The Senate yesterday cautioned the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) against paying attention to misguided statements and pronouncements questioning the powers of the National Assembly to legislate on the Electoral Act.
The President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki said this while speaking at the public hearing on the bill to establish the National Electoral Offences Commission, where he weighed in on the controversy generated by the recent amendment to Section 25 of the Electoral Act.
The hearing was conducted by the Senate Committee on INEC and Judiciary.
The National Assembly recently passed the amendment, which would see the National Assembly elections holding first, before elections into the state Houses of Assembly and governorship on a separate day, while the presidential election would be conducted last, to complete the general election cycle.
Section 25 of the Principal Act was specifically amended and substituted with a new Section 25(1) which provides that the elections shall be held in the following order: (a) National Assembly elections (b) State Houses of Assembly and Governorship elections (c) Presidential election.
The amendment has however caused controversy in the polity.
INEC had initially said it would head to court to seek an interpretation of Section 76 of the Constitution which provides that the elections shall be held on a date to be appointed by the electoral body.
It, however, later stated that it would abide by the new election sequence provided by the amendment, which would result in the alteration of its already released 2019 elections time-table if the amendment is signed into law.
INEC had already slated the presidential and National Assembly elections for February 16, 2019 while the state assemblies and governorship elections were slated for March 2, 2019.
But Saraki at the hearing yesterday, maintained that the National Assembly has the mandate to exercise the power to legislate over the electoral body and other agencies of government.
Represented by the Deputy Senate Leader, Senator Ibn Na’Allah, Saraki added that the National Assembly cannot be involved in any legislation that violates the constitution.
“Of recent, there have been arguments on who has the power to do what,” he said, adding that Nigeria has a lot of people who know how to go to court and get all kinds of judgments.
“INEC should be cautious of who it is listening to. We would not stand by to see the Constitution violated. It is necessary that we caution ourselves, we need this country, we love this country,” Saraki said.
Saraki also expressed concern over the fact that some aspirants and political parties were already campaigning, even though INEC has not given the green light for 2019 election campaigns.
“The Senate, in particular, would be very worried if INEC begins to condone the actions of some political parties. You have not declared campaigns open and some are already campaigning,” Saraki said.
He noted that INEC should be able to exercise its power to sanction such persons or parties.
The Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, in his presentation to the committee, disclosed that the electoral body was currently engaged in lawsuits or had been joined as a party in at least 1,080 lawsuits arising from the 2015 general election.
The commission, he said, has also received 124 case files of electoral offenders from the police and has so far prosecuted 60 of them, he disclosed further.
Yakubu expressed support for the establishment of the Electoral Offences Commission, saying INEC cannot effectively prosecute electoral offenders and at the same time focus on its enormous responsibilities ranging from the registration and regulation of political parties to monitoring their congresses and finances, and at the same time conducting elections.
Speaking on the Electoral Offences Commission Bill, the INEC boss said the appointment of the secretary of the proposed commission should be appointed by INEC itself, instead of being appointed by the president as being proposed in the legislation.
He further cautioned against the heavy tilt towards the appointment of ex-officio members and advocated proper definition on what constitutes electoral offences.
Establishing the offences commission separately to take over prosecutorial duties of INEC, he said, would eventually reduce the cost of conducting elections in Nigeria.
Speaking on behalf of civil society organisations, the Executive Director of Policy and Legal Advocacy Center (PLAC), Mr. Clement Nwankwo said the establishment of the commission was a view that had been advocated since the time of the electoral reform committee of Justice Mohammed Uwais.
He, however, noted that the offences commission must be wholly independent and structured in a way to shield it from manipulation.
“Impunity is an issue with the system. People do things and nothing happens. A commission that can hold people to account is good,” Nwankwo said.
He recalled that in the course of monitoring the governorship elections in Edo and Anambra States, monies were openly distributed to voters to buy votes for candidates.