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The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Attahiru Jega, said on Tuesday that a presidential run-off would have led to a crisis in the country.
Jega, in his first public comment on the March 28 and April elections, predicated his assertion on what he called many lacunas in the amended Electoral Act.
He suggested during a dialogue session with the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room in Abuja, an amendment to the electoral law since it provides for only seven days after the first election to hold a run-off.
He said the incoming administration of Muhammadu Buhari should not wait till 2019 general elections before reviewing the Electoral Act.
Jega disclosed that he was happy when the March 28 presidential poll produced a clear winner.
He said there was no way that INEC could have successfully conducted a run-off election within seven days as provided for in both the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act.
The INEC boss said, “I heaved a heavy sigh of relief when the election did not result to a run-off. That would have occasioned a big constitutional crisis.
“This is in view of the fact that the 1999 Constitution only made provision for seven days for such poll. You and I know that there was no way we would have been able to conduct a run-off within seven days.
“This is why I emphasise that amendments to the electoral laws should be done in good time. We could have further sanitised the electoral process if we had got some of the amendments we required in the Electoral Act.”
The INEC boss revealed that there would be electoral reforms to strike a balance between decentralising and centralising the powers of the commission at the national headquarters.
He explained, “In future reforms to electoral legal framework this issue has to be looked at carefully. It’s a delicate balance: you have to balance whether you will give the chairman of INEC or the INEC at the headquarters a lot of powers which may be abused or whether you will want to localise the powers which may also be abused. So, it’s a tricky balance and the balance has to be struck.
“Clearly, from our experience in 2007, a lot of the powers were removed from the INEC national officers and localised to the Returning Officers. And now, we are seeing the challenges and some abuses in some respects. So, in future, as we review the Electoral Act, we may have to look at how to have some balance in this regard.
“Sometimes, when we hear something and a mistake is likely to be made, we can intervene and advise the Returning Officer about the right thing to do. Sometimes some of the Returning Officers, if they are confused and do not understand what they are supposed to do, they can call us directly and seek for clarification. There are a few cases a Returning Officer may just go ahead and do his own thing either based on lack of understanding or because of some partisan considerations.
“There are many Returning Officers for example in some states where they disappeared with the result sheets. And we have got information about these people and we are going to follow it up in terms of not only reporting them to their institutions but also prosecuting them appropriately for the offences they committed.”
Jega, CSOs disagree on Rivers, Abia and Akwa Ibom gov polls
Jega and the over 60 civil society organisations that make up the NCSSR however disagreed on the credibility of the Rivers State governorship election.
While the NCSSR members said that the elections in Rivers, Abia and Akwa Ibom states were “lacking in credibility and fraught with irregularities”, Jega said “there is no evidence before the commission as it relates to election irregularities in Rivers State.”
It will be recalled that the Situation Room had last week said that the elections in Rivers, Abia and Akwa Ibom states should not be allowed to stand.
The convener of the group, Clement Nwankwo, said, “Situation Room has expressed its concern about the overall conduct of the elections in Rivers and Akwa Ibom states where there are good grounds to question the credibility of the elections’ results in both states.
“There are also concerns about Abia State, which recorded multiple cases of electoral misconduct.”
Jega however disagreed, saying that the reports of the three INEC National Commissioners he sent to Rivers State to investigate alleged irregularities did not confirm the petition.
The INEC chairman said, “We have no power to cancel election results once returns have been made. On the petition against election irregularities in Rivers State, the commission sent three national commissioners to the state to investigate it.
“Some people didn’t want elections to hold, they are the ones calling for cancellation. We investigated the allegation of fake result sheets in Rivers State, our reports showed that there was nothing like that.”
But he admitted that INEC erred by cancelling elections in three local government areas of Abia State.
Jega, however, explained that the commission intervened before a return was made, adding that supplementary elections will only hold in wards where results were cancelled.
He said, “The announcement of cancellation of three local governments was a mistake. And we intervened before a return was made and it was corrected.
“And only the wards where irregularities occurred in those three local governments were to be cancelled. And the supplementary election we are going to do will not cover the entire local government but only those wards that had been cancelled.”
There had been uproar in some quarters following INEC’s decision declaring the April 11 governorship poll in Abia, Imo and Taraba states inconclusive.
The commission had therefore fixed April 25 as date for supplementary elections in the three states.
Explaining that INEC had no power to cancel the election in Rivers State, he called on aggrieved political parties to approach the tribunal to seek legal redress.
“The law says once the Returning Officer has made a declaration then you just have to go to the tribunal to contest the declaration,” Jega said.
He stated further that there were no evidences to warrant the change of the Resident Electoral Commissioners in Imo and Taraba states.
Jega said that INEC would beam its search- light on both states and would also deploy more electoral officials in them.
He said, “I have no evidence before me to warrant changing the RECs in Imo and Taraba states.
“But we are going to do what we did in Ekiti and Osun states. We will send a lot of supervisors, national commissioners, directors to ensure that a lot of eyes are put on what goes on in these states.
“There were a lot of allegations that RECs were compromised. I was accused of being compromised. Frankly, we can’t just start moving RECs and changing them because there are allegations if there is no substantive evidence presented.
“Anybody who didn’t like the way things stand out would want the returning officers or RECs removed. But we can’t just start indiscriminately removing people unless we have something to hold against them.”
Jega also said that the prosecution of individuals found culpable of electoral malpractices in the just-concluded 2015 general elections had commenced.
According to him, those who are being prosecuted include a former Director -General of the National Youth Service Corps and some youth corps members.
While saying that INEC would pay attention to high profile electoral offenders, he called on the public to furnish the commission with evidences of electoral breaches.
He said, “Prior to the conduct of the elections, the Inspector General of Police was very proactive. He established a committee headed by a DIG to work together with INEC for speedy prosecution of electoral offenders. And we believe that this will help us have more prosecutions of electoral offenders than in previous elections.
“Similarly, the Nigerian Bar Association has requested INEC for a meeting so that we can further explore the possibility of working together to hasten the process of prosecuting electoral offenders.
“ There are already clear cut cases where the police have apprehended people red-handed and we are working together with them to ensure that they are prosecuted.
“This is one area where we didn’t do much in 2011. Not that we didn’t try but we were overwhelmed by the number of offenders and we couldn’t handle it. But now with partnership with other organisations, we should be able to do so.”
He said that although INEC received report of underage voting, there was no substantial evidence to prove the allegation.
The INEC boss, however, explained that the commission would correct the anomalies by ensuring that Permanent Voter Cards of underage voters were not produced.
He also stated that besides prosecution, electoral officers who are not members of staff of INEC and ran away with result sheets would be reported to their parent institutions.
Jega cited an example of an individual in Adamawa State who has already bagged six-months jail term for possession of multiple PVCs.
On the plea by a participant, urging him to reconsider his decision not to seek fresh tenure , he said: “Man proposes and God disposes. But as I speak with you, I will rather do something else with my life”.