ONE thing is guaranteed about the 2011 elections – like ones before them, they will be controversial. As if that guarantee should not be challenging enough for the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, it has dabbled into the tenure of some governors which did not begin with others on 29 May 2007.
This came as a result of re-runs following irregularities in elections in those States. The affected States are Adamawa, Bayelsa, Cross River, Ekiti and Sokoto. Four other States where the governors came into office late under slightly different circumstances would have their next gubernatorial elections as follows: Rivers (June 2011), Edo (July 2012), Ondo (November 2012) and Anambra (November 2014).
INEC’s position is supposedly founded on law, the amended 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act 2010. Why INEC would create this storm is unfathomable.
For starts, the issue of tenure of some governors is a legal matter that is at the Court of Appeal. Does INEC have the powers to pre-empt the decision?
More importantly, the vehemence with which some hate those who are in power cannot be a recognised substitute for the law. Those who cannot wait to see these governors leave office must do so in a legally recognised manner.
Sentiments about the right or wrong in those who won re-run elections serving four years from dates after the elections are constitutional matters that are better left for the Supreme Court to determine.
The recourse to an amended Constitution that is still in dispute cannot upstage cases that are in court. There is a ring of mockery in INEC’s Director of Public Affairs Emmanuel Umenger asking those complaining about the decision to head to court. The issue is more about doing things in constitutionally ordered ways than in flouting the law and asking others to seek redress.
According to him, Section 180 Sub section 2 of the 2010 Electoral Act states, “In the determination of the four-year term where a re-run election has taken place and persons earlier sworn in win the re_run election, the time spent before the date of the election was annulled shall be taken into consideration”.
Objections to this provision, which assumes that the winner of the re-run was in office during the dispute, abound. In some of the cases, the court asked the governors to leave office and the Speaker of the State House of Assembly acted.
Moreover, it is strange that a law passed in 2010 is being made to determine issues that were decided before the law came into existence. When did our laws start taking retroactive effect? Does INEC realise the effect of this announcement on its schedule of elections? Is INEC starting off without considering the law?
If there are appropriate authorities – like the Supreme Court – that have ruled on this matter, it would have been more authentic and legitimate to rely on them as the bases for the decision rather than a new law for an old case.
We also have to note that the Attorney General of the Federation is not that appropriate authority. Did INEC seek the advice of his office, just advice?
The amended Constitution cannot be that authority too. It would be too hasty to start using it when there are doubts about the legal sanctity of the document with cases in court over its validity. INEC cannot say it is unaware of disputes over whether the amendments to the Constitution can be accepted when the President did not accede to them.
Even if these amendments are finally admitted in the Constitution will it not be absurd for them to take effect from last year or anytime before the Constitution comes into effect.
INEC has too much on its plate to fritter public resources away on avoidable controversies.