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EDITORIAL: Time for INEC to Assert Its Independence

EDITORIAL: Time for INEC to Assert Its Independence

After much prevarication, all the political parties have concluded their primaries for the 2023 general elections. The processes were fraught with massive financial inducements, intrigues, backstabbing and breaches that left a sour taste in the mouth. Even though 18 political parties registered for participation in the process of primary elections, it was the conduct of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that riveted public attention for many reasons.

Early enough, INEC had released the electoral timetable on February 26, with June 3 as the deadline to conclude the primaries. Pronto, parties were given Forms EC9 and EC9 A-E for issuance to those who would emerge as their candidates, just as the Commission presented the list of new voters registered in 2021 to them in line with the provisions of Section 10 (3) of the Electoral Act 2022. Ironically, instead of revving up their machinery immediately for the exercise to begin, most of the parties went to sleep. There were virtually no political activities until the middle of May. The parties that fixed the date of their primaries then indulged in a binge of adjustments to the dismay of INEC, while others chose a day or two to the June 3 deadline.

As INEC had warned, the timetable and schedule of its activities were statutorily derived from the 1999 Constitution, as amended, and the Electoral Act. Therefore, the terminal date was “fixed and firm.” Incredibly, this has been breached. Evidently, intra-party squabbles, visceral outbursts and manipulations entombed some of the parties in the valley of confusion and ill-preparedness. Consequently, under the auspices of the Inter-Party Advisory Council, the (IPAC), 18 parties began to lobby the electoral umpire for a shift in the deadline, which it unfortunately acquiesced to. Thus, from June 3, the deadline was shifted to June 9. INEC had earlier rejected IPAC’s request for the exercise to be shifted by as much as 37 to 60 days.

INEC was wrong to have capitulated to the whims and caprices of these parties, having declared the deadline as inviolable, being an offshoot of the Constitution and the Electoral Act. With that concurrence, the umpire has lent itself to the suspicion and charge of being partial. Some have argued that it extended the deadline to give the APC the opportunity to put its house in order and spy on its main rival – the PDP, which stuck to its May 28 date for the presidential primaries that produced Atiku Abubakar as its flag bearer. There are grounds for people to reason that way.

This perception resonates with many Nigerians, and organisations, such as the Transition Monitoring Group, chaired by Auwal Musa Rafsanjani. In a statement, the group noted that, “A lot of political parties have made efforts in conducting their primaries, and the ruling party is still uncertain about the day to conduct its presidential primaries; that shouldn’t be the basis for the extension.”

It was right. The APC shifted and dithered on its convention date several times and went back and forth before it finally held its convention on June 7, at which Bola Ahmed Tinubu emerged as the candidate. APC’s intrigues purportedly underline the reason for INEC’s extension of the timeline, in order for the ruling party to be able to clear its mess.

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First, it had 23 presidential aspirants, which were then narrowed to 13, before coming up with a subsequent shortlist of five aspirants. Thereafter, this supposedly came down to a “consensus candidate” in Senator Ahmed Lawan, who was announced by the party’s national chairman, Abdullahi Adamu, to the chagrin of APC governors, members of the party’s National Working Committee, and its delegates. Instructively, that duplicitous rigmarole ended in a fiasco, leading to all the 23 aspirants eventually facing the delegates in a process that saw Tinubu finally emerge as the party’s candidate.

PREMIUM TIMES believes that the action of INEC has severe consequences for our democracy. At all times, the electoral umpire should be mindful of reprobates in the public space, whose mission is only to subvert or dent the integrity of the electoral process. Having tried it once and succeeded, the temptation to believe that they would always have their way is there.

Therefore, the Mahmood Yakubu-led INEC should not give room for manoeuvres, so as not to undermine public confidence in his personal capacity and the ability of his organisation to deliver a free, transparent and credible general election. As a creation of the Constitution, by virtue of The Third Schedule Part 1, Section 15 (a), to “organise, undertake and supervise all elections” to the offices of the president, vice-president, governors, deputy governors, membership of the Senate, House of Representatives, and State Houses of Assembly, INEC is a body that should not be intimidated by any person, group or authority. Arising from this, it should see its task as a clarion call to national duty that should be beyond reproach.

The electoral umpire has given the political parties until June 17 as deadline to submit the names of candidates and their running mates and July 15 for governorship candidates and their running mates. It should be firm with these dates and all other timelines, if only to assert that it is in full control of the process.

Centrifugal forces hell-bent on undermining the success of the 2023 elections must be stopped.

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Source: Premium Times.

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