By Chinwe Ogbuka, Assistant Director, Publicity.
21st February 2020.
Against the background of recent litigations and the resulting court judgments, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has advised registered political parties wishing to participate in the Edo and Ondo Governorship elections scheduled for 19th September and 10th October 2020 respectively, to avoid the conduct of acrimonious primaries and observe due diligence in the screening of their candidates.
Speaking at the Commission’s first meeting with Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) in Abuja on 21st February, the INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu reasoned that the outcome of future elections may be determined by the courts if political parties continue to conduct inappropriate party primaries and poor screening of their nominated candidates which may lead to protracted litigations.
He said: “the end of tenure Governorship elections in Edo and Ondo are holding later in the year. Given recent experience with some Governorship elections, political parties need to do more to avoid the conduct of acrimonious primaries or failure to observe due diligence in the screening of their candidates, resulting in protracted litigations and eventual determination of the outcome of elections by orders of court.”
Prof. Yakubu drew the political parties’ attention to what he described as “two critical dates” in the timetable released by the Commission a few weeks ago. He explained: “Party primaries for the democratic election and nomination of candidates for the Governorship election in Edo State must be held from 2nd to 27th June 2020. The date for Ondo State is 2nd to 25th July 2020. The Commission will not extend the dates. We will also rigorously monitor the primaries and where necessary, apply sanctions as provided by law.”
He also stated that personal particulars of all candidates nominated by political parties for both Edo and Ono elections, including their academic qualifications will be displayed in the Commission’s offices in the two states as required by law. According to him, “this will enable citizens to scrutinise them and take legal action against any candidate who provides false information to the Commission.”
The INEC Chairman revealed that the personal particulars of candidates “will be displayed on 6th July 2020 in Edo State and on 4th August 2020 in Ondo State.” He appealed to citizens of both states to note the dates and seize the opportunity to scrutinise the information provided on oath by the candidates “in the interest of our democracy and good governance.”
However, Prof Yabuku also revealed that critical changes will be introduced to strengthen INEC’s processes and procedures ahead of the Edo and Ondo elections. Besides, he said the Commission, in collaboration with the security agencies, is reviewing deployment during elections. He disclosed that already, the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) had set up a Committee in this respect and its inaugural meeting will hold on 26th February.
Apart from Edo and Ondo, Prof Yakubu said the Commission has also released the Timetable and Schedule of Activities for bye-elections to fill vacancies in Magama/Rijau Federal Constituency in Niger State, Babura/Garki Federal Constituency in Jigawa State, Patigi State Constituency in Kwara State and Kebbe State Constituency in Sokoto State.
He added: “Going by the timetable, the period for the conduct of party primaries and nomination of candidates has lapsed. Four political parties have nominated candidates for the Magama/Rijau Federal Constituency, three parties for Babura/Garki Federal Constituency, six parties for Patigi State Constituency and seven parties for Kebbe State Constituency. The elections are scheduled to hold simultaneously in the four states on Saturday 14th March 2020.”
He continued: “In compliance with the orders of the Supreme Court, the Commission has presented Certificates of Return in respect of the Governorship elections in Imo and Bayelsa States. In the case of Bayelsa State, both the Governor and Deputy Governor were serving Senators. Consequently, the Commission yesterday Thursday 20th February 2020 received two communications from the Senate President declaring the seats for Bayelsa Central and Bayelsa West Senatorial Districts vacant. The Commission will soon meet to determine the dates for bye-elections in the two Senatorial Districts.”
Prof Yakubu said the Commission has been studying the judgements of courts arising from the conduct of recent elections and reviewing the reports from accredited observers as well as internal reports from State Offices. He assured: “We will continue to keep an eye on the conduct of our officials and apply appropriate sanctions on erring staff, both regular and ad-hoc.”
Prof Yakubu reminded the RECs that INEC’s major responsibility “is the conduct of elections which must be free, fair and credible.”
His words: “The reality in Nigeria today is that elections have become an all-year round activity for the Commission. This year alone, the Commission has conducted elections into 28 constituencies by court order. Four bye-elections will be held in the next three weeks and, as I said earlier, vacancies were declared in two Senatorial Districts yesterday. We are also awaiting declarations of vacancies for two more Senatorial Districts. While we are conducting these elections, we must also continue to proactively and progressively work for the improvement of the electoral process.”