By Chris Ochayi
ABUJA – The outgoing Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Professor Attahiru Jega, yesterday decried lack of internal party democracy in Nigeria, regretting that the trend which encourage substitutions of candidates after primaries by political parties, created enormous burden for the Commission during the just concluded 2015 general elections.
Jega who spoke in Abuja during a stakeholders’ conference on 2015 elections, organised by National Institute for Policy & Strategic Studies, NIPSS, said last-minute substitution of candidates by parties was sources of concern to the commission.
The two-day conference themed, “political parties leadership and 2015 elections: lesson learnt and way forward” was organised in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP, and DGD II.
Jega, who was represented by Prof. Mohammed Kuna, a Commissioner at the INEC, told participants at the conference to proffer solutions on how to entrench internal democracy in political parties in the country.
He revealed that the party structure in many West African countries are firmer that what is obtainable in Nigeria.
According to him, “In the commission, we are worried about internal democracy in political parties. We have seen cases of substitution of candidates after the primaries. It is a serious problem for INEC. We had several cases in 2011 and the same thing happened in 2015.
“I think it is important that we look into it. If you look at political parties across West Africa, the party structures in many countries is better than what we have in Nigeria. We will share our experiences with other participants here in order to deepen democracy.”
It would be recalled that the Commission was undaunted with series of running court cases before and after the 2015 general elections as a result of last-minute substitution of candidates by the political parties.
But in a swift reaction the position aired by INEC, the National Chairman of Labour Party, LP, Alhaji Alhaji Abdukadir Abdulsalam, blamed the encumbrance on the current Electoral Act, which he noted have contradictory clauses on the substitution of candidates by political parties.
Alhaji Abdulsalami while calling for an urgent amendment to existing Electoral Act, alleged the clauses which gave INEC leverage to accept or reject substituted candidates was not good for democracy.
According to him, “We have severally called for the amendment to the present Electoral act. If the INEC and the political parties work together, the amendment will be facilitated and will come out quickly and fruitful.
Accusing the Commission of not deepening internal democracy, the Labour Party boss said, “To what extent has INEC facilitates internal democracy in the political parties, to what extent have they encourage sincerely political parties for substitution of candidates, to what extent are they sincere, honest towards substitution of candidates?
“If INEC said it has problem, they should come out plain with the problem. They should meet with the political parties, we should interact, we should see the source of the problem, the cause of the problem so the we can collectively offer solution to the problem. To merely saying that they have being encountering problems without telling the political parties, without relating to the political parties is not enough.
“We want to meet with them, let us see what are those areas because, in my own case i have experienced a situation where i substituted a candidate and they refused to take it because of their own selfish excuses. In most cases, many political parties experienced this and this kind of thing must stop,” he said.
In his reaction also, the Chairman of Inter-Party Advisory Council Mallam Yinusa Tanko, called for a total overhauling of the existing Electoral Act. According to him, stakeholders must sit and agree on certain areas of the Electoral Act where improvements and changes are required.
He said “We have allowed political parties to be hijacked by individuals. When these individuals take over the structure of the party, they always decide who becomes who. We need to find a mechanism through which political parties will be public-owned institutions. With all due respect, we have improved over time and I believe we can get better.
“The only place where you can find true internal democracy are in the smaller political parties. These small parties are not owned by big men. The issue of substitution of candidates comes with Electoral Act. The Act gives a lot of rooms for a number of things.
“A case in study is Benue state, where people just jump into political parties and grab the tickets. INEC does not have the powers to effectively manage these things. We are calling for a total overhauling of the Electoral Act. Now, we can all sit down and look at areas of improvements.”