Former National Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega, has declared that the National Assembly cannot take away the independence of the electoral commission through electoral Act amendment.
Jega, who spoke at a youth event organised by the Youth Initiative for Advocacy Growth and Development, in Abuja, said that the most important issue in the conduct of elections is the independence of the electoral commission.
According to him, the Federal Government and INEC should not hesitate to approach the court to determine the validity of the electoral act amendment bill passed by the National Assembly.
Jega who spoke on the topic “Is Nigeria’s Democracy Under Threat?” added that the electoral act amendment by the National Assembly demands judicial interpretation.
“Both INEC and the interested parties have been reluctant to go to court for interpretation of
constitutional provisions and this is significant because this has to do with the independence of electoral bodies,” he said.
He noted that “Frankly, a lot of the arguments on this cannot be wished away and I think it is necessary for the independence of the electoral commission because that is key to the integrity of the electoral process because if we allow people to jettison and undermine that independence for
whatever reason, then we are in serious problem. I think there is serious justification to test this matter in court.”
He further stated that the 1999 Constitution was very clear on the fact that the power to schedule elections were the exclusive preserve of INEC.
“I am struggling to see where the National Assembly found the constitutional justification for what they have done. I will mention two specific provisions. First of all, in the schedule of the constitution part 15 Section 1, of the said schedule, INEC has the constitutional power to organise, undertake and supervise elections”.
Citing Section 76 (1), Section 111 (1) and Section 178 (1), of the Constirution, Jega said “it is categorically stated that elections shall be
held on a date to be appointed by INEC. So, if elections are to be held on a date set by INEC, where does the National Assembly get the power? Saying “As far as I am concerned, the dates and the sequence for elections are together.”
He said that the decision of the National Assembly to re-order the election would cost the nation more.
While speaking on the issue of underage voting, as witnessed in the Kano state local government election, Jega said that he was confident that the Committee set up by INEC to investigate the issue would get to the roots of the matter.
He said that it might be difficult to remove the names of underage from the voters’ register as according to him, Nigeria lacked the technology to do the job.
“I don’t think there are children on the INEC voter register but it is possible. The range of possibility is very wide. I can tell you that when INEC was finalising the register for the 2015 general elections, there was no software and there is still no electronic device that can distinguish a child from an adult once they are on the register,” he said.
“So, the only thing I knew INEC did was to get a team of people to visually go through the register and if you do that, people who are below 12 can be identified as children visually but by the time you get to people who are 15, 16, 17 years old, it is very difficult,” he stated further.
“The margin of error is significant in terms of visual identification of who is of age to be on the register. Also, in the National
Assembly, there are people who have baby faces. So, using visual method, people who have baby faces run the risk of being removed from the register. So, the challenge is to prevent children from being on the register. Once they get on the register, the possibility of continuing to be there will remain.”
But the former Chairman of Labour Party (LP) Chief Dan Nwuanyanwu disagreed with Jega over the order of elections passed by the National Assembly.
He said that a register that contains names of underaged voters needed to be purged, while a new registration is done.
He however commended the National Assembly for changing the order of election but added that elections to the state Houses of Assembly should have come first.