By Levinus Nwabughiogu & Omeiza Ajayi
ABUJA—President Muhammadu Buhari, yesterday, called for punitive measures against perpetrators of electoral malpractices, saying it was not enough to cancel polls and order fresh ones.
He also called for the overhauling of the justice administrative system, stressing that unless electoral offenders were sanctioned, the system would not be made right.
Buhari made the call while inaugurating the new helmsmen of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, at the Council Chambers of the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
Meanwhile, the new INEC chairman, Professor Mammud Yakubu, has said that he was not a stooge to anybody even as he pledged his commitment to the Electoral Act.
The new INEC officials included Professor Mammud Yakubu (Chairman), National Commissioners: Mrs. Amina Zakari, Mr. Solomon Adedeji Soyebi, Prof. Antonia Taiye Okoosi-Simbine, Dr. Muhammed Mustafa Lecky and Alhaji Baba Shettima Arfo.
According to President Buhari, “another area of concern is the justice administration of the electoral tribunals. It is long overdue that our justice system addresses these shortcomings. It is not just enough for an election to be cancelled and a new one ordered.
“It would be much better if all whose actions or inactions led to the cancellation of such election to be investigated and if culpable prosecuted whether they are individuals as candidates or party agents, institutions such as political party, electoral body, or public officers as electoral staff or security agents.
“Similarly, perpetrators of electoral violence and thuggery should not be spared. Unless our system stops covering up all forms of electoral malpractices we can hardly get it right. No system endures with impunity.”
APC govt stands for change
President Buhari also stated that the government of All Progressives Congress, APC stood for change and would not interfere in affairs of the INEC as an independent organization.
He said: “The APC government has promised Nigerians change. In electioneering this change should be all embracing. It starts from change of attitudes, change of work ethics, change in attitude to corruption and corrupt practices, change of party political conduct-right from primaries to the emergence of candidates and finally the conduct of elections.
“In the conduct of elections we promised to respect the independence of our electoral body, INEC. We promised non-interference in its activities and above all we promised to encourage them to conduct transparently free and fair elections. I hereby pledge to keep that promise.
“Gentlemen, I hereby acknowledge and pledge to respect the independence of the commission, and this government will not interfere with its operations.”
On State Electoral Commissions
Speaking further on the sanctity of the electoral system, the President also harped on the need to make state electoral commissions across the federation more responsible to conducting free, fair and credible polls.
“Needless to add that the APC is not limited to the control of Federal Government alone. There are many states that are APC-controlled; I expect them to do no less in the way they handle their various States’ Electoral Commissions. All of us, and this includes other political parties have a responsibility to safe-guard the sanctity of democratic values; and the foundation of such values are free association, transparent electoral process and free and fair elections.
“I am aware of the Federal Government’s constitutional constraints in its engagement with the states’ electoral bodies. But the government has a social responsibility to protect the democratic rights of all.”
“I am of the view that it is totally unacceptable to hide under the cover of the technicality of law to deny the citizens’ rights. Accordingly, the Federal Government is considering a different strategy of engagement with state governments on how to make state electoral commissions much freer than many are today.
“In almost all the states, the party of the sitting government wins all the council elections – while there is nothing wrong with that if it is the true wish of the people – but majority of Nigerians more often than not think it is not, hence have little respect for the outcome of our council elections. This is responsible for questioning the integrity of such election winners throughout their tenure.”
Charges them on credible polls
President Buhari also left a stern warning to the new INEC appointees, urging them to resist external influences that would hamper the conduct of credible elections for Nigerians.
“For your part, you should not allow yourselves to be unduly influenced or subject yourself to the control of outside forces. You must respect the law and we will hold you bound by the oath which you have just taken. The nation has reposed a lot of trust and confidence in you. You cannot afford to fail,” he said.
Responding on behalf of his colleagues, the new INEC chief, Yakubu assured the president that they would discharge their duties without fear of favour, saying: “We pledge our commitment to discharge our responsibility without fear or favour”, he said.
The inauguration attracted the presence of the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo; Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki; Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Yakubu Dogara; Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Babachair Lawal amongst others.
I’m nobody’s stooge, says new INEC boss
Meanwhile, speaking yesterday after a brief handing-over at the INEC headquarters in Abuja, Prof. Yakubu promised to be guided by the spirit and letters of the Electoral Act, vowing not to kowtow to undue pressure from any quarter. He also pledged to immediately adjust to the working conditions of the electoral body in order to deliver on his mandate.
Yakubu said there was no time for laxity, expressing the resolve of his team to swing into action and deliver credible governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states.
Stating that he would be fearless in arriving at critical electoral decisions, Yakubu said his job is well-cut out for him as the constitution is very clear on his powers and limitations.
He said, “I am not sure that it is really difficult, simply because the constitution is very clear. The roles and responsibilities of INEC are very clearly spelt out and the provisions of the electoral act are also very clear.
“Our responsibility is to ensure that in whatever we do, we are guided by the letter and spirit of the constitution. And these we are going to do with courage.
“Whatever we need to do, we will ensure that this is done courageously and according to the law.”
Promising to build on the legacies of his predecessor, Yakubu also promised to be just to all manner of people, saying: “We will be courageous in what we do, and we will be courageous and just to all that we are supposed to serve.
“We have come a long way. We have hard commendations both locally and internationally, in the conduct of the 2015 general elections.
“As I said at the Senate screening, our responsibility as a new commission is actually to consolidate and add value.
“Nations don’t make progress by always starting afresh; nations make progress because there is a building block on which we now build more.”
Yakubu who also received the 2015 general elections report, promised to study it with a view to executing most of its recommendations.