The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has blamed political parties for the high incidence of court-nullified elections by nominating candidates who do not adhere to the rules and due diligence.
The chairman of the commission, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, said that as a result of the lack of due diligence, some of the parties have fielded ex-convicts and candidates with forged certificates for elections, thereby causing the elections to be nullified at the courts.
Yakubu, who promised to take steps to reduce the malfeasance during elections, said the commission would step up its partnership with civil society groups, especially in civic and voter education and election monitoring and observation.
Speaking at the formal presentation of INEC’s Strategic Plan for 2017-2021 to stakeholders on Tuesday in Abuja, Yakubu said the management of INEC has decided to set up a special prosecution unit staffed by trained prosecutors to facilitate prompt and more efficient prosecution of electoral offences.
On the monitoring of party primaries, Yakubu said the powers of the commission were limited under the present electoral law, adding that INEC is bound to accept any candidate submitted to it by the leadership of a political party to avoid running foul of the law.
However, the INEC boss took a swipe at the attitude of some of the political parties which he accused of not paying attention to due diligence in deciding on the choice of its candidates for election.
“If political parties had carried out the due diligence on their candidates, we will never have the kind of problems we have with numerous elections being nullified on account of improper conduct of party primaries.
“It has been observed that some parties have nominated persons such as ex-convicts as candidates and INEC has no power to rejects such candidates, only for the courts to nullify the elections after they have been conducted.
“Some have even nominated candidates with cases of certificate forgery, only for the court to nullify the elections,” he said.
On the relationship between INEC and the State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs), Yakubu said the commission has extended assistance to the state electoral bodies in the conduct of local government elections.
He gave examples of such collaborative ventures with SIECs in Lagos, Sokoto, Niger and Kaduna States, adding that whereas Sokoto has received assistance in deploying its card readers for the state’s local council polls, Kaduna State has expressed interest in going a step further by working with the commission in test-running the electronic voting initiative during its local council elections.
While lamenting the predicament of the commission, especially in curbing electoral malpractices and violence, Yakubu said that the commission has decided that in the absence of an enabling law establishing an electoral offenders’ tribunal, it would set up a special unit for the prosecution of offenders.
“In order to facilitate more effective prosecution, reduce impunity and enhance deterrence, the commission will establish a prosecution unit staffed by trained prosecutors to facilitate quicker and more efficient prosecution of electoral offences,” he said.
The INEC boss said so far, the commission in collaboration with the police and the Federal Ministry of Justice, has successfully prosecuted and convicted 61 electoral offenders out of 126 cases since the last general election in 2015.
He also commented on the actions taken against the commission’s staff indicted by the police and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) probe panels, saying that 23 officials had been placed on interdiction until their trial in court is concluded.
He said the affected staff were being prosecuted in court by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution.
“All the 23 affected staff have been placed on suspension and on half salary until they prove their innocence at the courts and we are going to do the same thing with the other 202 staff indicted by the EFCC who are still being investigated by the commission.
“While we continue with these efforts, my position has consistently been that it is very, very difficult for one to prosecute himself.
“INEC has been saddled with the responsibility for the prosecution of electoral offenders but look at the challenges we have.
“When you want to make arrests of electoral offenders, the commission has no police to make the arrest. Secondly, we have to investigate it so that you can have the evidence that will make for successful persecution.
“We have no powers under the law to conduct investigations, so how do we successfully prosecute?
“That is why I said consistently that this country needs a special electoral offences tribunal which every violator of the electoral law will be subjected to, be it INEC staff or any other person.
“This is the solution so that if you violate the electoral law, you would know that there will be justice for whoever is involved,” he stressed.
On the effort to enforce adherence to the rules by the political parties, the INEC boss said the commission would step up action on monitoring political party activities, especially candidates’ nominations and campaign finances in order to reduce the impunity perpetrated by the leadership of these parties.
In the same vein, the Inspector General of Police (IG) assured INEC that the Nigerian Police would do everything within their powers to check rigging and electoral violence in future elections in the country.
The IG, who was represented by a Deputy Commissioner of Police, Oluwole Olakode, said that the police would collaborate more with INEC to weed out the bad eggs that continue to perpetrate electoral malpractices.
Earlier, while unveiling the electoral body’s five-year strategic plan titled, “Making Votes Count,” containing the roadmap and initiatives that the commission intends to implement between 2017 and 2021, INEC’s consultant, Otive Igbuzor, said that the careful implementation of the plan would pave the way for the smooth conduct of credible and transparent elections in 2019 and beyond.
A guest speaker at the event and the Director General of the Voice of Nigeria, Osita Okechukwu, also urged the federal government to ensure adequate funding for INEC to enable it conduct credible elections.
According to Okechukwu, the only thing that can help deepen democracy in Nigeria is the ability of the electoral umpire to organise credible elections.