Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, Wednesday advocated a new electoral regime that will allow Nigeria to hold all elections in one day.
He told THISDAY in an interview in his office in Abuja that Nigeria should rethink its staggered system of conducting general election, and embrace a new global practice that encourages holding all elections in one day.
Under the extant electoral system, it takes Nigeria three weeks to conduct the various poll stanzas — presidential, National Assembly as well as governorship and state Houses of Assembly polls — during a general election.
Jega also defended the recent deregistration of 28 political parties and accused the dead parties of violating the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act.
The ability of the commission to try electoral offenders was also examined yesterday at INEC fourth quarter lecture entitled; “Review of the Legal Regime in Election Management in Nigeria” where the immediate past President of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Joseph Daudu (SAN), faulted the legal framework with which INEC uses to prosecute them.
According to Jega, most major democracies in the world, including the United States, do not have staggered general election, adding that his suggestion, if accepted, should be considered for subsequent polls after the 2015 general election.
He said the decision to de-register the 28 political parties was informed by their serial breaching of the constitutional requirements for party registration.
He said the affected parties violated constitutional provisions for registration as provided in Sections 222 and 223 which include that they must have offices in Abuja; hold periodic elections; have executives that represent the federal character in their composition, in particular, two-thirds of the states of the federation, and the stipulations for deregistration as provided in the Electoral Act for parties that do not win seats in any election.
He explained that the first deregistration of parties carried out by the commission, which affected seven political parties, focused on the provisions of the law concerning parties which did not win any election.
He said INEC discovered then that there were parties, which did not even field any candidate for elections, and for that reason, the commission de-registered them, adding that "many others fielded candidates and the court cases were ongoing. We waited until all the court cases were determined."
"This second phase of deregistration, the reasons are not limited to not fielding candidates. In fact, for many of the political parties, there were at least three reasons bordering on clear violations of constitutional provisions," he said.
Debunking claims by some of the parties that they were not informed before they were de-registered, Jega said for each political party that INEC de-registered, a letter was written to them indicating the grounds on which they were de-registered.
He said 17 out of the 28 affected parties received their letters before the announcement was made, while the remaining ones could not get theirs, because they had no contact addresses.
Jega said: "For example, the officer who despatched the letters went to the address of a political party, the signboard was there but there were new tenants in the building. It is a business centre. But because we also have the telephone numbers of some of their officials, the official was telephoned and we said that we were at their office to give them a letter but we found that there is a business centre there.
"He said, ‘please take back the letter, I will come to your office to collect it.’ Now the same parties are now saying that we did not inform them before they were de-registered. If you gave us an address, we went to that address and we did not find you, how can you accuse us of not informing you?"
He also faulted the view that INEC lacks the power to de-register parties, saying: "The constitution gives INEC the powers to register political parties. The constitution also in Sections 221 to 228 defines what the requirements of registration are.
"Then, the provision that grants INEC the power to register political parties also gave National Assembly the powers to enact laws to govern the electoral process. So, the National Assembly, in compliance with that constitution, enacted the Electoral Act, as amended in 2010, and it is the provisions of the Electoral Act that has guided our actions."
He maintained that what INEC did was consistent with the best interpretation of the law and the commission believes that it is right under the circumstances.
He also faulted allegations that INEC's action was subjudiced as he argued that no political party that had a case with INEC on the issue was de-registered, as currently being claimed in some quarters.
He also spoke on plans by the commission to carry out delimitation of federal constituencies before the 2015 general election. Presently, the nation has 360 federal constituencies and 109 senatorial districts.
The INEC chairman said: "The last time constituency demilitation was done was in 1996 and it is a constitutional requirement that delimitation should be done at least every 10 years or after any census. There was an effort to do a delimitation when we came in but it was not concluded because there was no time for us to do the delimitation before the April 2011 elections. But we are committed now before the 2015 elections.”
Meanwhile, Daudu, who was a guest speak at the INEC Electoral Institute public lecture, described the legal framework uses to prosecute electoral offenders as very weak and defective and recommended the implementation of the Justice Mohammed Uwais electoral reform panel’s report on prosecution of electoral offenders.
He said statistics had shown that electoral crimes committed during elections or political activities weare in such a great numbers that they were beyond the capacity of INEC to address.
“To be sincere, the commission cannot discharge this important function and the inability of the INEC to prosecute electoral offenders sends a wrong signal to the society and it is the root cause of all the evils afflicting the society,” he added.
Daudu suggested that the best way to deal with the situation is for the government to embrace the recommendations of the Justice Uwais Election Reform Panel allow the constitution of an Electoral Offences Commission to try offenders.
Chairman of Senate Committee on Electoral Matters, Senator Andy Uba, who also spoke at the occasion, said Nigeria was not yet ripe for voting by its citizens living abroad.
Uba explained that the real obstacle standing between Nigerians in Diaspora and voting in the 2015 general election is the fact that legal framework for them to exercise their franchise from abroad had not yet been worked out, adding that there is no accurate data of Nigerians living in any particular country that can be obtained from any of the Nigerian embassies.