The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should not be appointed by president to ensure his independence, a former chairman of the commission, Professor Attahiru Jega, has said.
Professor Jega spoke at a two-day retreat organised for senators by the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS) in Ikot Ekpene, Akwa Ibom State.
However, he said though the country’s electoral law could be said to be the best in Nigeria’s history, it is not perfect; and there was the need for further amendments to remove ambiguities, clarify and strengthen some of its sections.
He said the amendments should make the electronic transmission of results mandatory from the next general elections in 2027.
He also said the president should be divested of power to appoint the chairman and National Commissioners of INEC to free the commission from partisanship.
He said the law should be reviewed to ensure that all cases arising from the conduct of elections are resolved and judgements made before the date of swearing-in.
Many stakeholders had expressed concern that section 64 of the Electoral Act, which states the process of transmission of election results, is susceptible to manipulation and misinterpretation.
The former INEC chief said the section should be clarified by making election transmission of election results compulsory, including uploading of polling unit level results and result sheets used at different levels of result collation.
“INEC would have enough time to prepare for this, if the Act is amended early enough in the ensuing electoral cycle,” he said.
He also called for the introduction of either early voting for eligible voters on election duty, such as INEC staff, observers and their drivers, security personnel, and journalists or special arrangement to enable them vote on election day, especially for presidential elections.
The former INEC boss advocated for diaspora voting, at least for presidential elections, to enable citizens to vote, especially those on essential service abroad.
There is need to enhance inclusion of women, if necessary by up to 35% of elective positions in parliament, and in all political parties’ candidate lists, he added.
He said defection should be proscribed not only for members of the National Assembly, but also for elected executives, governors and chairmen of LGAs. He said INEC should be empowered to prepare for elections to fill the vacancy once it has evidence of the act of cross-carpeting.
The don said, “There is need to place stringent conditions for candidate withdrawal and replacement to prevent abuse. Empower INEC to also screen and if necessary disqualify candidates whose credentials show that they are unqualified or in respect of whom it has evidence of forgery and other forms of criminality.
“There is need for the legislation to allow even candidates outside the political parties, as well as tax-paying citizens to file suits against candidates who provide false information to INEC regarding their candidature.
“Although Sections 132(8) & (9) have given timelines within which the Tribunals and courts of appellate jurisdiction should issue verdicts, there is need, particularly in respect of elected executive positions, to ensure that all cases are resolved and judgements made before the date of swearing-in.
“Review the process of appointments into INEC, specifically to divest/minimize the involvement of the President in appointment of Chairman and National Commissioners of INEC, in order to free the commission from the damaging negative perception of “he who pays the piper dictates the tune”.
“The Justice Uwais Committee recommended that the responsibility for advertising, screening, shortlisting and submission to Council of State for recommendation to Senate for confirmation hearings, for this category of officers, should be entrusted to the National Judicial Council (NJC).
“On second thought, and for obvious reasons, I will recommend a joint committee of the National Assembly be given this responsibility, with a criteria, for transparency, non-partisanship and stakeholder engagement for the process. The applicants/nominees for these appointments should be subjected to public scrutiny with regards to knowledge, skills, good character and non-partisanship. Guidelines should be provided for submitting petitions against any nominee during this process,” he said.