How To Improve Nigeria's Electoral System


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How To Improve Nigeriaís Electoral System




Abel Guobadia


Tuesday, April 26, 2005



The 1999 Constitution of the Republic contains the commitment to hold free and fair democratic elections every four years. The Constitution entrusts the conduct of all aspects of the electoral process (with the exception of local government council elections) to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The State Independent Electoral Commission (SIEC) of each State is charged with the conduct of local elections using the register of voters compiled by the Independent National Electoral Commission.

The Independent National Electoral Commission is one of the Federal Executive Bodies established by the Constitution in Sections 153 to 161. The State Independent Electoral Commissions are similarly established in Sections 197 to 205 of the Constitution.
The structure, functions and powers of the INEC are amplified in paragraphs 14 and 15, in Part 1 of the Third Schedule to the Constitution. Similar provisions relating to the State Independent Electoral Commission are in paragraphs 3 and 4 in Part II of the Third Schedule.

By the 1999 Constitution, all the five elections conducted by the Commission fall due within approximately the same period every four years. Thus, the Presidential and Governorship elections must be held between March 30 and April 29 in the election year. The parliamentary elections into the two arms of the National Assembly and the Houses of Assembly of the thirty-six States must be held around the same period.

The arrangements pose a great load on the Commission. Besides, with all elective offices of the entire federation falling vacant every four years, the few months covering the nomination process, the campaigns and the polls are particularly a tense period in the country. During the campaign period, the various legislative houses are effectively shut down since most, if not all parliamentarians may be seeking re-election.

A constitutional arrangement which allows the parliamentary elections and the elections into the executive offices to be held in different years, say a year or two years apart should be considered.

The electoral Commissions (INEC and SIECs) exist to ensure that the conduct of the elections are outside the control of the executive arm of government or from any political interference, that is, the Commissionsí election machinery should be entirely under their control and free from any corrupting influence.

Election Machinery
The regular election machinery of the Independent National Electoral Commission comprises the:
- Resident Electoral Commissioner in each State and in the FCT;
- all the Commissionís permanent staff of about 8,000 in its headquarters, States and local government area offices;
- at general elections, the hundreds of thousands of ad hoc staff who are employed in such capacities as Returning Officers, Collation Officers, Supervisory Presiding Officers, Presiding Officers, Poll Clerks and Poll Assistants. On a typical election day, as many as 500,000 ad hoc staff are deployed nationwide; and hundreds of thousands of policemen and para-military personnel for the maintenance of law and order and to provide security.

Adequate and timely funding is the oil which lubricates this machinery for efficient and effective performance.
In the perception of many Nigerian stakeholders in the electoral process, existing constitutional and legal provisions as well as the election machinery fall short of guaranteeing the independence of the elections from controls outside the electoral Commissions. The reasons often cited include the following;-

Appointment of National Commissioners:
To some people, the constitutional provision which confers powers on the President to appoint the Chairman and all twelve National Commissioners with the concurrence of the Council of State and subsequent confirmation by Senate gives the President an undue advantage. There have therefore been demands for an appointive mechanism which frees the appointment of the Commissionís members from any executive influence.

Among the suggestions that have been made is one that advocates membership drawn from all the political parties. Most of the Commissionís tasks are of an executive and administrative nature in which quick and precise decisions are needed. A Commission composed of members drawn from different partisan interests is unlikely to be timely in its decision taking. A Commission whose membership is large even if of not divergent interests may also be very slow in its decision taking.

Resident Electoral Commissioners:
The Resident Electoral Commissioners are appointed under the provisions of paragraph 14(2) of Part I in the Third schedule to the Constitution. They are directly appointed by the President and they have no fixed tenure. Though they function under the superintendence and direction of the Commission, they are not subject to discipline by the Commission. Experience has shown that they can be removed at will by the President without reference to the Commission. There have been demands that these offices should be manned by persons who are appointed by the Commission and subject to discipline by the Commission.

Secretary to the Commission
The Secretary is head of the Commissionís Secretariat and the Commissionís accounting officer.
The existing legal provision that the Secretary be appointed by the President from among the Federal Permanent Secretaries is a departure from the provision of Section 158(1) of the Constitution which empowers
ēthe Commission to make appointments and to exercise disciplinary control over its staff without direction or control from any other authority or persons.

Funding of the Commission:
An Electoral Commission requires a very strong and an assured capital base at all times to enable it conduct successful elections. Once a decision to hold elections has been made, all the procedures, checks, controls and deadlines must be followed to the dot. Subjecting the budget of the Commission to tedious bureaucratic control as is now the case, not only delays the Commissionís operations and planning tasks but also make them vulnerable to executive manipulations.

Section 84(4) of the Constitution provides for the payment of the salaries and allowances of the Commissionís members from the Consolidated Revenue Fund. The same provision ought to be made for the operating and development funds of the Commission.
The independence of the Commission cannot always be guaranteed if it lacks financial autonomy.

Ad Hoc Staff/Security Personnel:
The over 500,000 ad hoc staff are recruited directly by the Commission from the society at large. In most States, the civil servants represent the only ready source of persons most qualified for the job. Opposition political parties frown at the use of deployed clerical, administrative and technical staff of the civil service and other agencies of the various governments. They suspect that civil servants so deployed can slant things in favour of incumbent government candidates. The police and other security personnel are normally deployed to polling units by their respective authorities, without the involvement of the Commission in their deployment plans.

The use of several hundreds of thousands of ad hoc staff and security personnel over whom the Commission has no disciplinary control poses severe handicaps for it. Their recruitment and deployment by the Commission ought to be formalised with the various governmental authorities. The various governments and the security agencies should make available to the Commission, such numbers of persons that the Commission requires. The persons made available should be deemed to be on normal duties while on posting to the Commission. There should be legal provisions which empower the Commission to recommend disciplinary action on any erring ad hoc staff and security personnel to their employers and for such employers to implement the disciplinary action within a specified period. Measures such as this may instil a greater sense of commitment and of fears to this category of poll day workers.

Intervention of the Regular Courts
Section 285 of the Constitution prescribes the setting up of Election Tribunals for the resolution of disputes arising from elections.
Election connotes the entire process which starts with the issuance of the notification calling the election and ending with the declaration of the result of the election. The whole process can be broadly divided into four phases, namely:

- nomination of candidates;
- campaign period;
- polling;
- counting of votes and declaration of results.

It is at the end of the counting phase that a clear picture emerges as to who is the winner of the election. The regular courts now seem to have powers to entertain disputes which arise at the nomination phase. Such intervention by the regular courts is in violation of Section 285 of the Constitution. Besides, the intervention constitutes a severe distraction on the planning and implementation tasks of the Commission during the most critical period of its preparation for elections.

The intervention of the regular courts should cease the moment the election timetable is released by the Commission. All disputes about the election starting with the nomination phase, the conduct of polls through to the counting of votes and declaration of results should be matters of post-election adjudication.

A disturbing aspect of the current law and one which most commentators find unsatisfactory is the delay in the time for determining disputes arising from elections. Election Petitions including Presidential petitions are still being heard two years after the General Elections. Voters are entitled to know who their real representatives are. The present state allows for too much uncertainty as people may occupy offices for several years only to be adjudged unqualified in the first place to hold such offices.

A solution to this may be with an extension of the time for election into these offices. Rather than the 60 days specified in the Constitution (see S.76(2) of the 1999 Constitution for each House of the National Assembly for example), the period should be extended to at least 90 days before and not later than the date the House stands dissolved for legislative houses. For the Presidency and Governorship, the elections to be held at least 90 days before and not later than 60 days before the expiration of the term of office of the last holder of such office for the President and Governor.

Furthermore, all election disputes should be determined within a specified period (60 days is recommended) of the declaration of result and return of the winner and certainly before the swearing in of the winner of the election. This way, there is more certainty as to the holder of the office and such a person will not be distracted from the performance of his duties

The 1999 Constitution stipulates political parties with national structure and outlook, without any regional, ethnic, religious or any other sectional outlook or any exclusiveness.
Only associations registered by the Commission can function as political parties and field candidates at any election. A political party once registered can exist on its own conditions. The Constitution makes no provision for the de-registration of political parties.

It is a fair statement to make that all thirty political parties in Nigeria are still in their early stages of development and growth. The oldest three are less than seven years old and have only taken part in two general elections. The other twenty-seven parties were registered in 2002 and twenty-four of these received their registration in December 2002, less than five months to the April 2003 general elections. Though many of them have problems of internal disputes, and divisions, it can be expected that these will abate with the passage of time. Each should be allowed time to develop at its own pace.

Code of Conduct:
Fraud, corrupt practices and violence are problems of the Nigerian electoral process. The Commission, realising the role which the political parties can play in combating these problems, got them to agree on a
Code of Conduct that addresses these vices and other related ones. The Code was subscribed to by all the parties, a few weeks before the  2003 general elections. As the Code stands, abiding by its terms requires only the moral persuasion of the political parties and their followers. It embodies no sanction for any violation, It is only hoped that with wide dissemination of the contents of the code, the desired effects will be achieved.


Being Independent National Electoral Commission Electoral, (Aide-memoir: Prepared For The National Political Conference)




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