*As INEC, CSO list challenges
Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari is about to kick-start the process of reforming the country’s electoral laws in line with the Federal Government’s policy of undertaking comprehensive legal reforms before the expiration of the present administration’s tenure.
While presenting a keynote address at the Nigerian Civil Society Situations Room’s Stakeholders Forum on Elections in Abuja, Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Alhaji Abubakar Malami said the Federal Government has already started consultations with the leadership of the National Assembly and the judiciary to identify key laws and priority areas for reform.
” I have begun consultations with the leadership of the National Assembly and the Judiciary to identify key laws and priority areas for reform. Our priority areas will be clearly outlined in our justice sector reform that we will propose to the National Assembly and align it with their agenda in order to achieve reform within the tenure of this administration,” he said.
The AGF stated that one of priority areas of the administration’s reforms are the proposals for the amendment of the Electoral Act and other laws in order to empower INEC and similar bodies to deal with perpetrators of serious offences.
“We have also identified as top priority, the amendment of the Electoral Act and other laws in order to empower INEC and similar bodies to deal with perpetrators of serious offences.
He said that some of the gaps in the electoral laws have manifested in the recent decisions of the Supreme court in relation to election petitions, adding that the administration is very much concerned about increasing levels of electoral violence.
He pledged the administration’s readiness to ensure a level playing ground in order to allow for competitive elections and guaranteeing of all democratic rights and freedoms as enshrined in our constitution.
“This administration intends to carry out out a comprehensive legal reform to address the challenges posed by some of our outdated electoral laws. One of my top priority as AGF is to lay a solid foundation for a sustainable reform of the justice sector where the rule of law takes preeminence over and above rule of man,” he said.
On its part, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) lamented the challenges it is facing in the effort to conduct a free, fair and credible election.
The INEC chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu said the commission is greatly constrained by resurgence of violence that had attended elections in recent times in the country.
According to him, INEC can do little or nothing to stop the spectre of violence during elections since it does not have control over security agencies.
Recounting some of the incidences recorded by the electoral body, the INEC chairman said the commission suffered setbacks in Adabi and Dekina in Kogi where two offices of the commission was razed by hoodlums during the last governorship polls.
“INEC is really challenged and INEC is constrained by the resurgence of violence. Remember, INEC is not security forces and we are not going to overstep the security forces. We have our own responsibilities; responsibility to the regular staff and the adhoc staff as well as the voting.
“Yes, we are challenged by it and we are working with the security agencies to see what we can do. But appreciate our concern, INEC does not handle security during elections.”
The INEC chairman who noted that his commission has so far conducted 50 elections since the last general elections, described by-elections and re-elections as being tougher and more difficult to handle as compared to the general elections.
He said the reason the stand-alone elections have created more problems for INEC is that during such contests, the attention of all the politicians and their parties, including miscreants are focused on the single election thereby making it appear very contentious.
He said the commission has so far conducted 50 by-elections and re- run elections while 69 elections will be conducted this weekend in FCT with one bye-election in in Osun state.
Yakubu promised that INEC would underake a review of security arrangements for subsequent elections due to the security lapses witnessed in the rerun elections in Bayelsa and Rivers states.
While welcoming stakeholders at the forum, Executive Director PLAC, Mr. Clement Nwankwo said members of the civil society have recorded some of the serious challenges facing INEC to include violence, opposition to use of card reader machine as well as fault-lines in our electoral laws.
More to follow