INEC Seeks More Powers to Reject Candidates


•Accuses judiciary of aiding electoral impunity

Tobi Soniyi in Lagos

Following multiple law suits arising from the failure of political parties to abide by their internal guidelines on primaries, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is seeking more powers to play more decisive roles in the selection of candidates for the general election.

The electoral body in a position paper submitted to the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), a copy of which was obtained by THISDAY, also criticised the judiciary for aiding electoral impunity through the conflicting judgments of courts that enabled politicians to manipulate the electoral system.

It said given the disposition of political parties to abuse their constitutions with regards to the selection of candidates, it had become imperative for it to have the power to reject any candidate whose emergence failed to comply with the provisions of their party’s constitution or the electoral law.

It said in the paper: “The role of INEC in the nomination process should be strengthened. Thus, a variant of the provision in Section 87(9) of the Electoral Act (before amendment) should be re-introduced thus: ‘Where a political party fails to comply with the provision of the Constitution or this Act in the conduct of the primaries or nomination of any candidate for any election under this act, its candidate shall not be included in the list of nominated candidates for the election.’

“This is because INEC is constrained to accept the list submitted by political parties having regard to the proviso to Section 31 of the Electoral Act.”
In the past, the electoral agency was permitted by law to disqualify any candidate, who in its opinion had failed to meet the requirements of the law for eligibility.

But following widespread abuse of the powers by the electoral umpire, whose leadership became a willing tool of the ruling political party to manipulate the electoral space, the National Assembly stripped it of the power and vested it in the courts, prescribing that only a High Court could disqualify a candidate.

Also in the paper, INEC criticised the judiciary for encouraging electoral impunity through the failure of the lower courts to abide by principles laid down by the Supreme Court, adding that conflicting judgments of courts were helping politicians to act with impunity and subvert the electoral process.

INEC said the anomalous situation was making its work difficult.
Although the commission conceded that the judiciary had helped ‎in strengthening democracy in the country, it nevertheless accused the courts especially the Court of Appeal and the various high courts of deliberately subverting the democratic system by refusing to follow and apply precedents already set by the Supreme Court.
The electoral umpire ‎had earlier submitted the position paper to the then CJN, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, before he retired.

The then CJN had directed INEC to compile and submit to his office all conflicting judgments, a directive INEC duly complied with.
The commission stated that apart from their refusal to apply the authorities already established by the Supreme Court when d

INEC said: “‎Where political parties and their candidates are aware of the consequence of non-compliance with any electoral procedure, they will do well to avoid such certain consequence. It is however observed that if the consequence of non-compliance with electoral procedures are subject of conflicting judicial pronouncements, neither the judiciary nor the election management body will be spared of impunity by political actors.

“‎Failure of the courts to adhere to the doctrine of stare decisis in the determination of election related cases lead to loss of public confidence in the judiciary and consequential loss of confidence in the electoral process. Such cases have confused stakeholders as ‎they created uncertainty in the body of the law by introducing elements of arbitrariness.

“‎Where ‎judgments are delivered without the court making clear orders or‎ consequential orders, interested parties can leverage on the lacunae to make the judgments ‎ineffectual. This, in some cases have created misapprehension ‎and ‎mischief in the polity in terms of enforcement.”
In the main, INEC had set up a committee on conflicting judgments to among others, review, analyse and create a data base of delayed/conflicting judgments arising since the 2015 general election.

‎The commission cited many of such conflicting judgments delivered by the Court of Appeal, the Federal High Court and the various states’ high courts.
The committee, which is headed by INEC’s National Commissioner and Chairperson, Legal Services, Clearance and Complaints Committee, Mrs May Agbamuche-Mbu, will also “evaluate the efficacy of resolving and managing election related conflicts through Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanisms such as mediation and arbitration”.

According to the commission, conflicting decisions in election matters can be categorised into: Circumstances where the courts failed to be bound by decisions of superior courts or their own decisions on similar facts; and circumstances where courts of co-ordinate jurisdiction give conflicting decisions/orders on similar set of facts.

It stated: “Either of these poses significant problems to the electoral process. Where the courts depart from precedents, it creates uncertainty as to the state of the law and consequence of particular conduct. Where courts of coordinate jurisdiction give conflicting decisions/ orders, it can lead to disobedience of court orders, cause confusion in the polity and to the election management body.”