• Says law must be passed six months before polls

Onyebuchi Ezigbo and James Emejo in Abuja

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has said it would only comply with the amendments to the Electoral Act 2010 if it is passed into law six months before the next general election.

The commission spoke Monday through its National Commissioner, Prof. Okechukwu Ibeanu, who represented the National Chairman, Prof, Mahmood Yakubu, during a function at the Electoral Institute in Abuja, asserting that the amendment by the lawmakers was still a proposal, which would need to scale through some hurdles before becoming a law.

Against the background of the proposed amendment to the electoral law altering the sequence of the 2019 general election, which was passed by the House of Representatives, the INEC boss said as a law-abiding organisation, the commission would obey the amendment once signed into law.
He said: “INEC works with the Electoral Act. If there is a legitimate amendment to the Act, INEC will have no option than to obey, but that must happen first.

“Like I said, the role of INEC is to conduct elections based on the law; if there is a legitimate amendment to the Electoral Act, INEC will obey it.”
Under the proposed amendments, the National Assembly election would hold first, followed by the governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections. The presidential election would be conducted last.

INEC, in its timetable released on January 9, had scheduled the presidential and National Assembly elections for February 16, 2019 and governorship and House of Assembly for March 2, 2019.
Ibeanu said: “It is still a proposal by the House of Representatives. I think it is still going to enjoy the concurrence of both chambers of the National Assembly for harmonisation.”

On the timing of the amendment with regard to the elections, Ibeanu said that there was a six-month timeframe for amendments to the Electoral Act.
“Practically, there is the ECOWAS protocol discouraging amendments to the Electoral Act in less than six months to an election and we still have more than six months.”

Meanwhile, the National Chairman of United Progressive Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie, has said that his party was in support of plans to alter the sequence of the next general election.
Okorie, who spoke to THISDAY on the sidelines of the event organised by the Electoral Institute, said: “I want to commend the National Assembly for altering the order of the elections.

“This is the argument we have made in the past. It appears Solomon has come to judgment, where the presidential election should come last, so that those people contesting for elections will do so on their own merit and on their own steam and not ride on the back of a winning presidential candidate, which eventually will give you a lopsided National Assembly and that would not checkmate the executive arm of government.”

On her part, the national chairman of the newly registered Mass Action Joint Alliance Party (MAJA), Ms. Chika Ibeneme, bemoaned a situation whereby the leadership of political parties imposed candidates on its members, ignoring the electoral process.

On the plan of her party for the 2019 general election, the MAJA chieftain said youths between the ages of 18 and 35 years would be given a waiver to obtain nomination forms for free.
On how best to solve the problems afflicting the country, she said the solutions were not in the formation of new parties and coalitions but through a determination to fight poverty and to increase food production for Nigerians.

The guest lecturer, Prof. Jibril Ibrahim, said there was need for political parties to abide by the dictates of internal party democracy by ensuring that only aspirants that have the highest votes at the primaries emerge as their candidate.

While recounting what happened in 2011, he said INEC tried very hard to monitor party primaries and conventions but the commission had its hands tied when the courts pronounced that the parties had the final say on who to give their ticket.

According to Jibril, the result of parties’ non-adherence to their constitutional provisions led to the imposition of candidates who lost woefully at the elections.
Meanwhile, the chairman, House Committee on Electoral and Political Matters, Hon. Aishatu Dukku (APC, Gombe), Monday asked INEC to vacate all rented offices in order to be seen as truly independent.

She said occupying rented buildings has the potential of affecting the credibility of its operations.
This is as the commission’s chairman, Yakubu, said its budget for the 2019 general election would soon be ready and submitted to the parliament for approval.

Both spoke at the budget defence session of INEC in the lower legislative chamber.
Dukku said INEC’s budget should be made to show widespread public accountability and transparency by the commission, which would be a significant reform and have a multiplier effect on electoral reforms.

Noting that elections were generally resource consuming, she said the House in particular and the National Assembly would support the electoral body to enable it hold all scheduled elections successfully.

Dukku said: “Unlike in the past, previous budgets have not been productive due to lack of effective planning by government, the present administration seems to be addressing the issues with budgeting especially with regards to funding.”

In his remarks, Yakubu said the commission was working with the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to deploy smart cards, which could transmit election results from the polling units directly to the collation centres to eliminate interference while in transit.

He said a lot of things happen during the movement of results from the polling stations to the collation centres and that the commission was strategising on deploying technology to surmount the challenge.
He said there would be an encryption of the processes using biometric and special SIM cards to transmit data to the data centre.

He said the continuous voter registration exercise would progress until 60 days to the elections to allow more Nigerians to participate in the elections.

The commission is seeking approval for N45.5 billion for 2018.
It consists of personnel costs of N21.4 billion and overheads of N4.1 billion, electoral expenses of N18.9 billion and a capital component of N927 million.

The budget is distinct from the election appropriation, which is not yet ready.
The INEC boss, who said implementation of the elections was not a concern for the commission since it is funded on a first line charge, complained of inadequate resources to meet its obligations due to a “very tight envelope”.

He said about 68 political parties were expected to take part in the 2019 elections, coupled with several other elections it would have to organise.
He added that the commission has over 894 offices to run nationwide.