• INEC at crossroads over Rivers rerun polls
Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja, Ernest Chinwo in Port-Harcourt and James Sowole in Akure
In line with his commitment to comprehensive legal reforms, President Muhammadu Buhari has begun the process of reforming the nation’s electoral laws in order to bring them into conformity with best global electoral practises.
According to the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minster of Justice, Alhaji Abubakar Malami, who spoke on Tuesday in Abuja, President Buhari’s administration has started consultations with the leadership of the National Assembly and the judiciary to identify the electoral laws that need to be reformed.
“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 told participants at the Nigerian Civil Society Situations Room’s Stakeholders Forum on Elections in Abuja.
Malami’s revelation of the presidential reform initiative incidentally coincides with the dilemma of the Independent National Electoral Commission over the inconclusive rerun elections held in Rivers State on March 19, 2016.
A senior electoral officer at the INEC Headquarters in Port-Harcourt told Thisday on Tuesday that the electoral body had difficulties deciding on what to do with the outstanding results of the elections in 12 out of the 37 constituencies as ordered by the courts.
But the AGF stated that one of the priority areas of the administration’s reforms are the proposals for the amendment of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended and other laws in order to empower INEC and similar bodies to deal with perpetrators of serious offences.
He said some of the gaps in the electoral laws manifested in the recent decisions of the Supreme Court on election petitions, adding that the administration is concerned about the increasing levels of electoral violence.
Malami pledged the administration’s readiness to ensure a level playing ground for competitive elections and guarantees for all democratic rights and freedoms as enshrined in the constitution.
“This administration intends to carry out a comprehensive legal reform to address the challenges posed by some of our outdated electoral laws.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 pre-eminence 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 free, fair and credible elections.
The INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, said the commission is greatly constrained by the resurgence of violence that had attended elections in recent times in the country.
According to Yakubu, INEC could do little or nothing to stop the spectre violence during elections since it does not have control over security agencies.
Recounting some of the ugly incidences recorded by the electoral body, the INEC chairman said the commission suffered setbacks in Adabi and Dekina in Kogi State where two offices of the commission were 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 ad-hoc staff as well as the voters” he said.
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 tougher and more difficult to handle compared to the general elections.
Yakubu said the reason the stand-alone elections created more problems for INEC was 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.
The electoral body’s boss who said the commission will conduct 69 elections in the Federal Capital Territory and one bye-election in Osun state this weekend, promised that INEC would undertake 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 the electoral laws.
There are, however, indications that INEC may be at crossroads over the remaining results of the legislative rerun elections in Rivers State.
The electoral body’s dilemma might have been worsened by intense pressure from both the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the All Progressives Congress (APC) and non-governmental organisations.
A senior official of the Rivers State Headquarters of INEC, who would not wish to be named, yesterday admitted that the commission had been under intense pressure, even more than in the build-up to the rerun election.
He said the commission was under pressure on how to handle the impasse created by the suspension of election in the eight local government areas and the affected federal constituencies.
He said: “The mandate given to us, through the various court orders, was to conduct election into 37 seats declared vacant by the court. We were in the process of doing that on March 19 but it was scuttled by violence and other forms of disturbances. This made us to suspend the election in some of the affected areas.
“As things stand now, we have announced 15 results out of the 37 seats mandated by the court. Our main headache is how to handle the remaining 22 seats. This is more problematic than the real election of March 19”.
Controversy had trailed the conduct of the re-run elections with the major contenders pointing accusing fingers at INEC for its poor handling of the exercise.
Rivers State Commissioner for Information and Communication, Dr Austin Tam-George, yesterday alleged of a desperate move by INEC to “subvert the will of Rivers people.”
In a statement in Port Harcourt, Tam-George called on INEC officials to act within the law and respect the free choices made by the Rivers people in the rerun election. He warned a national INEC Commissioner, Mrs. Amina Zakari, and the Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi “to desist from subverting the electoral outcomes in Tai-Eleme Federal Constituency, Ikwerre local government and other constituencies in the state, whose results are still being held hostage by INEC, in collusion with APC in the state.”
The information commissioner condemned, “the sickening desperation of the APC in wanting to impose its candidates on the Rivers people, even when those candidates have been resoundingly defeated at the polls.”
In Akure, the Ondo State capital on Tuesday, the need for credible electoral processes agitated the mind of Governor Olusegun Mimiko as he tasked President Buhari to provide the platform for more transparent elections in the country.
“The greatest thing the current administration can give to Nigeria is credible election”, he said.
Mimiko spoke at the State Delegate Conference of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Ondo State Chapter, where officers to run the affairs of the party for the next four years were elected.
The governor expressed his excitement about the way the conference was conducted, and said once democracy is entrenched in the country through credible, free and transparent electoral processes, Nigeria will be great.
He noted that one of the greatest legacies bequeathed to Nigeria by former President Goodluck Jonathan was credible electoral processes, which was appreciated by everybody in the country and outside world.
“Credible election is the key to Nigeria’s greatness irrespective of the various challenges confronting the country. Once democracy can be entrenched through the principle of one man one vote, all the problems confronting Nigeria shall be a thing of the past”, he said.
Mimiko, therefore, urged President Buhari to do all within his power to create an enabling environment for credible election.
At the conference supervised by officials selected from the National Secretariat of the party and monitored by the INEC) Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Mr Segun Agbaje, Chief Clement Faboyede was returned unopposed as the state chairman of the party.
Other officers elected by voice votes are the Deputy Chairman, Fatai Adams, Secretary, Chief Oyedele Ibine, and three vice chairmen for each of the senatorial districts.
Also, other officers recommended by the party constitution were elected unopposed through voice votes.
Commenting on the exercise, the Chairman of the Delegate Congress Committee from the National Secretariat of the PDP, Hon Mohammad Imam, expressed his excitement about the success of the conference and commended the organisers of the congress and members of the party for the peaceful manner they conducted themselves.
Also speaking, Agbaje described the conference as very successful and well organised.