The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is seeking powers to disqualify candidates who do not satisfy the requirements for the positions they are contesting for.
The electoral umpire wants its independence to be constitutionally guaranteed in all its operations and in its management and control of the electoral process, as was the case in Decree (now Act) 17 of 1998 which first established the Commission before the 1999 Constitution.
It also wants any person convicted of an electoral offence to be disqualified for 10 years from the date of conviction from contesting any election or holding any party office.
INEC Chairman Prof. Attahiru Jega spoke at a retreat on the 2010 Electoral Act organised by the Senate Committee on the review of the 1999 Constitution.
Jega said: “With such decisions as Atiku Abubakar V INEC and the proviso to Section 31 of the amended Electoral Act, the Commission has no right to prevent even an obviously unqualified or disqualified person from being on the ballot.
“For example, it cannot prevent an under-aged or foreign citizen from contesting the election, even when this is obvious from the documents submitted or even a person who admits that he presented a forged certificate to the Commission if it seeks to disqualify such persons. The Commission must go to court. This is not desirable.
“Paragraph F, item 15 of the Third Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria1999 (as amended) dealing with the powers of the Commission to be further amended by inserting the clause ‘disqualify candidates who evidently do not satisfy the requirements for the position he/she is contesting for as provided’ in relevant Sections of the Constitution.
Jega said that it should be enacted a new Section (3) to Section 158 providing as follows Section 158(3) “The Independent National Electoral Commission shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other authority or person in all its operations”.
He said the Commission shall notify the political party of the disqualification of its candidate and the grounds for the disqualification.
The INEC boss said it was desirable that every candidate who aspires to govern shall be a registered voter.
He said the clause “he is registered to vote” should be inserted as paragraph to sub Section(2) of Section 65 and as paragraph (e) of Sections 106, 131 and 177 of the Constitution.
On disqualification of electoral offenders, Jega said any person convicted of an Electoral Offence (including registration offence, campaign finance breaches and breach of political party finance provision) should be disqualified for a period of 10 years from the date of the conviction from contesting any election or holding party position.
He would like the clause ‘Within a period of 10 years before the date of the election, he has been convicted of an electoral offence by a court of tribunal” inserted immediately after each of paragraph (d) of Sections 66, 107,137,and 182 of the Constitution.
Jega said interested Nigerians who are of age but resident overseas should be allowed to register and vote.
He said that the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) empowers INEC to deregister political parties that fail to win at least a seat in a state Assembly.
The chairman spoke also on the clamour for the registration of more parties, saying it continued to rise.
He said that whereas the Constitution allows for freedom of association it is practically impossible to have all registered political parties on the ballot.
Jega said that INEC should be empowered, in consultation with political parties to determine the criteria for getting on the ballot.
The criteria, in his view, should include payment of fees prescribed by the Commission, securing of certain percentage of votes at general elections and winning seats in the legislative election.
Jega said Sections 134 and 179 of the Constitution, which deals with Presidential and governorship election should be amended by adding the word “valid” before “vote” wherever this appears in the Sections so as to remove any ambiguity.
Candidates “should be elected on valid votes cast only”.
Jega suggests the establishment of an Electoral Offences Tribunal to guarantee timely prosecution of electoral offenders.
He said INEC should be empowered to appoint dates the presidential, governorship, National Assembly and State House of Assembly elections will hold.
Jega suggested that Section 8 of the Electoral Act be amended to include a statutory tenure for the Secretary of the Commission to wit: “The secretary shall serve for a period of four years which may be renewable or another period of four years only.”
The INEC chief suggested that political parties be made to substitute their unqualified candidates with the second runners up during the primaries.
He said: “It is suggested that subsection (6) of Section 31 be amended to make provision that where the court finds that a candidate submitted by a political party did not meet the qualifications required for contesting the election.
“Where, however, the person has been elected, the court shall order the person to vacate the office and the candidate with the second highest votes cast who has met constitutional requirement for the post shall be declared elected.
“This suggestion is to avoid the waste of public funds to repeat election consequent upon removal of disqualified candidates.”
He recommended that subsection (8) of Section 31 be amended to increase the fine awarded against a political party which submits the name of an unqualified candidate to the Commission.
“This is because the fine provided therein is inadequate as a deterrent. Thus, Section 31 be amended in subsection (8) by substituting for the figure N500,000 the figure N1million,” Jega said.
He added: “Guided by the provisions of Section 87 of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) which requires candidates of political parties to emerge from democratically conducted primary elections, it is recommended that where a candidate who won a primary election and whose name was submitted to the Commission dies or withdraws from the election, the political party which nominated that candidate shall submit to the Commission the name of the candidate who scored the second highest number of votes at the primaries as the substitute candidate.
“Section 45 allows political parties to notify the Commission of the appointment of Polling Agents in writing at least seven days before the date of the election. In order to give political parties sufficient time to sort out who their agents should be. It is suggested that the time should be extended to 14 day.
“Sections 48, 49, 50, 52, 54, 55, and 60 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) which provide details on the procedure to vote at an election are restrictive and do not allow for improvement on procedure for voting. It is suggested that INEC be allowed, through Regulations/Guidelines, to determine the mode of voting at an election.
“Section 77 provides for access to polling documents. Political parties and candidates should be allowed to inspect polling documents, but the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) should only release Certified True Copies (CTCs) not the original documents.
“Section 77 should be amended accordingly. It is however suggested that in view of the number of applications and the volume of the documents required, the time within which the REC shall certify or cause certified true copies of the documents to be issued should be reviewed upward from seven days to 14 days.
“Whereas subsection (6) of Section 100 of the Electoral Act makes provisions to sanction any media house that violates the provisions of Section 100 of the Electoral A t, no sanction is provided similar to Section 101 against principal officers of the media house involved in the crime. Provision should therefore be made to sanction principal officers and other officers of the media house involved in the crime.
“Thus Section 100 be amended by substituting for the existing subsection (6) a new subsection “(6)” – ‘100(6) Any person who contravenes subsections (3) and (4) of this sections commits an offence and upon conviction is liable: (a) in the case of a public media to a maximum of fine of N500,000 in the first instance and to a maximum fine of N1million or subsequent conviction; and in the case of principal officer(s) and other officer(s) of the media house to a maximum fine of N500,000 or go imprisonment for a term of 12 months.’
“Paragraph 51(1) and 51(2) should be deleted as it contradicts Section 137(3) of the Act which says the petitioner need not join the Electoral Officer, Polling Officer, or Returning Officer.
“Furthermore, the Commission is an independent body established by the Constitution, it is unconstitutional for a schedule to require it or its officials o consult or seek the approval or consent of the Attorney General in any matter in court. The Commissions’s discretion should be completely unfettered. The reference to the Attorney General in this schedule should be deleted.”
He said even though the Constitution empowers the Commission to create electoral constituencies subject to approval of the National Assembly, “experience has shown that the National Assembly may delay consideration of the proposal.”
He added: “It is recommended that a provision be made in the Electoral Act stating that when the proposal for creation of constituencies is made to the National Assembly, the proposal shall be deemed approved if no response from the National Assembly is received by the Commission within a period of three months from the date of presentation.”