From Iheanacho Nwosu and Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has accused political parties of lacking due diligence in the conduct of party primaries, arguing that their actions were responsible for most of the electoral problems and challenges facing the conduct of elections in Nigeria.
Chairman of the electoral Commission, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, who passed the verdict during Stakeholders Validation of the Second Plan for the 2019 general elections in Abuja, yesterday, lamented that ex-convicts and candidates with fake certificates were submitted to the Commission as parties’ flagbearers.
While reacting to the stakeholders appeal for the Commission to do more in monitoring the primaries conducted by the political parties, the INEC boss said: “On monitoring party primaries and ensuring that what transpired is transmitted to the Commission, we can only appeal to the political parties to respect their own party primaries.
“According to the Electoral Act, if the party national headquarters submit the name of a candidate, the Commission has no power to change it. Are there problems in such action, yes? There are problems. Are there consequences? Yes, there are consequences.
“In most cases, we have no option than to rerun the election at great consequences and expenses to the nation. Some of the candidates nominated ought not to be nominated if the party had followed due diligence. We will never have problem that we have in the elections nullified on account of their lack of diligence.
“It is only in the party primaries that ex-convicts that are not qualified under the law are nominated. We saw in this country, a situation where some parties recommend ex-convicts to contest election, but INEC has no power to reject, only for court to nullify such elections.
“We have in some cases, where certificate forgers contested elections only for court to nullify the election. The parties must have a mechanism to ensure that what transpires at the party primaries is a reflection of genuineness, of thoroughly screened candidate and what is submitted to the Commission,” he said.
Reacting to the prosecution of electoral offenders, Prof Yakubu said: “Over the last seven weeks, INEC has addressed several stakeholders separately but this is one opportunity we have several stakeholders gathered under one roof. One issue I want to address is INEC prosecution of electoral offenders.
“We had some difficult elections in Kano during a state constituency election. It was a state Assembly election but the severity of the violence was so high that in the middle of the day, we had to invoke the electoral act to suspend the exercise.
“We have worked with the police and have prosecuted over 40 electoral offenders, which is the highest number of prosecution in the history of the Commission.
“Working with the police since we came on board, we have received over 126 case files of electoral offenders nationwide in some of the elections we have conducted. I can tell you that we have successfully prosecuted over 61 electoral offenders.
“After what happened in Rivers re-run, we are prosecuting 23 INEC staff involved in the election. We have placed them on half salary and suspension until they prove their innocence or guilt.
“However, my position has always been the same that it is very difficult for one to prosecute oneself. It is not the responsibility of INEC to prosecute electoral offenders because of certain challenges. Before you prosecute offenders, you have to investigate but the Commission has no power under the law to investigate.”
Alluding to the criticisms that trailed the Commission’s decision on the controversial Kogi State governorship election, he said: “I want to assure Nigerians that the Commission is truly independent and no one can dictate for us regardless of the feelings in many quarters.”
Itemising the purpose of the strategic plan, Dr. Otive Igbuzor, who made the presentation, said: “It is to provide a strategic direction for INEC and the actions to be taken to achieve its mandate given the international and national context of its operations, propose what needs to be done by the organisation to achieve its mandate following a review of the previous strategic plan, provide a framework and focus for improvement within the Commission as a whole.”
In his goodwill message, the Director General Voice of Nigeria (VON), Osita Okechukwu, made case for better funding of the Commission and urged political parties to crave more for a free and fair election.