Enugu: INEC, Lawyers, Others Disagree On Polls Shift
AFTER attending a meeting at the headquarters of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Enugu, where the commission displayed the workings of the card reader for the election, All Progressives Congress’ (APC’s) governorship candidate in the 2015 general right direction.
“This is because, for once, INEC has shown that it is willing to check rigging,” he said adding that, “it will be nice if they manage it well.”
INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner, Prof. Chukwuemeka Onukogu, had told stakeholders that the commission was ready for the general elections, stressing that it would be normal to entertain minor complaints about serious projects. He took time to explain the processes, adding that it was also wasteful for anybody to engage in buying voter cards, as it would be dictated using the facility. Onukogu added that the commission had enough supply of the card readers such that, in the event of loss or tampering, it could easily be replaced, adding that he did not envisage any hitch in voting process.
He had narrated how the commission had dismantled polling booths located at residential places throughout the state so as to make for easier access to members of the public. He described voter education as a continuous thing in the state. Indeed, election stakeholders, who gathered at the office of the commission also expressed delight that INEC has continued to improve with every election, but feared that it could also be manipulated in favour of desperate politicians.
But even with the continued assurance from the commission that it is ready to conduct the 2015 general elections, some stakeholders believe in the contrary, insisting that what the commission had put on ground was a mere “ad hoc arrangement” that would easily fizzle out.
Chief Tomas Agu, a chieftain of the Labour party told The Guardian: “They have shown us the card reader, how about the others? The truth is that INEC is not ready but has continued to play with time. “We concluded an election four years ago, the next four years ordinarily should offer them opportunity to take stock, look inwards and find solutions to all the challenges that the process may have thrown up; but this is not the case. They will always wait until the last minute and they will rush into another election and come out with poor result. It is sad, it is unfair and it is not helping our system,” he said.
He explained that the fact that Enugu was not prominent among various states where the issue of permanent voter card (PVC) persists does not mean that the state was free from it, stressing that, at the moment, several eligible voters have not been able to collect their PVC.
“That was among the issues we have been discussing with the INEC and on each occasion they will tell us to go to the local government headquarters where they have offices. My brother, the truth is that these personnel in the local government offices are all PDP members.
Some of them have perfected plans and are even moving the cards to PDP officials in the councils.
“You see, that is why when people say that the election should be moved to enable INEC prepare, I will want to agree, but looking at it broadly, will the commission ever be ready? If you could not tidy this up in the last one year, is it the two or three week’s window that you will have now that you will use to get it right?
“I have always called that the INEC machinery needs serious overhaul if the commission must deliver. It also needs the political will of the leadership to infuse a system that should stand against time. We cannot continue to live on deceit that has never imparted on the growth and wellbeing of the country for individual gains. There is no way we will grow this democracy when we keep doing what we are doing.
“People are complaining of insecurity as a likely factor that might affect the election, but that on its own could be taken care of in an atmosphere where those who perpetrate it will know that what they are agitating for could be settled using free and fair elections,” he stated.
Southeast Coordinator of the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), Olu Omotayo, a lawyer, who took a broad view on the constitutional implication on the call for the shift in the polls, said no single individual under the law has power to postpone the elections as fixed for the entire country.
He said: “The Law regulating the conduct of elections in the country is the Electoral Act, 2010 which is an enactment of the National Assembly. The power to fix days of election in the country is vested in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) by virtue of
Section 25 of the Electoral Act. Section 25(7) of the Act, further states that election to the office of the president must be conducted not earlier than 150 days and not later than 30 days, before the expiration of the term of office of the last holder of that office.
“Section 26(1) of the Electoral Act clearly stated that Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), can postpone election “if there is reason to believe that a serious breach of peace is likely to occur if the election is proceeded with on that date or it is impossible to conduct the election as a result of natural disasters or other emergencies, the Commission may postpone the election and shall in respect of the area or areas concerned appoint another date for the holding of the postponed election, provided that such reason for the postponement is cogent and verifiable.”
He further argued: “Four issues are raised by this subsection: (a) INEC can postpone election if there is reason to believe that a serious breach of peace is likely to occur if the election is proceeded with on that date,
(b) or it is impossible to conduct the election as a result of natural disasters or other emergencies, (c) the Commission may postpone the election and shall in respect of the area or areas concerned appoint another date for the holding of the postponed election, (d) provided that such reason for the postponement is cogent and verifiable.”
To Omotayo: “Firstly, the clear provision of this subsection is that election can be postponed in an area or areas affected by the likely breach, disasters or emergencies, it does not envisage the whole country and the grounds for postponement must be only and only the ones stated in this section and it must be cogent and verifiable.
“So, it is unlawful and illegal for anybody or group to advocate or call for the cancellation of the date fixed for election. It is only INEC that can postpone if the above grounds exist and the power of INEC in this regard is limited to the affected area not the entire country.
“INEC itself cannot postpone election in the entire country, unless there is state of emergency in the whole country. Any action of the Commission outside the clear provisions of this section will be ultra- vires and illegal.
“Section 26(4) of the Electoral Act further states that if the Commission is satisfied that the result of the elections will not be affected by voting in the area or areas in respect of which substituted date have been appointed, direct that a return of the election is made. So, the clear wording of this section is that INEC can still go ahead, make a return in respect of the election conducted, declare winner, irrespective (of the fact) that voting in the said affected areas has not be conducted. “It is obvious that, with the present available legal frame work in the country, no authority, body or even the INEC has powers to postpone general election in the whole
country,” he argued.
He added that constitutional timelines would also be breached as “ these things are planned so that they could be observed accordingly.”