Professor Attahiru Jega, a former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has advised that the appointment of a chairman for the electoral body ought not to be the role of the country’s president saying that divesting the President [f such role would help to free the Commission from partisanship and curb the issue of electoral malpractices in the country.
Jega who made the call during his speech at a two-day retreat organised for senators by the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS) in Ikot Ekpene, Akwa Ibom State, on Saturday, called for amendments to the nations’ Electoral Act, 2022, adding that while Nigeria’s current electoral laws could be said to be the best in the country’s history, it is not perfect; and that there was need for further amendments to remove ambiguities, clarify and strengthen some of its sections.
The former INEC boss made some recommendations before the lawmakers stating that it would be in the interest of Nigeria’s integrity if the electronic transmission of results is made mandatory from the next general elections which are in 2027. He said the section should be clarified by making electronic transmission of election results compulsory, including uploading of polling unit level results and result sheets used at different levels of results collation adding that if the laws are reviewed, it will ensure that all cases arising from the conduct of elections are resolved and judgements made before the date of swearing in.
This was as many stakeholders expressed concern that Section 64 of the Electoral Act, which states the process of transmission of election results, is susceptible to manipulation and misinterpretation.
“INEC would have enough time to prepare for this, if the Act is amended early enough in the ensuing electoral cycle,” Jega said while also advocating for the introduction of either early voting for eligible voters on election duty, such as INEC staff, observers and their drivers, security personnel, and journalists or special arrangement to enable them vote on election day, especially for presidential elections.
The former INEC boss also advocated diaspora voting, at least for presidential elections, to enable citizens to vote, especially those on essential service abroad.
“There is need to enhance inclusion of women, if necessary by up to 35% of elective positions in parliament, and in all political parties’ candidate lists,” he added.
Meanwhile, the technocrat further addressed the menace of cross-carpeting by elected officials stating that it should be proscribed not only for members of the National Assembly but also for elected executives, governors and chairmen of local government and that INEC should be empowered to prepare for elections to fill the vacancy once it has evidence of the act of cross-carpeting.
He said: “There is need to place stringent conditions for candidate’s withdrawal and replacement to prevent abuse.
“Empower INEC to also screen and, if necessary, disqualify candidates whose credentials show that they are unqualified or in respect of whom it has evidence of forgery and other forms of criminality.
“There is need for the legislation to allow even candidates outside the political parties, as well as tax-paying citizens to file suits against candidates who provide false information to INEC regarding their candidature.
“Although Sections 132(8) & (9) have given timelines within which the tribunals and courts of appellate jurisdiction should issue verdicts, there is need, particularly in respect of elected executive positions, to ensure that all cases are resolved and judgments made before the date of swearing in.
“Review the process of appointments into INEC, specifically to divest/minimise the involvement of the President in appointment of Chairman and National Commissioners of INEC, in order to free the commission from the damaging negative perception of ‘he who pays the piper dictates the tune’.
“The Justice Uwais Committee recommended that the responsibility for advertising, screening, shortlisting and submission to Council of State for recommendation to Senate for confirmation hearings, for this category of officers, should be entrusted to the National Judicial Council (NJC).
“On second thought, and for obvious reasons, I will recommend a joint committee of the National Assembly be given this responsibility, with a criteria, for transparency, non-partisanship and stakeholder engagement for the process.
“The applicants/nominees for these appointments should be subjected to public scrutiny with regards to knowledge, skills, good character and non-partisanship. Guidelines should be provided for submitting petitions against any nominee during this process.”