INEC Proposes Law to Curb Frequency of By-elections

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•Proposes settlement of pre-election matters before polls

Chuks Okocha in Abuja

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is proposing sweeping reforms to enhance the nation’s electoral process and contest.
Under the reforms, the details of which were released yesterday, the commission is seeking an amendment to sections 68, 109 and 117 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) as parts of efforts to curb the frequency of by-elections.

If passed into law, a lawmaker either from the National Assembly or state legislature who resigns his legislative seat on account of ill health or to contest for higher elective post, among others, will be replaced by the candidate of the party with the next highest votes in the election.
The proposal also seeks a legal framework to enable the political party that sponsored a late candidate to replace him through its internal party mechanism rather than be compelled to hold fresh primaries to pick a replacement as the extant practice.

Besides, the commission is pushing for an amendment to section 285 of the constitution to make it possible for all pre-election disputes to be concluded before the conduct of the general election.
The INEC is also proposing the amendment to sections 78 and 84 of the Electoral Act to enable political associations wishing to be registered as political parties to file their applications and have all processes concluded at least 12 to 18 months before the general election and the same thing should apply to political parties wishing to merge.

The INEC National Commissioner in charge of Information and Voter Education, Festus Okoye, gave details on the impending reforms at the weekend at the 2020 annual summit of political parties and stakeholders with the theme: “Two decades of party politics and democracy in Nigeria: Issues and prospects.” The event was jointly organised in Abuja by the Nigerian Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) and Political Parties Leadership and Policy Training Centre.

According to him, altering the provisions of the constitution with a bearing on the electoral process must be pursued simultaneously with amending the Electoral Act.
He explained that the constitution is the fundamental law of the land and the Electoral Act derives its potency and efficacy from the constitution.

He said: “Our proposition is that resignation of membership should devolve the seat automatically to the candidate and political party that came second in the election while the political party that sponsored a late candidate should replace him through their own internal party mechanisms.

“This will engender more respect for the sovereign right of the voters, make elected representatives more responsive and reduce the spate of by-elections in Nigeria thereby saving the taxpayers’ money.”
Giving further clarification to THISDAY on the proposal to reduce the frequency of by-elections due to the resignation of lawmakers, Okoye said the aim is to ensure stability and avoid the distraction that by-elections cause.

He cited the situation in Bayelsa where two senators from the state, Senator Douye Diri and Senator Lawrence Ewhrudjakpor, resigned their senatorial seats to bid for the governorship and deputy governorship positions in the state.
He also recalled the case of Hon. Jarigbe Agom, member representing Ogoja/Yala Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives who contested in the by-election to fill the Cross River North Senatorial District seat.

According to him, another instance of such a scenario was in Katsina State where a senator resigned on ill health and a member from the House of Representatives contested and won, creating a vacancy in the House, which, if the law were in existence now, would be filled by the candidate of the party with the next highest votes in the election into the federal constituency.
“In all these, it is proposed that the party that came second should assume office by replacing the persons that resigned,” he added.

On pre-election matters, Okoye said: “The commission proposes further alteration to section 285 of the constitution to make it possible for all pre-election disputes to be concluded before the conduct of elections.
“This can be achieved by making it possible for the court of first instance to conclude all pre-election matters within a period of 60 days rather than 180 days while the Court of Appeal can hear and deliver its judgment within a period of 30 days rather than 60 days. All pre-election matters should terminate at the Court of Appeal.”

He explained that the overlapping of pre-election matters into post-election period poses planning, logistics and security challenges to the commission.
He said sometimes multiple court orders and judgments from courts of coordinate jurisdiction are delivered and served on the commission on the eve of elections and this muddles up the commission’s planning and deployment and confuses the electorate.

Okoye added that the commission is also proposing the amendment of sections 78 and 84 of the Electoral Act to enable political associations wishing to be registered as political parties to file their applications and have all processes concluded at least 12 to 18 months before the general election. Political parties wishing to merge should also, conclude the process within the same time frame, he stated.
He said: “This will give the newly registered and fused parties enough time to organise and for the electoral management body to plan with some level of certainty.

“We are also proposing the amendment of section 87 of the Electoral Act to make it mandatory for political parties to submit their membership register and delegates list to the commission at least seven days before the conduct of their primaries.

“Parties primaries must be open and transparent. We believe that the internal dynamics of how delegates are chosen remains the internal affair of the parties and should be reflected in the regulations and guidelines of individual political parties.

“The commission is also passionate about the proposed amendments to sections 48, 49, 50 and 52 of the Act to give the commission the discretion to introduce technology in the electoral process and transmit results of elections. Technology is dynamic and the commission should be in a position to determine the relevant technology at a particular point in time. We must therefore resist the temptation of writing into the law a particular form of technological solution.

“We are also canvassing the creation of an Electoral Offences Commission and Tribunal to handle matters relating to the arrest, investigation and prosecution of electoral offenders.
“The commission is also of the view that the provisions of section 143 of the Electoral Act relating to persons remaining in office pending determination of post-election appeal should be imported and replicated in pre-election appeals.

“This is an alternative solution to pre-election matters dovetailing to post-election period. If the elected candidate gives notice of appeal within the constitutional period, the person should remain in office pending the determination of the appeal.”

Okoye also expressed INEC’s support for the proposals on timelines for the release of funds to INEC; making resident electoral commissioners answerable to the commission and the power of the commission to review declarations and returns made by returning officers, among others.