assembly, asked the Federal Government for greater independence and opportunity that would enable Nigerians in the Diaspora to vote in future elections in Nigeria.

The proposal, with reference number INEC/LEG/CNA/11, dated November 13 and sent to the Deputy Senate President/Chairman of the Senate Adhoc Committee on Constitutional Review Senator Ike Ekweremadu.

Jega said INEC should be made to be 'operationally independent' like other federal agencies such as the National Population Commission (NPC), adding that the commission's independence should be 'in all its operations and in its management and control of the electoral process, as was the case in Decree (now Act) 17 of 1998 which first established the commission before the 1999 constitution.'

"The Commission is like other named federal bodies established by Section 153, not subject to the direction or control of any person or authority in exercising its power to appoint or discipline its staff....

"Moreover, the Independent National Electoral Commission should be allowed to determine the procedure for conduct of election in such a way that no political party would have undue advantage over the others," he added.

In the proposal, INEC also wants Sections 76(2) and 116(2) of the Constitution to be amended to allow for only two periods in a year within which it can conduct elections to fill vacancies so as to engender certainty in the electoral timetable, faulting the present situation whereby only Nigerian citizens resident in the country at the time of registration of voters could vote at any election as provided in sections 77(2) and 117(2) of the INEC Act.

Jega canvassed the establishment of electoral offences tribunal 'to guarantee timely prosecution of electoral offenders' as well as the disqualification of anybody convicted for electoral fraud from participating in electoral process for 10 years.

"A body known as Electoral Offences Commission with powers to investigate and prosecute breaches of relevant electoral provisions be established, thus unbundling INEC from prosecution.

"Any person convicted of an electoral offence (including registration offences, campaign finances breaches and breach of political party finance provisions) should be disqualified for a period of 10 years from the date of conviction from contesting any election or holding any party position," he also stated.

While noting that the 2010 Electoral Act (as amended) empowered INEC to deregister political parties which fail to win at least a seat in a state assembly, the commission observed that the demand for the registration of more political parties had increased when 'it is practically impossible for all registered political parties in Nigeria to be on the ballot'.

"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 practices in many parts of the world," Jega said.

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