By Onyebuchi Ezigbo, Alex Enumah and Adedayo Akinwale
Abuja — The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has urged the Ninth National Assembly to prioritise amendment to the Electoral Act 2010 as altered ahead of the 2023 general election.
The Chairman of INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, stated this Thursday in Abuja while presenting Certificates of Return to newly elected members of the National Assembly.
He noted that as a matter of urgency, the commission would begin work on post 2019 elections review and road map to 2023 general election.
He said: “There is a lot of work; but very little time available. As a process govern by law, the success of election in Nigeria depends to a large extent on the electoral legal framework and most importantly in ensuring adherence to the law.
“I want to assure you that we will continue to work with the National Assembly to review and strengthen our electoral law. But, I want to appeal to the senators-elect to please start work early and conclude work on electoral framework in a good time well ahead of the 2023 general election.”
He added that the tendency to delay electoral reform, particularly the review of electoral framework until it is too close to the elections, leaves the commission with little time to develop processes, including regulations and guidelines; makes required consultation with stakeholders and embark on effective voter education, including sensitisation, train staff and organised deployment for the elections.
He was glad that among the senators-elect are senators that the commission has worked very closely with, adding that some of them have taken initiative or even sponsored private member bills to advance the cause of electoral reform.
“We look forward to working very closely with you in the next Senate,” he said.
Meanwhile, the electoral body has maintained grave silence, five days after it suspended all electoral processes in Rivers State.
The commission had on Sunday suspended all electoral processes in Rivers State, after the invasion of the state collation centre by soldiers, which later prompted the setting up of a fact-finding committee to assess the situation in the state, giving the committee 48 hours to submit its report before taking further decision on the stalled election.
However, five days after, the commission has failed to make known the findings of the committee.
The electoral body had said that the initial assessment revealed widespread disruption of the electoral process and the harassment and intimidation of various categories of permanent and ad-hoc staff of the commission.
It stated: “The commission will take a stand when the fact-finding committee submits its report. We urge the people of Rivers State to continue to maintain the peace and await the decision of the commission on the way forward.
“The fact-finding committee will enable the commission to understand the dynamics of the situation in Rivers State. The commission will take a rational and informed decision that accords with the constitution, the law and its regulations and guidelines. The commission is determined to protect the sovereign right of the people of Rivers State to determine those that will preside over their affairs.”
Meanwhile, a source in INEC told THISDAY yesterday that the commission was yet to take a decision on Imo West senatorial district, whose seat the Governor of the state, Chief Rochas Okorocha contested.
Okorocha’s name was removed from the list of senators-elect published on the commission’s website last week Thursday.
He contested the seat on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and was declared winner by the Returning Officer, Mr. Innocent Ibeawuchi, who claimed that he was made to announce Okorocha as winner under duress.
This prompted the commission to say that declaration made under duress by its staff would not be accepted by it.
Asked if INEC would conduct fresh election into the district, the source said: “INEC is yet to take any decision, but maybe the commission will take a decision after the supplementary election.”
Meanwhile, Senator Oluremi Tinubu, representing Lagos Central District, has said that she deserves to be considered a principal officer in the ninth Senate.
The former First Lady of Lagos State, disclosed this Thursday in Abuja while speaking with journalists after she was presented with her Certificate of Return by INEC.
She said that it was time for women to come together and support one another, noting that any woman who is in a position should be there for other women.
According to her, “Wherever God has placed you, the next woman on the street is your sister, is your daughter, and is your mother. One is speaking but you are speaking for all.”
NLC Demands Full Autonomy for INEC
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has upbraided the security forces whose personnel were alleged to have unduly interfered with the conduct of the just held 2019 general election.
In its assessment of the conduct of the 2019 general election, NLC said while the exercise was largely peaceful in many parts of the country, there were a number of logistic and security issues that dogged it.
In a statement issued yesterday and signed by the acting President of the NLC, Mr. Amechi Asugwuni, the congress said despite the constitutional restrictions on the direct involvement of the military in an election, some military personnel went outside their duty call to cause disruption in the electoral process.
It said while the deployment of the military was helpful in preventing skirmishes from different local hotspots from degenerating into society-wide brigandage, the conduct of some soldiers deployed in some parts of the country to maintain public order left a lot to be desired.
NLC said the postponement of the initial exercise contributed to low turnout of voters during the general election.
According to the NLC, public expectation after the postponement was that INEC would put its acts together and ensure that the conduct of the elections on the postponed dates was impeccable but that unfortunately, that was hardly the case as the elections were blighted by perennial tardy logistics such as late arrival of election materials to polling units and failure of data capture machines in some polling units.
It said: “While INEC should be commended for insisting on the use of card readers for elections in every part of the country and for issuing a policy statement that no election result obtained through duress would be validated by issuance of certificate of return, it is clear that these pronouncements hardly served as sufficient deterrence to those bent on foisting the rule of the jungle on our election process.
“Also, the deployment of military personnel to harass political rivals was a new low in our electoral history and presents a serious setback to recent electoral reform gains. We call on the military high command to investigate these infractions and bring the culprits, whoever they are, to book as a deterrence to others.
“Going forward, there is need for serious national conversations on critical areas of improvement in the conduct of elections in Nigeria. We also call for a sincere revisit of the Justice Uwais Electoral Reform Report especially as it relates to reinforcing INEC’s independence, unbundling of INEC and setup of Elections Offences Commission.
“We call on President Muhammadu Buhari to show commitment to implementing aspects of Uwais Report which relevance is validated by recent developments in our electoral space.”
Tribunal Orders INEC to Allow Buhari, APC Inspect Electoral Materials
Meanwhile, the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal in Abuja Thursday ordered INEC to grant President Muhammadu Buhari, candidate of the APC in the presidential election, and the APC access to inspect materials used for the conduct of the election.
A three-man panel of the tribunal made the order in a ruling on two separate exparte motions filed by Buhari and the APC.
The panel led by Justice Abdul Aboki held that their applications was meritorious and accordingly ordered INEC to allow them access to the materials for the purpose of inspection and to make photocopies of same.
Buhari and the APC in their motions argued on their behalf by their lawyers, prayed the tribunal to compel INEC to allow them access to materials used for the election, inspect same and obtain certified true copies of the materials.
According to them, the request is to enable them prepare adequately to defend themselves in any petition which the runner-up in the poll, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, and his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), plans to file.
Last week, Atiku and the PDP were granted a similar permission to enable them institute and maintain their petitions at the tribunal.
Their actions followed the declaration of Buhari and APC as winners of the presidential election, which they alleged was rigged in favour of the president and his party.