THE 2019 general elections have come and gone. As was evident from the outset, the elections have been characterised by controversy. While some candidates and their parties have expressed satisfaction with the entire process, it has not been so with others. At the centre of it all is the Independent National Electoral Commission whose conduct of the elections has again come under intense scrutiny. That this would be so was clear from accusations and counter accusations made before the elections by the major political parties about the impartiality or independence of the electoral umpire.
These concerns were further heightened when the Commission very early on the date earlier scheduled for the conduct of the Presidential Election, announced a postponement citing logistical difficulties. Both parties accused the other of having conspired with the electoral body to bring about the postponement so as to confer an advantage on itself. A few days to the elections, the opposition party revealed that a company belonging to the member of the ruling party and who was actually a candidate at one of the already scheduled elections, was one of those contracted by INEC to supply card readers for use in the election. It was, therefore, alleged that this arrangement had conferred undue advantage on the ruling party and called into question, the integrity of the entire process.
To be certain, allegations of bias or impartiality against the electoral umpire, are not entirely new in the Nigerian political landscape. It appears that at almost every point in our political history, politicians have always found reasons, real or imagined, to accuse other politicians of collusion with the electoral body. When President Muhammadu Buhari was announced the winner of the Presidential Election, the opposition party and its candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, were quick to reject the results, citing what they described as widespread irregularities in the process. The President and his party were of course quick to praise the conduct of the election.
However, a few days later, while on the campaign trail for the gubernatorial elections, the ruling party itself condemned the conduct of elections held in Akwa Ibom State in which one of its members who had defected from the opposition, lost the election to return to the Senate. However one looks at it, it is worrying that 59 years after independence, such allegations still hold sway. It is even more worrying when facts emerge which suggest that those making the allegations, may have valid reasons to say so. I, therefore, intend to examine ways in which the electoral process could be further strengthened to guard against the kinds of complaints witnessed during the just concluded elections. A key component of this analysis as a matter of necessity, will be an examination of the role of the Independent Electoral Commission in the entire process.
Establishment of INEC: The Independent National Electoral Commission owes its existence to the provisions of Section 153 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999. The composition and powers of the Commission are as contained in paragraphs 14 and 15 of Part 1 of the Third Schedule to the Constitution. By paragraph 15, the Commission specifically has the power to:
(a) organise, undertake and supervise all elections to the offices of the President and Vice President, the Governor and Deputy Governor of a State, and to the membership of the Senate, the House of Representatives and the House of Assembly of each State of the Federation.
(b) register political parties in accordance with the provisions of the constitution and an Act of the National Assembly,
(c) monitor the organisation and operation of the political parties, including their finances,
(d) arrange for the annual examination and auditing of the funds and accounts of political parties, and publish a report on such examination and audit for public information;
(e) arrange and conduct the registration of persons qualified to vote and prepare, maintain and revise the register for the purpose of any election under the constitution;
(f) monitor political campaign and provide rules and regulations which shall govern the political parties;
(g) ensure that all Electoral Commissioners, Electoral and Returning Officers take and subscribe the oath of office prescribed by law;
(h) delegate any of its powers to any Resident Electoral Commissioner; and
(i) carry out such other functions as may be conferred upon by it by an Act of the National Assembly.
The origin of the INEC goes back to the period before Independence when the Electoral Commission of Nigeria was established to conduct 1959 elections. The Federal Electoral Commission, FEDECO, established in 1960 conducted the immediate post-independence federal and regional elections of 1964 and 1965. The electoral body was dissolved after the military coup of 1966. In 1978, the Federal Electoral Commission was constituted by the regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo, organising the elections of 1979 which ushered in the Nigerian Second Republic under the leadership of Alhaji Shehu Shagari. It also conducted the general elections of 1983.
In December 1995, the military government of General Sani Abacha established the National Electoral Commission of Nigeria which conducted another set of elections. These elected institutions were not inaugurated before the sudden death of General Abacha on June 1998 aborted the process. In 1998 General Abdulsalam Abubakar’s Administration dissolved NECON and established the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. INEC organised the transitional elections in 1999.
Electoral Commissions are not unique to Nigeria. As a matter of fact, Electoral Commissions come in different models and configurations which Wikipedia describes as follows:
Independent model: In the independent model the election commission is independent of the executive and manages its own budget. Countries with an independent election commission include Australia, Canada, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Nigeria, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Thailand and the United Kingdom. In some of these countries the independence of the election commission is constitutionally guaranteed, e.g. section 190 of the Constitution of South Africa.
Branch model: In the branch model the election commission is often called an electoral branch, and is usually a constitutionally-recognised separate branch of government, with its members appointed by either the executive or the legislative branch. Countries with an electoral branch include Bolivia, Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
Mixed model: In the mixed-model there is an independent board to determine policy, but implementation is usually a matter for an executive department with varying degrees of supervision by the independent board. Countries with such a model include Cameroon, France, Germany, Japan, Senegal and Spain.
Executive model: In the executive model the election commission is directed by a cabinet minister as part of the executive branch of government, and may include local government authorities acting as agents of the central body. Countries with this model include Denmark, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia. In the United States, elections for federal, state, and local offices are run by the executive branch of each state government. See, for example, the Division of Elections of the Florida Department of State.
Judicial model: In the judicial model the election commission is closely supervised by and ultimately responsible to a special “electoral court”. Countries with such a model include Argentina, Brazil and Mexico.
It is the independent model that Nigeria has adopted as is evident from its very name. However, questions still arise as to how independent the body truly is when a lot of its activities are still tied to the executive arm of government, including appointment of its officers, a large number of which , by law, are pointed by the President.