- Urges NBA, NJC to intervene
- Says litigations surrounding Anambra election distracting
- Restates commitment to use of technology as only way to credible, transparent polls
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has warned that except the leadership of both the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and the National Judicial Council (NJC) intervened, the seemingly endless and conflicting court orders over political parties' affairs might jeopardise preparations for the 2023 general election.
INEC, which lamented the level of distraction the commission had begun to face as a result of litigations arising from the Anambra State governorship primary elections, however, restated its commitment to the use of technology in conducting elections, because it was the only way to credible and transparent polls.
While claiming that new and conflicting court orders from all parts of the country kept flooding its headquarters on a daily basis, the commission said it was not only frustrating but also causing it to keep recognising one candidate over the other, and changing same again in the major political parties.
National Commissioner for Voter Education, Festus Okoye, who hinted at this in Awka, Anambra yesterday, during an implementation meeting on voter enlightenment and publicity for the 2021 Anambra State governorship election said, "This (litigations) is frustrating. What the commission does in terms of obedience to court orders is that if a judgment comes today, the commission obeys the order, because it is the latest in time.
"If on the same issue, another court of coordinate jurisdiction, or from a court of another judicial division comes to us, because that one is the latest in time, the commission obeys that one.
"So, what the political parties have been doing, and what they are doing is that they anticipate the commission, and the moment you're proceeding, they get court orders. This is impeding our performance and making things difficult.
"Elections require sanctity and adherence to guidelines, The leadership of the NBA and the NJC should look at this. This is urgent and imperative, because if it persists, this can jeopardize the conduct of the 2023 general elections. We are having court orders on a daily basis from courts in all parts of the country and that is not right."
Arguing that the courts and lawyers were gradually taking over the duties of the commission, Okoye said the frequency of frivolous court orders would make it difficult for INEC to obey court orders, going forward.
Okoye listed 10 variables, which according to him, might shape the way the Anambra elections scheduled for November 6 would go.
The variables, he said, included the COVID-19 pandemic, insecurity, use of technology, litigations, Anambra poll being a stand-alone election, conduct of political parties, the interruption the election would create on the ongoing Continuous Voters Registration (CVR) and the changing demography, which shows youths developing interest in politics.
His words: "Out of the over one million persons, who have registered online, over 700,000 of them are between the ages of 18 and 34. This clearly tells us that youths are taking interest in politics. The election will also be affected by the fact that we are still living under the shadows of a pandemic, and we intend to ensure compliance with COVID-19 protocols.
"The spectre of insecurity too. Anambra has its fair share of the insecurity in the country, but we believe that if elections have held in terrorists ravaged areas, nothing stops election holding here.
"We had delivered all the non-sensitive materials for the election ahead of time, that was why we were saddened, when the commission's headquarters in Awka went up in flames.
"This election is going to be a stand-alone election, and almost everyone will be interested in it. There will be focus on this election, governors will be interested, political parties, international community and others. What this means is that the officials of the commission will be under pressure. If it were a general election, people would focus on their areas.
"Another factor is litigation. I have talked about it. Then, there is technology, and we are also irrevocably committed to the use of technology in conducting this election. All over the world, technology is reducing human interference, and Nigeria is not an exception," Okoye said.
Dwelling more on the use of technology, Okoye said, "As you all know, the Commission places high premium on the deployment of technology in the conduct of elections.
"This very practice, which has become a part and parcel of the operations and activities of the Commission has impacted tremendously on the quality of elections in the country. It is important that you update your knowledge on some of these technology-driven processes and procedures of the Commission.
"There is no doubt that the deployment of technology in the delivery of over 26 bye-elections since the 2019 general elections remarkably reduced the impact of human interferences in the outcome of the elections.
"The Commission was able to show a clear capacity to deliver credible election, ensuring more especially, that the results from the polling units were not tampered with and that they reflected the will of the voters."
Reflecting on the conducts of primary elections by political parties, Okoye said the commission has variously and consistently complained of the frequency and consistency with which courts of coordinate jurisdiction from different places assumed jurisdiction and delivered judgments and issued orders with far-reaching implications on the conduct of the Anambra State governorship election.
He reiterated that, "Some of the orders have the tendency of eroding the powers of the Commission and compromising its independence, powers and timelines for the conduct of the upcoming election.
"In our regulations and guidelines for the conduct of elections as well as the timetable and schedule of activities, the Commission issues access code to the national chairman of political parties with which they upload the personal particulars and list of their candidates electronically.
"This obviated the demonstrations, fights and violence normally witnessed in the premises of the Commission by different factions of Political Parties and the national and state branches of political parties. Unfortunately, some of the judgments and orders given especially, on the primary elections in Anambra State have bypassed our portal and sought to restore the manual submission of the list and personal particulars of candidates.
"It is also becoming increasingly difficult for the Commission to obey Court Orders and judgments that are the latest in time or the first in time as some of the Political Parties and the candidates have perfected the art of shopping for the first in time or the latest in time. The planning and preparation for election requires certainty and adherence to timelines.
"The leadership of the Bar Association and the Leadership of the Judiciary must wade into this descent to forum shopping and the multiplicity of Orders and judgments from courts of coordinate jurisdiction. This is urgent, it is imperative and cannot be carried over to the 2023 general elections.
"The Commission has maintained that political parties must obey and conform to their constitutions and guidelines for the conduct of party primaries as well as the provisions of section 87 of the Electoral Act. Political parties must extricate themselves from the web and crisis of endless litigation arising from the conduct of primaries, own their rules and also comply with the provisions of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) in all their activities."