Prof. M. Yakub
EMEKA NZE writes about the brewing general feeling that the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC should take over the functions of the State Independent Electoral Commissions to pave way for free fair and credible elections at the Local governments.
There’s seemingly brewing campaign which tends to pitch one electoral agency against the other- the two federal commissions- the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs)- reposed with the responsibility of organising elections in the country.
The campaign is neither caused by usurpation of functions of eachother nor bouyed by confusion over overlapping areas. In fact, there are no overlapping functions.
It is as a result of pervasive instigatory public commentaries and judgements which have a favorable disposition towards the output of INEC against the SIECs’, and thus likely to evoke mutual suspicion between the two bodies.
Being accentuated or fuelled by the sudden realization that it is omnibus to have two independent agencies to conduct elections in one country, in a manner suggesting that “two people cannot drive a car at the same time.”
Moreso, there has been largely lack of understanding by the public of their functions which often erroneously ascribe the conduct of every election to INEC, the feeling
More often than not, the national election management body is usually blamed for perceived ‘errors’ commited by SIEC in the discharge of their mandate at the local governments, thus reinforcing realisation that “Why can’t INEC also conduct the local government elections since it does it in the FCT?”
For instance, in the conduct of Kano State Local Government elections in 2018, INEC was later blamed by some members of the public for alleged massive underaged voting in the election. Efforts by the commission inform the public that it did not conduct the elections sounded unconvincing. This forced INEC to set committee to probe the allegation but the report gave INEC a clean bill of health.
For the benefit of hindsight, Nigeria’s election management body predates the 1999 constitution, its name changing with the country’s evolvement into a full-fledged democracy.
INEC derives its powers from the 1999 constitution as amended and the Electoral Act 2010 as amended.
The constitution also provides for the appointment of the chairman and members of the commissions by the president, subject to confirmation by the senate.
It conducts the national elections- President, the members of the two chambers of the National Assembly, the Governorship and the State Houses of Assembly.
The 1999 constitution introduced the establishment of 36 State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs) in each state of the federation, which are mandated to conduct local government elections.
The governors appoint the chair and members of the SIECs with confirmation from the State House of Assembly. The constitution also stipulates the criteria for registering political parties.
Although it has been variously observed that there are no perfect elections the world over, elections organised by INEC are reasonably said to correspond to the degree of popularity of the candidates and their parties in their various areas, thus ushering in the hope that the country is progressively on the path to getting things right.
On the contrary, there have been public outcry that the SIECs have become an appendage of the state governments and therefore unfit to carry out its statutory duties of organising elections at the local governments.
Last year, the Inter Party Advisory Council (IPAC) was vehement when it brought this issue to the fore calling for the abolition of the SIECs. Its national president, High Chief Peter Ameh had said SIECs have been pocketed by the state governors who he identified as ’emperors’.
Ameh stated that so long as the extant laws establishing the SIECS subsists, no matter how popular a candidate for the councilloship or local government election might be, if he is not in the ruling party in the state, he/she would not be elected into the position, adding that the governors use the huge financial resources they control to ensure that only their parties produce the local government chairman as well as the councillors.
What the argument of IPAC national president colored is that the trend has stifled development of the smaller and newer parties which more often than not have become redundant in the political space as they constitute mere space filling instrument in the ballot papers during elections.
His logic reinforces that if INEC or any other less subservient or pliable agency is allowed to conduct the local council elections,some of the new parties with popular candidates would emerge victorious during elections and consequently begin their journey to becoming formidable parties.
To achieve this, he consequently vowed that his reign as IPAC leader would pursue the amendment of the constitution and the Electoral Act to accommodate their position.
His words: “The current system encourages massive rigging because SIECs are under the whims and caprices of the state governments and the political party in power in each state across Nigeria.
“As we have seen over the years, parties that control each state will stop at nothing to tailor the results in their favour. The opposition party in the state is always left with nothing.”
“IPAC will totally collaboratively support all efforts and work with the National Assembly (9th Assembly) in carrying out any necessary Constitutional Amendments that will lead to granting full Financial and Electoral autonomy to Local Government System and Administration in Nigeria.”
“This is because we believe, without mincing words, that the presumed failure or the inability of the Local Councils to bring about glaring grassroots development in Nigeria, that would have positive impact on the lives of ordinary Nigerians, is easily attributable to the total lack of Local Government election, properly so called, in Nigeria.”
Put succinctly, IPAC leadership believes that “If local authorities have autonomy and tenure guaranteed, it will be easy for the people to hold them accountable and this will in turn bring development closer to the people and thus make for a robust democracy.”
In its suggestion to end malaise at the local governments, IPAC recommended the following: “States Independent Electoral Commission Section 7 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) relating to the place of Local Governments as the third tier of government should be amended to specifically guarantee the existence, establishment, structure, composition, finance, functions and tenure of local governments under the constitution.
It further proposed that “Section 153, 197 and the Third Schedule to the Constitution should be amended to provide for the following re-designation and re-ordering of SIECs.
Coincidentally, and perhaps worried by the scenario, at a meeting with the Forum of State Independent Electoral Commissions of Nigeria (FOSIECON ) during their courtesy visit to the INEC headquarters in Abuja, Prof Mahmood Yakubu called for the review of laws governing the conduct of local government elections .
He underscored the need for a modern law to govern the conduct of local government elections nationwide.
He said that while there was law establishing SIEC and its composition, each state had its procedures, regulations and guidelines for the conduct of local government elections.
To the INEC chairman it impracticable for the SIECs who have the same level of independence with INEC to conduct free and fair polls at the local governments without financial independence.
“We need modern law to guide to govern the conduct of local government elections in the country, that draw to a considerable extent from the national electoral legal framework.
“The second issue we need to work together is the independent of SEIC cannot be guaranteed where there is no financial independence.
“We will look at whatever we can do to work to ensure financial independence for the SIEC that will enormously help the conduct of elections,’’ Yakubu said.
Although the leadership of INEC pledged continuous partnership with FOSIECON and continuous interaction to ensure the conduct of credible, free and fair elections in Nigeria and at the LGAs, it is clear that the loopholes in the law establishing SIECs do not guarantee for a free and fair election at the local government, hence the need for amendment.
Will the ongoing amendment of the electoral laws yield to scrapping the SIECs to pave way for INEC to also conduct elections into the local governments? The quickest quess is that going by the politicking of the state governments which have always kicked against local government autonomy, it would be unimaginable that they would fold 4th their arms and watch SIEC being scrapped.
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