- Says ‘we owe no political party, candidate loyalty’
BY TIMOTHY AGBOR
Despite the palpable fear in Nigeria’s political space about the likelihood of elections not holding in February, owing to worsening insecurity and alleged plans by certain interests to disrupt the process, the Independent National Electoral Commission has reaffirmed its readiness to conduct the polls.
Chairman, INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, said in a paper he delivered at Chatham House, London on Tuesday that the Commission was determined to deliver a free, fair, credible and inclusive election to Nigerians despite the incessant attacks on 50 of its facilities and 791 court cases.
He said this just as he assured Nigerians that the commitment of the Commission was only to the people and not to any political party or candidate.
Yakubu said, in collaboration with security agencies, INEC had increased security presence in some of the attack-prone locations, noting that the Commission would continue to rebuild the burnt facilities and replace materials.
On court cases, the INEC boss said the Commission would only obey clear court orders in the face of conflicting orders by courts of coordinate jurisdiction, pointing out, however, that it was mainly joined in the suits as a nominal party.
According to him, as at Friday 6th January 2023, the Commission had been joined in 791 court cases, involving intra-party elections and nomination of candidates by political parties.
The INEC chairman said, “We have promised Nigerians and friends of Nigeria that the 2023 general election will be free, fair, credible and inclusive and we have left no stone unturned in preparing for it, despite several challenges.
“But all elections, especially those involving the type of extensive national deployment like we do in Nigeria, will naturally come with challenges. We have worked closely with stakeholders and development partners to confront these challenges and we are satisfied with our preparations so far.
“Our Commission does not take the pledge that we have repeatedly made to Nigerians lightly. We are leaving no stone unturned in our preparations. Our commitment remains only to Nigerians and not to any political party or candidate. That is what the law requires of us. We cherish the institutional independence and integrity of the Commission.
“With the enthusiasm of Nigerians, the goodwill of stakeholders and partners, and the commitment of the Commission, we believe that the 2023 general election will be among the best conducted in Nigeria.”
On the 791 court cases scattered across the country, Yakubu noted, “While the Commission has the core responsibility to conduct free, fair and credible elections based on the law, the Judiciary is responsible for the interpretation of the law and adjudication of electoral disputes.
“In the discharge of our responsibilities, few public institutions in Nigeria are subjected to more litigation than INEC. In the 2019 general election, the Commission was involved in 1,689 cases, made up of 852 pre-election, 807 post-election and 30 electoral offences cases. The Commission is committed to the rule of law without which democracy cannot thrive.
“Towards the 2023 general election, the Commission has been joined in 791 Court cases as at Friday 6th January 2023 involving intra-party elections and nomination of candidates by political parties. These are not cases involving elections conducted by the Commission or litigation initiated by it, but purely intra-party matters involving candidates and their political parties mainly due to the absence of internal democracy within parties. In fact, the Commission is only a nominal party in these cases, nevertheless has to be represented by lawyers in court proceedings.
“The Commission will continue to obey clear orders of Courts because of the plethora of conflicting judgments from Courts of coordinate jurisdiction on the same subject matter, particularly those involving the leadership of political parties or the nomination of candidates for elections.”
On insecurity, the INEC boss stated, “In the South-South, the threat of renewed insurgency by groups demanding more share of petroleum revenue to the Niger-Delta continues to simmer. In the South West, although an earlier surge by a group demanding independence for the region has considerably dissipated, recent violent attacks on places of worship, rise in the activities of violent cults and kidnapping groups, as well as a history of violence involving groups seeking to control markets and motor parks remain strong.
“In the South-East, the lingering agitation for separatism championed by the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, poses a major security threat. Not only have violent attacks by a number of armed groups increased, the long-standing weekly lock-down of the five States in that geopolitical zone, continues to disrupt social and economic activities.
“There is no doubt that violence and threat of violence are major challenges to credible election in 2023. Violence makes deployment for elections difficult, particularly where some of the attacks are targeted at the electoral process and participants.
“However, the Commission has been working with security agencies and other stakeholders to establish mechanisms to understand, track and mitigate security challenges. We are working collaboratively in the context of ICCES, and we also have the Election Violence Mitigation and Advocacy Tool, EVMAT, which is a research and diagnostic tool for predicting and mitigating election violence prior to elections. In addition, there is the Election Risk Management Tool, ERM, which tracks and reports general risks to elections.
“In all, we feel assured by the actions we have taken and our collaboration with the security agencies. The 2023 general election will proceed as planned. There is no plan to postpone the election.”