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INEC To Engage National Assembly Over Smart Card Reader, Electoral Offences Tribunal

Cross section of Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) at the meeting. PHOTO: TAIWO MAKANJUOLA

By Chinwe Ogbuka, Assistant Director, Publicity

03 December 2019 

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will vigorously engage with the National Assembly and other stakeholders over the impending review of Electoral Legal Framework, the Commission’s Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu has said.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the Commission’s meeting with Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) held at the INEC headquarters, Abuja on 3rd December, Prof Yakubu stated that one critical area of the planned engagement is the status of the Smart Card Reader (SCR).

Reiterating the Commission’s earlier position, the INEC Chairman said that the SCR “cannot be jettisoned or abandoned.” He affirmed that the Commission will seek ways by which its utility in elections can be enhanced for the triple objectives of verification of the genuineness of the Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVC), confirmation of ownership and fingerprint authentication of voters.

Prof. Yakubu said: “The status of the SCR must be provided for and protected by law. Similarly, accreditation data from SCR should be used to determine over-voting and the margin of lead principle. The judgment of the Supreme Court on the primacy of the voters’ register as the determinant of over-voting in law merely draws attention to the lacuna in the electoral legal framework, which must be addressed through immediate and appropriate amendment to the Electoral Act.”

He added: “The Commission will present a proposal to the National Assembly on this matter as well as other areas in which further deployment of technology will deepen the integrity of our electoral process.”

On the recurrent impunity being perpetrated by some politicians during elections, Prof. Yakubu said the Commission was “deeply concerned” that elections in Nigeria, especially for executive positions, had become “increasingly characterised by brazen acts of impunity.”

In an apparent reference to those who accuse the Commission of undermining the electoral process, the INEC Chairman said that the Commission plans for all elections to be successfully conducted and for the will of the people to prevail at all times.

His words: “It is inconceivable that INEC will make elaborate arrangement for the deployment of personnel and materials and then turn around to undermine ourselves in the field on election day. Impunity has become the bane of our elections.”

He however observed that the best antidote to impunity “is the enforcement of sanctions under the law without fear and favour.” According to him, “where offenders are not punished, bad behaviour is encouraged.”

To this extent, Prof. Yakubu affirmed that the Commission will continue to work with the National Assembly and all stakeholders for the establishment of the Electoral Offences Commission and Tribunal recommended by the Uwais Commission on electoral reform (2008), the Lemu Committee on post-election violence (2011) and the Ken Nnamani Committee on Constitutional and Electoral reform (2017).

He observed that while INEC is saddled with the responsibility of prosecuting electoral offenders, the Commission has no power to arrest and investigate offenders. He said: “We have drawn public attention to our constraint in this regard. We have no capacity to arrest offenders and conduct investigation without which successful prosecution is impossible.”

He noted that the Commission had, over the years worked closely with the Nigeria Police and had since 2015 received a total of 149 case files and 16 cases arising from the 2019 general elections.

He explained: “The cases are prosecuted in the States where the alleged offences were committed. Unlike pre-election and post-election cases, there is no timeframe for the prosecution of electoral offenders. A case may go on for several years. Some of the cases were dismissed for want of diligent prosecution while in some States, the Attorneys-General entered nolle prosequi to get the alleged offenders off the hook. 

“Even where the Commission recorded the most successful prosecution of electoral offenders following the violence witnessed in the Minjibir State Assembly bye-election in Kano State in 2016, it is unclear how many of the 40 offenders sentenced to prison with the option of fine actually spent time in jail. 

“The fine was paid presumably by their sponsors. That is why we believe that the Electoral Offences Commission and Tribunal will dispense justice dispassionately and speedily in the same way that the Electoral Court deals with violators in other countries such as South Africa. We also hope that the security agencies will get to the root of all violations and support the Commission to prosecute not just the thugs that terrorise voters and INEC officials, snatch election materials at polling units and collation centres but their sponsors as well.”

The INEC Chairman also revealed that arising from the 2019 General Election, a total of 807 post-election cases were filed at the Tribunals, out of which 582 were dismissed, 183 withdrawn by the petitioners, 30 for re-run election and 12 for issuance of certificates of return.

With this development, Prof Yakubu said the Commission is required to conduct re-run elections in 30 constituencies across 12 states of the federation, involving two Senatorial Districts out of 109, 13 Federal Constituencies out of 360 and 15 State Constituencies out of 991. 

He said: “In a majority of cases, elections are to be re-run in just a few polling units, some of them in only one polling unit in the entire constituency. Elections were held in 1,558 constituencies nationwide in the 2019 General Election. The 30 constituencies into which re-run elections will be conducted represent 1.92 percent of the total number of constituencies. The Commission believes that we are making progress in this respect. 

“For instance, in the 2015 General Election held in 1,490 constituencies (excluding the 68 constituencies in FCT where elections were not due as was the case in 2019), re-run elections by court order were held in 80 constituencies (5.37 percent) made of 10 Senatorial Districts, 17 Federal Constituencies and 53 State Constituencies across 15 States of the Federation.”