Opinion: 2019s: Between political accountability and electoral integrity – By JIDE OJO

INEC boss

As we count down to Nigeria’s next general election which is 80 days away, I took it upon myself to unravel the mystery of the country’s electoral albatross and found out that legally, the framers of our laws have done the needful to ensure credible elections. Today, I am looking at the provisions of the law meant to enhance political accountability and electoral integrity.

Starting with the appointment of the leadership of the electoral body, I mean Chairman and 12 national commissioners as well as the 37 Resident Electoral Commissioners of the Independent National Electoral Commission, better known as INEC, they are meant to be men and women of integrity. In fact, their appointments are “double-decker.” Though they are appointed by the President, this is subject to the confirmation by the Senate. According to Section 14 of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, these appointees shall be non-partisan and persons of unquestionable integrity.

It should be noted that prior to the 2010 constitution amendment, it was possible to appoint card-carrying members of political parties into INEC because of the provision of Section 156 (2) of the Constitution which then required  that for  anyone to be appointed into all the 14 federal executive bodies listed  in Section 153 of the Constitution, they  must satisfy conditions similar to those of an aspirant into House of Representatives which in Section 65 (2) (b) of the Constitution make it mandatory to be a member of a political party. It is gratifying that the error has been corrected.

As part of efforts to ensure electoral integrity, the Electoral Act 2010, as amended herein referred to as the Act in Section 10 (2) expects anyone who wants to register to vote to apply in person (that is, there is no voter registration by proxy).  That section also requires anyone who wants to register to come with a means of identification, be it birth or baptismal certificate, Driving Licence, travel document, National Identity Card and “any other document that will prove the identity, age and nationality of the applicant.” Were these provisions strictly adhered to, we would not have had cases of underage persons and foreign nationals on our national register of voters.

In order to further enhance the integrity of the voter register, INEC in 2011 introduced advanced biometric voter registration where both the face and fingerprints of registrants are captured on the Direct Data Capturing Machine. Recall that the 2006 Voter Register of INEC was so flawed that it was reported that names of deceased and non-Nigerians featured prominently on the register. This was why Prof. Attahiru Jega insisted on compiling a fresh voter register when he was appointed chairman of INEC in June 2010. As part of enhancing the integrity of our voter register, Section 19 of the Act makes it mandatory for INEC to display the voter list for between five and 14 days to give opportunity for voters to make “objection and complaints in relation to the names omitted or included in the voter register or in relation to any necessary correction.” This was recently done between November 6 and 12, 2018.

Did you know that INEC’s introduction of the chip-embedded Permanent Voter Card and Smart Card Reader in 2014 was to enhance electoral integrity? These were regarded as the game changer in the 2015 general election. This is because unlike in the 2011 elections when Nigerians voted with the Temporary Voter Card which could not be electronically verified, in the last general election, the introduction of the PVC and the SCR for purposes of accreditation of voters was helpful in making sure that those who voted were actual persons who had registered and that no one had opportunity of voting more than once.

Again, as part of measures to shore up the credibility of our elections, Section 45 of the Act recognises and allows all political parties to submit names of their Polling Agents to INEC and to deploy them after accreditation by the commission.  Section 43 (4) of the Act entitles Polling Agents to  be present at the distribution of election materials as well as being present at voting, counting, collation and announcement  of election results. Section 50 of the Act says “A candidate or a Polling Agent may challenge the right of a person to receive a ballot paper on such grounds and in accordance with the procedures as are provided for in this Act.” Did you know that, according to Section 63 (3) of the Act, Polling Agents are entitled to copies of election results they supervise? Unfortunately, many candidates and political parties do not deploy agents to represent their interest at elections.

It is in a bid to enhance electoral integrity that the Electoral Act in Section 61recognises the presence of INEC Accredited Election Observers at Polling Units.

On the part of political accountability, the law also spoke! To prevent corruption of our electoral process, 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, as amended forbids political parties from receiving foreign donation. Section 225 (3) of the groundnorm states that  “No political party shall – (a) hold or possess any funds or other assets outside Nigeria, or (b) be entitled to retain any funds or assets remitted or sent to it from outside Nigeria.”

There are also several disclosure principles in our law aimed at ensuring political accountability. Section 225 (2) of the constitution states that “ Every political party shall submit to INEC a detailed annual statement and analysis of its sources of funds and other assets together with a similar statement of its expenditure in such form as the Commission may require.” According to S. 226. – (1)  “INEC  shall in every year prepare and submit to the National Assembly a report on the accounts and balance sheet of every political party.”

According to S. 89 (4) of the Act, INEC is mandated to publish the report on the independent audit of the account books of political parties in three national newspapers. Is this being done by the regulatory agency?  Section 92 (3) says, “Election expenses of a political party shall be submitted to the commission in a separate audited return within six months after an election…” How many political parties are in compliance of this law? What sanction has INEC brought to bear on erring political parties?

Section 92 (6) of the Act makes it mandatory for political parties to publish the election expenses report submitted to INEC in at least two national newspapers. In order to further enhance political accountability, Section 92 (8) states that, “The commission shall make available for public inspection during regular business hours at its headquarters and state offices the audit returns of the political parties required by sub-section (3) of this section which shall include the names, addresses, occupation, and amount contributed by each contributor to a party.”

According to Section 93 (4) of the Act,  “A political party sponsoring the election of a candidate shall, within three months after the announcement of the results of the election, file a report of the contributions made by individuals and entities to the commission.” Also, in order to enhance electoral integrity and political accountability, Sections 124 and 130 of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended has criminalised bribery, vote-buying and other forms of inducements in the electoral process.

It is worth mentioning that the culture of political debates which is being institutionalised by the Nigerian media and civil society organisations is a part of measures to promote political accountability. On Thursday, November 22, 2018, the Nigerian Election Debate Group and the Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria announced schedules for the 2019 presidential election debates. According to the Group, the vice-presidential debate would hold on December 14, 2018, while presidential debate would hold on January 19, 2019 at Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja. Punch

 – Follow me on Twitter @Jideojong


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