Chuks Okocha holds a dialogue with Mr. Festus Okoye, the Independent National Electoral Commission, National Commissioner in-charge of Voters Education and Public Enlightenment on a number of issues including the proposed amendment to the Electoral Act and political parties that have violated guidelines on post-election audited account
The law says that political parties are expected to present an audited account after an election, months after the election is there compliance?
Well there are three levels of submission, that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) expected from political parties. The first is regulated by section 226 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Section 226 states that INEC shall in every year prepare and submit to the National Assembly report on the account and balance sheet of every political party. That has also been reinforced in section 89 of the Electoral Act. Section 89 of the Electoral Act provides that the political parties are expected to prepare and submit to the commission the statement of assets and liability between 1st of January and 31st of December of every year. The political parties are under constitutional obligation to submit all these to the commission every year. Unfortunately, some of the political parties have not been complying. For the period of 2013 and 2014 such have been submitted, published in national dailies and submitted to the National Assembly. For the period 2015 and 2016, the commission is doing an intensive summary of submission that has been made by political parties and at the end, we will submit it to the National Assembly. We still have 2017 and 2018 outstanding. The challenge has always been for the commission to wait for the political parties to comply, but we have taken a decision that if it is only two political parties that complies, the commission will forward it to the National Assembly, with a rider explaining that other political parties have not complied with the provisions of the constitution. That is one aspect of it.
The second aspect is in relation to the compliance which the Electoral Act 2010 as amended obligates every political party to sort out. This is in relation to Section 92 of the Electoral Act, which states that every political party must submit to the commission six months after conclusion of an election detailed audited report of their election expenses. The 2019 election was conducted in April, so we are expecting report relating to expenses from their presidential election, national assembly election, governorship election, state assembly election, and FCT and Area Council election. The six months period has not elapsed, it will elapse between August and October.
Then the third aspect of the law also obligates every political party to submit a report of their expenditure in relation to their candidate, this is covered by section 91 and 93 of the Electoral Act, which states that every political party must submit the expenditure incurred by its candidate within a period of three months after the completion of elections. The three months has elapsed Only four political parties have submitted as required by law. And the parties are Action Democratic Party, Liberation Movement, All Grassroots Alliance and Yes Party. Then there is also a fifth component to it, that is the one submitted by ACPN. The law requires the party to do the submission, but in relation to ACPN it is the presidential candidate that submitted, so there is still a question mark relating to what was submitted. As far as the commission is concerned, only four political parties have complied fully with that section of the constitution. If you look at Section 93 closely, it says that no political party shall accept or keep in its possession any anonymous money or contributions, gift, properties, etc from any source. It also provides that every political party shall keep an account into which shall be recorded: a) all monetary and other forms of contributions received by the party; and b) the name and address of anybody or an entity that contributes money or assets which exceed N1 million. Then it goes further to say that no political party shall accept any contributions exceeding N100,000 unless it can identify the source of that money or other contribution. It finally provides that every political party sponsoring the election of any candidate shall within three months after the announcement of the election result, sign a report of the contribution made by individuals and submit to the commission. That is why we are saying that four political parties have complied, while the fifth political party has not fully complied because the law requires that the party should comply and not the presidential candidate.
What will the commission do to those that are yet to comply with the provisions of the constitution?
There are two aspects of the situation, the one relating to the annual report of the political parties is covered by Section 226 of the Constitution. This is a constitutional requirement and this is part of the requirements for the registration of political parties. The law says that you must comply. What the commission is doing as at now is 1) to ensure that 2015 to 2016 period that is submitted to the National Assembly and they can take it from there. Because the law says we should submit to the National Assembly and if any party fails to comply the commission should explain to the National Assembly. It is the responsibility of the National Assembly to sanction any political part that has not complied. For the account relating to 2017 and 2018, before this year runs out, the commission will make sure that the report is submitted, including the parties that did not comply. Every registered political party in Nigeria must understand that it has a mandatory duty to conform to section 221 to 229 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended and that failure to comply is in breach of its requirements for registration. And section 225A of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria mandates the commission to de-register any political that breach any of its requirement for registration. We are going to give the political parties that have not fully complied a window to do so. If at the end of the year they still fail to comply, the commission will have no alternative than to comply with the constitutional requirement relating to breach of the constitutional requirements the political parties. For the provisions relating to other sections of the Electoral Act, the law is very clear that if you are in breach, it is a criminal offense against the political party and they can be taken to court. If the court finds the party guilty, it is obligated to pay a fine of N1 million and N200,000 per day for the period after their return was due. That is the provision of Section 92 of the Electoral Act. But in relation to the disclosure by political parties of the contribution they got, there is no sanction provided but as far as the commission is concerned this is a package and the entire package relates to the condition for the registration of a political party. They have a mandatory duty to conform to the provisions of the constitution and that of the law.
What is the commission doing to ensure that political parties that have no immediate bearing on election are weeded out?
INEC has no legislative mandate, the power, to alter the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria or amend any law resides with the National Assembly. From Section 221 to Section 229, the Constitution states the conditions a political party must meet to enable it to be registered. What the commission does is to pay attention to those conditions set out in the constitution for the registration of political parties. Any political association that meets these constitutional requirements, INEC will register such political party. If the people of this country say that the conditions are too low and that there is need to tighten the condition for the registration of political parties, if we feel strongly about that civil society groups and organizations can propose the bill to the National Assembly. The executive can propose a bill, members of the National Assembly can also propose a bill for the amendment of the constitution to tighten the conditions for party registration. That is to make political party more membership-driven and more ideology oriented. The second thing which we need to do is to constitutionally set a threshold on how political parties can get on the ballot, that you can exist as a party, but before you can get on the ballot you must meet certain conditions. Another thing is to also insist that the moment you are registered to begin from local election, that is area council election. And that before you can contest other elections you must meet this threshold. Section 225 of the 1999 Constitution as amended relating to the 4th operation has also given INEC constitutional powers to de- register political parties that do not meet certain requirements. And part of it is (1) breach of any of the requirements for registration. So the moment any political breaches any of the requirement INEC has the powers to de – register such party. (2) Any party that fails to win at least 25 percent of the vote cast in one state in a presidential election or one local government in state in a governorship election or failure to win one ward in the chairmanship election or one seat in state house of assembly or councillorship election. These are constitutional provisions and the commission will in the next few months begin to take a critical look at the performance of political parties in relation to meeting this threshold. I can assure you that the parties that have not met any of these thresholds, as at the time the commission will begin its assessment of the 2019 election, such a party will be de-registered by the commission.
How prepared is the commission for the Bayelsa and Kogi state governorship election?
We are getting ready for these two elections, as you are aware the commission has conducted its review of the 2019 general elections. We have learned valuable lessons from our presiding officers, from our electoral officers, from our collation officers and from our resident electoral commissioners. We have also had consultative meeting with political parties, civil society organizations, media, and the security agencies. We are harvesting the critical recommendation and the actionable recommendation from these groups for purposes of improving on the electoral processes. We also have the history of elections in Bayelsa and Kogi state in our minds, because in these two states we have had inconclusive elections. So we are also looking at it. As I speak, officers from our alternative conflict resolution department are also in Kogi and Bayelsa to train some of our officers on issues around alternative dispute resolution. As I speak some of our officers from department of voters education and publicity are already in Bayelsa and Kogi state conducting training on the way to go. Part of the issues in 2019 general election was that some of our staff complained about inadequacy of training and the timing of the training. So we are going to do intensive training for our officers, to ensure that they understand the rules of the game and the procedures of the commission and the processes. So that we can conduct a good election. The commission will also move into Kogi and Bayelsa to conduct stakeholders engagement. So we are going to engage with traditional rulers, religious leaders, civil society groups, organizations and all the critical stakeholders in these states. We are also going to broaden our discussion on election security at state and local government level. Some of the lessons we learned from the 2019 elections will impact on our conduct in Kogi and Bayelsa elections. We want to appeal to the political parties to conduct credible party primary. Because the commission will not accept the list of any candidate that does not emanate from legally and transparently conducted party primary. Secondly, the commission will monitor the conduct of all the parties primary. Every political party is mandated to give the commission 21 days notice of the conduct of its primary election. The commission will not accept a situation where party picked a date, gets a venue and then officers of the commission will arrive and see that the venue has been changed. We are going to rely on report from our field officers in relation to party primary. We are also going to make sure that we draw our presiding officers from sources that are credible. And from places that political parties will not have an opportunity of reaching them.
When is the commission going to prosecute, Senator Rochas Okorocha for allegedly threatening an electoral officer?
The commission made it very clear that some of the challenges during the last election, are challenges that we do not want to repeat itself. Some of the issues that transpired during the last general election are a serious threat to the credibility of the electoral process and the commission is looking at some of them. The commission will not tolerate a process where an individual or a political party will hold coalition officers hostage because that will be setting a bad example. The commission will not tolerate where an individual or group will clone ballot papers, result sheet, and other electoral materials, that will be tolerating bad behavior. So the commission is harvesting all the critical challenges in different states. Very soon the INEC will make its position known in relation to person to prosecute for electoral and other criminal offenses during the last general election. But in relation to the declaration made in Imo west, you are aware that the commission said it will not take the decision of the high court lying low and we have agreed on that decision, but in relation to any individual who committed an electoral offense the commission is looking at the issue of prosecution.
Does INEC have a server?
There are certain instances where issues have been joined before the Presidential election and one of those areas is on the issue whether INEC transmitted the result of presidential election electronically. The commission has made it very clear and unequivocal that it did not transmit the results of the presidential election electronically, or through a server as alleged by the petitioner. Let us wait for the presidential election tribunal to make a declaration on that regard. I assure you that the moment judgment is delivered in relation to the 2019 elections, one way or the other we can now talk comprehensively on the issue. But the law obligates the commission to transmit the result manually and that was what we did. Alleging that we transmitted the election result electronically is alleging that INEC deliberately and maliciously and illegally breached the provisions of the law that says the result must be transmitted manually, so that is where we stand.
What happened to the money budgeted for the electronic transmission of result?
There was no money budgeted for anything like that, the commission had a budget for the upgrade of its server in all the states of the federation. At the end of the budget cycle if there is any money left unspent, the commission is by law mandated to return such money. Everybody should calm down and let us wait until the end of the year. All the procurement is in the public domain and the commission has nothing to hide.
The commission works with existing laws because it’s not a legislative arm of government. So whatever law the executive proposes and the legislature passes into law, INEC is under a constitutional obligation to work with it. However, the constitution and the law have given the commission the power, right and mandate to bring in regulations and guidelines for the conduct of elections. That is what is within our legal and constitutional purview.