INEC Chairman Attahiru Jega’s Statement at Interaction with Political Parties (Wednesday, 18th August, 2010)

No Comments » August 19th, 2010 posted by // Categories: Electoral Reform Project




OPENING REMARKS BY THE HONOURABLE CHAIRMAN, INDEPENDENT NATIONAL ELECTORAL COMMISSION (INEC) AT THE INTERACTIVE CONSULTATION BETWEEN INEC AND THE NATIONAL LEADERSHIP OF NIGERIAN POLITICAL PARTIES HELD ON WEDNESDAY, 18TH AUGUST, 2010

PROTOCOL

It gives me immense pleasure to welcome you to this maiden consultation between the national leadership of political parties and the new INEC. I say maiden because it is our expectation that these consultations will become a regular feature of our electoral process. We see political parties as partners in a common cause of conducting free, fair and credible elections. As you know, this Commission was inaugurated at the beginning of July. Given the impending 2011 elections, we had to hit the ground running. In our first week of work, we took extensive reports from the Heads of Departments of the Commission. Armed with their reports, we had a retreat in Uyo to reflect on the reports and chart a work plan for the Commission. Thereafter, we have been holding extensive consultations with stakeholders, including the leadership of the executive and legislative arms of government, civil society, labour unions, the mass media, as well as the donor community and international bodies.

As one of the most important stakeholders of the Commission, we have waited for things to crystallize a bit more before meeting with you. This is necessary because it is INEC and political parties that have to carry the principal burdens of ensuring free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria. The reason for this is not farfetched. While political parties compete for the support of the electorate, it is INEC that has to mediate that competition. Should either side fail to play by the rules, free, fair and credible elections are immediately put in jeopardy.

Let me state what we consider to be the irreducible mission of our Commission. It is to conduct free, fair and credible elections based on a dependable and permanent Voters’ Register, as provided by law. In doing this, we offer the Nigerian people a strong leadership built on openness, fairness and unimpeachable integrity. We want Nigerians to judge us on these grounds. We hope that we are correct in assuming that you share this mission and that we can consider you allies in its pursuit and attainment.

To be sure, the relationship between INEC and political parties has been one of the sore points of our electoral system in the recent past. While we shall guard jealously the independence of this Commission, we intend to regularly consult you and work hard to carry you along in all our activities. We hope, in turn, that you will also work hard to reciprocate this gesture.

Permit me now to outline a number of burning issues in our electoral process, which I am sure are germane in contextualizing the future relationship between INEC and political parties.

Legal regime guiding the electoral process

As you are aware, at about the time of our inauguration, the National Assembly was concluding the process of passing the first set of amendments to the 1999 Constitution. Based on the Constitutional amendments, the Assembly subsequently passed the new Electoral Act 2010. Among others, some of the most important sections of the 1999 Constitution amended are Sections 76 (1) and (2), 116 (1) and (2), 132 (1) and (2) and 178  (1) and (2) all dealing with end of tenure and elections for various office holders. The import of these amendments is that unlike before, elections to these offices will “hold not earlier than 150 days and not later than 120 days before the expiration of the term of office of the last holder of that office”. By implication, the 2011 elections must hold between December 30th 2010 and January 29th 2011 and the Electoral Act had to be amended to bring it in line with these Constitutional changes.

Subsequently, INEC requested the National Assembly to consider amending some sections of the Electoral Act, which was under consideration at the time, to give it more time to finalize a Voters’ Register and conduct the upcoming elections. Specifically, we requested amendments to Section 10 (5) to reduce the time for the end of the registration, updating and revision of the register of voters from 120 days before an election to 60 days; Section 21 to reduce the time for completion of Supplementary list of voters, integration into the existing register and final certification from 60 days before the election to 30 days; finally, Section 11 (4) which is ambiguous and creates the impression that as soon as we announce the notice of elections, registration of voters must terminate. The National Assembly effected all these amendments.

As I am sure you are aware, unfortunately, the Constitutional amendments have been embroiled in controversy ever since. The Commission has planned its activities on the understanding that these amendments have been consummated and finalized. Instead, there have been controversies over whether the President has to assent to the Constitutional amendments or not, a matter which is now subjudice. At the same time, to the best of my knowledge, Mr. President is yet to assent to the new Electoral Act. All have constrained INEC’s preparations for both the voter registration exercise and the elections. Our position remains that we are bound by whatever existing legal architecture provided to us and we need not be drawn into controversies over such issues. I therefore appeal for a speedy conclusion of these issues to enable us firm up preparations for the voter registration and elections.

Registration of voters

At the time our Commission was inaugurated, one major debate was over the 2007 Voters’ Register and its integrity as a basis for conducting the next elections. We have approached this issue most dispassionately and methodically. In the first place, in the course of our retreat in Uyo, we closely looked through the existing Voters’ Register, sampling over 100 polling units from randomly selected 19 States. What we found were massive inadequacies including underage registrants, hundreds of blank or blurred photographs and multiple registrations by the same persons. Secondly, based on what we saw of the Register, we left Uyo agreeing that our preference would be to produce a fresh Voters’ Register if we had the funds and time, otherwise we would embark on “cleaning up” the existing register. Since then, we thought that we got the time through the amendments to the Electoral Act. We also thought that we had the funds following consideration of the supplementary appropriation Bill for INEC sent to the National Assembly by Mr. President about a fortnight ago. Again, unfortunately, we are not sure where we stand at the moment.

In my maiden press conference I indicated that the Commission has set itself the following almost inflexible timeline, if compilation of a new Voters’ Register is to happen.

Deliverables

Timelines

(i)

Identification of equipment suppliers

Early August 2010

(ii)

Award of contract

Early August 2010

(iii)

Delivery of 15,000 units of equipment for training

Early September 2010

(iv)

Delivery of balance of equipment for registration exercise

Mid October 2010

(v)

Training

Early to Mid September 2010

(vi)

Completion of deployment of equipment to polling units

Mid October 2010

(vii)

Registration exercise

Late Oct. – Early Nov. 2010

(viii)

Printing of Voters’ Register for display

Early November 2010

(ix)

Display of Voters’ Register

Mid November 2010

(x)

Verification, correction and certification

Mid Nov. – Early Dec. 2010

We have already missed these timelines by two weeks.  Nonetheless, we are striving hard to make up for lost time.

Be that as it may, I should point out that the registration of voters,  and the conduct of free and fair elections should not be seen as an exclusive INEC concern. Political parties should also be profoundly interested in bringing out their supporters to get registered, since it is a precondition for voting. We are in the process of producing comprehensive guidelines to guide the registration exercise and I hope that you will all fully support the registration exercise, including observing its conduct and sharing your experiences with us. In fact, we intend to establish a Situation Report Room for the exercise to enable all stakeholders to inform us about problems as they arise and make sure that we intervene rapidly to solve them.

Preparations for the 2011 elections

I am sure that you would be interested in our preparations for the 2011 elections. We as a Commission are aware that while compiling a credible Voters’ Register might be the bedrock of free and fair elections, it is not the elections in itself. Therefore, we are well conscious that we have to do both, the registration and preparations for the elections, simultaneously. We are establishing the necessary framework at the levels of operations, logistics, training, voter education, etc. that will ensure hitch free elections in 2011. We are working on an electoral time-table and preparing comprehensive guidelines for voters, political parties, security agencies, election observers and our own staff for the elections.

However, the uncertainties about the legal framework for the conduct of the elections have hindered our preparations. Just to illustrate, except we know what the Constitutional provision on the time to hold elections before the end of tenure is, we are constrained to issue a notice for the elections, which must be done 90 days to the elections (Section 30 of the Electoral Act 2010). We are equally constrained to determine the date political parties must submit their list of candidates to the Commission, which must be done 60 days prior to the elections (Section 31 of the “new” Electoral Act), and so on and so forth. Still, I can assure you that we are ready and as soon as these are clarified and concluded, we would release a time-table of events.

“New” Electoral Act and political parties

If we assume that the elections would take place on the basis of the Electoral Act 2010, I am sure that you would be interested in knowing how changes incorporated in the amended Act would affect your relationship with INEC. In a nutshell, I think that you should take particular note of the following:

·         Submission of List of Candidates

a)      Section 31 of the Electoral Act requires the parties to submit their list of candidates 60 days before the elections. INEC is required within 7 days thereafter, to publish the list of candidates in the constituency where the election is to hold.

b)      Nominations submitted by the parties are public documents and any citizen is entitled under section 31 (4) to request from INEC copies of the nomination filed and INEC is obliged to make this available within 14 days.
·         Substitution of Candidates

a)      In Section 33, no political party shall be allowed to change or substitute its candidate whose name has been submitted pursuant to Section 32 of the Act, except in the case of death or withdrawal by the candidate.

b)      This eliminates the old practice of substitution of candidates arbitrarily or on the nebulous ground of “cogent and verifiable reasons.”

·         Withdrawal of Candidates

a)      This is allowed 45 days before an election only. See section 35. Thereafter, a candidate’s name will remain on the ballot.

·         Registration of New Political Parties

a)      The registration of new political parties ceases 6 months before an election. This means that as at now, no new political parties can be registered ahead of the next elections, if they are to take place by 8th January 2011 (Section 78).

b)      I should also note that under the section, INEC may also cancel a party’s certificate of registration where there is false or misleading information leading to its registration.

c)       Section 78 (7) empowers INEC to de-register a political party that fails to win any National or State Assembly seat in an election.
·         Mergers of Political Parties

a)      Political parties are required under section 84 (2) to give INEC 90 days notice of an intention to merge before a general election.

·         Party Conventions/Congresses/Conference for Nomination of Candidates

a)      The Electoral Act 2010 provides in section 85, that political parties give INEC 21 days notice of any convention, congress, conference or meeting convened for the purpose of electing members of its executive committees, other governing bodies or nominating candidates for any of the elective offices specified under the bill.

b)       This means that parties need to be informed well ahead of the 90 days date for the submission of their list of candidates, of this legal requirement, to ensure that they prepare adequately to fulfill the provisions contained in the new section 87 of the Electoral Act specifying the process of political party primaries.

c)      Section 87 of the Electoral Act 2010, outlines the process that all political parties must fulfill to conduct legitimate and credible primaries, to enable them file candidates for the elections. Failure to comply with section 87 may disqualify candidates filed by political parties for the elections.

d)     Section 86 of the Act gives INEC powers to monitor the parties and ensure that they comply with the law.
In conclusion, I believe that INEC and political parties are partners in the search for democratic consolidation in Nigeria, particularly through free, fair and credible elections. I should mention that this search for democracy “outside the gates” must be underscored by democracy “within the gates”. By this I refer to internal party democracy. This has remained a major concern for both the Commission and the Nigerian public. The processes of selecting your candidates must be above board democratically, including giving adequate opportunities to women, by reducing all those structural conditions within parties that put them at a disadvantage. Also, party financing, particularly spending on elections, remains a continuing concern. As you all know, there are legal requirements about these and as a Commission, we would be sad to see a situation in which we have to compel you to obey those legal requirements.  But if we have to do so, we will do so.

I want to assure you all that we are determined to create a level playing field for all political parties.  There will be no big or small parties and every party will have an equal opportunity to compete for support from the electorate.  This is an essential aspect of electoral democracy.  Finally, I look forward to future partnerships for democratic consolidation with you and I wish us fruitful deliberations.

Thank you.
Prof. Attahiru M. Jega, OFR
Chairman, INEC


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