…Insists bye-elections now diversionary
By Omeiza Ajayi – Abuja
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has asked Political Parties desirous of using the direct primary election method ahead of the forthcoming Governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states to avail it of their membership register or delegate list should they be considering using the indirect method.
This was as the commission again decried the rising cost of conducting bye-elections in the country, describing such elections as diversionary and distracting it from improving on the electoral process.
INEC had last week unveiled a policy document in which it said it would be working with relevant stakeholders to see how political parties can be asked to nominate replacements for deceased lawmakers rather than conducting bye-elections to fill the void.
Speaking at the first virtual consultative meeting with leaders of political parties on Monday, Chairman of the Commission, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu warned the parties against political thuggery as they go into their prinaries.
He said; “Based on experience, it is also important to draw your attention to the necessity for rancour-free primaries. Party primaries form the foundation for the secondary election conducted by the Commission.
“You must, therefore, avoid acts of thuggery, brigandage, vote-buying and other sundry violations of the Electoral Act. As we monitor the conduct of party primaries, we will pay particular attention to your compliance with the law and to consider sanctions so that the unruly behaviour of some party supporters is not carried forward to the main election.
“At the same time, I wish to appeal to political parties that opt for direct primaries to avail us with the register of members to be used for the election from Ward to Local Government and State levels for the effective discharge of our monitoring responsibilities under the law.
“Those that opt for indirect primaries should similarly make available to the Commission the list of delegates for the election. Doing otherwise will amount to going into an election without the voters’ register.
“The Commission makes available to each political party the complete register of voters before every major election. We expect political parties to reciprocate for their primaries”, he stated.
Yakubu recalled that INEC had since 6th February released the timetable and schedule of activities for both elections, warning political parties to adhere strictly to the schedule as there won’t be any extension of its deadlines.
He said; “Party primaries for the nomination of candidates for the Edo Governorship election begin tomorrow.
“Already, some political parties have invited the Commission to monitor their primaries which must be conducted from 2nd to 27th June 2020.
“This time around, the submission of nomination forms will be done online for which a dedicated portal has been set up.
“Let me, therefore, warn political parties that intend to field candidates for the election to strictly adhere to these dates as well as the new online procedure for filing of nominations.
“Any party that operates outside these dates will only have itself to blame. The portal will automatically shut down on the scheduled date and at the fixed hour.
“The Legal Department and ICT will brief this meeting on the new procedure”.
The INEC boss also restated his earlier position on the need for a national conversation on the frequency of bye-elections in the country.
He said; “In addition to the Governorship elections in Edo and Ondo States, the Commission is also making preparations to conduct nine bye-elections. The details have already been made public.
“However, as we were preparing for this meeting, our office in Zamfara State informed us that a Member of the State House of Assembly for Bakura Constituency passed on yesterday.
“As we await the declaration of vacancy from the Speaker of the State Assembly, the number of bye-elections has increased.
“The Commission mourns the loss of all our National and State legislators and extend our condolences to their families and constituents.
“At the same time, there is a need for a national conversation around the frequency of bye-elections in Nigeria. In the month of May 2020 alone, five members of State Houses of Assembly passed on.
“Since December 2019, a period of six months, twelve members of the National and State Houses of Assembly have similarly passed on.
“This is in addition to the resignation of two Senators from Bayelsa who have since been sworn-in as Governor and Deputy Governor of the State.
“The cost of conducting these bye-elections to the Commission, the security agencies, political parties and candidates, election observers, the media, litigations (both pre-election and post-election), and disruption of activities as a result of the restriction of movement on Election Day is enormous.
“There is no election season in Nigeria any longer. The Commission is busy conducting elections all-year-round between one General Election and another.
“This often diverts our attention away from reform, innovation, peer learning and planning for the consolidation of our electoral process.
“The Commission is going to open a discussion with stakeholders and the National Assembly for necessary reforms towards more cost-effective and democratic options”.
Interim National Chairman of the Inter-Party Advisory Council IPAC and National Chairman of African Action Congress AAC, Dr Leonard Nzenwa hailed the electoral umpire for its decision to pilot the use of electronic voting as from 2021.
He said; “The parties are also excited that the Commission has opted to take the bull by the horns to deepen the use of technology in the electoral process with its planned introduction of electronic voting machine in the 2021 polls on a pilot scheme.
“The body of political parties have long canvassed for full introduction of electronic voting in all elections and restate that it is a welcome development”.
IPAC which noted that organising elections in a pandemic era is an uphill task, also commended INEC for the bold steps it has taken to come up early with a well-heeled Policy on Conducting Elections in the Context of Covid-19 Pandemic.
The council however called on INEC to be ready, and willing to review some aspects of the Policy Document “that relate with concerned misgivings by stakeholders who strongly feel that some of its provisions might not be feasible when it is lifted from paper for implementation”.