INEC’s Proposal on Electoral Reform Misconstrued, Says Jega

In this interview with select journalists including our Editor Nation’s Capital, Tokunbo Adedoja, INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, spoke on why 28 political parties were de-registered, the commission’s proposal to reform the electoral process, preparations for 2015 elections and his desire to see the abolition of staggered elections in Nigeria, among other issues.

Can you tell us the rationale behind the de-registration of the 28 political parties?
Thank you very much for this question. As you are aware, we made a commitment to Nigerians to continue to improve upon the electoral process, to continue to sanitise the electoral process and to continue to ensure that as we move from the 2011 elections to the 2015 elections, there are remarkable improvements which can be measured with any electoral best practices in the world. So, the current deregistration of political parties should be viewed in this context of bringing sanity to the electoral process, of ensuring that all stakeholders, particularly political stakeholder swho are the major stakeholders in the electoral process, play according to the rules. We also have an obligation and responsibility to also act in accordance with the legal regime that governs our activities. So, the constitution, gives INEC the power to register political parties. The constitution also in Sections 221 to 228 defines what the requirements of registration are. Then, the provisions that grants INEC the power to register political parties also gave National Assembly the power to enact laws to govern the electoral process. So, the National Assembly, in compliance with that constitutional provision enacted the Electoral Act, as amended in 2010, and that is the provision that has guided our action. Section 78 (7) of that Electoral Act, gave INEC the power to de-register political parties who are not in compliance with the constitutional provisions for the registration of parties in the first place. As you are aware, we also have the power to monitor the activities of political parties. From information available to us, we have incontrovertible evidence that the parties that we de-registered have not complied with those provisions which defines what is required for registration. In particular, if you look at section 222 and 223, political parties are suppose to register with INEC, to open an office in Abuja, they are suppose to hold periodic elections, they are suppose to have executives that represent, in their composition, the federal character, in particular two-thirds of the states of the federation. And also, the Electoral Act , in particular, says that those who did not win any seats in any of the elections can be deregistered. The first exercise that we did when seven parties were deregistered, we deregistered them solely on the basis that they did not even field any candidate for the elections. But this particular deregistration of 28 political parties is not based solely on that reason alone.

There are other reasons. For each of the political parties that INEC deregistered, we wrote a letter to them indicating the grounds upon which they were deregistered. Many of them received their letters. About 17 out of 28 received their letters before we went public. Some of them we couldn’t get them precisely for the same reasons they were deregistered. They were suppose to have offices in Abuja. I will give you one example. Our officer who carried the letters went to the address of a political party, the signboard was there but there were new tenants in the building. It is a business center. But because we also have the telephone numbers of some of their officials, the official was telephoned and we said that we were at their office to give them a letter but we found that there is a business center there. He said, please take back the letter, I will come to your office to collect it. Now the same parties are now saying that we did not inform them before they were deregistered. If you gave us an address, and we did our best and went to that address and we did not find you, and you said you were going to come and collect your letter, how can you accuse us of not informing you? So, what we are trying to do is consistent with the best interpretation of the law that we got and we believe that what we have done is right under the circumstances and ofcourse, I understand that some of the parties have either gone to court or said they were going to court. Obviously, the final judgment would be delivered by our courts. So, we believe that what we have done is right for the reformation of our electoral system, it is right for deepening democracy in our country and we have done it consistent with the best interpretation of the legal regime that we have got before taking that decision.

There was this allegation that your action amounts to subjudice because there is a case on this issue before a court in Lagos and you should have allowed the High Court to determine the fate of these parties?
Well, we are aware of the case and we did not deregister the party that was in court. If you look at the list of the parties that were deregistered, since we know they took us to court, we did not deregister that party. We will await the outcome of the court case. In fact, we did our best, and to the best of my knowledge, we did not deregister any party that has any case in court that can be misconstrued as a violation of a court process. So, all these arguments about deregistering party with a case in court, we did not deregister any party with any case in court.

Are we expecting the deregistration of more parties? There are speculations that you plan to deregister 25 more parties. How true is this?
It is not true that there is a figure to the parties that we are going to deregister. As you are aware, registration of parties and deregistration of parties are continous processes. As more applicants meet the requirements of registration, we will register them. As more parties violate the requirements of the constitution and the Electoral Act which warrant deregistration, we will deregister them. So, it is a continous process. And when we first deregistered the seven parties, we made the same statement that it was a continous process. At that time, our focus was on the constitutional provision that says that if a party does not win elections, and we knew that there were parties which did not even field candidates. So, we deregistered them. But many others fielded candidates and the court cases were ongoing and we waited until all the court cases were determined. But in this second phase of deregistration, the reasons are not limited to not fielding candidates. In fact, for many of the political parties, there were atleast three reasons bordering on clear violations of constitutional provisions as the basis for which they were deregistered.

Why did it take you so long to do this exercise after the 2011 elections. You said you went to deliver letters to the offices, and some of them were found not to have offices. I thought you have an auditing department in your office because we did a report on this thing you are saying long ago. We went round and reported that some of the party offices had been turned into business centers. Does it mean that you don’t know these things until now?

We know these things but its takes time. We want to be very meticulous, we have so many things to do. That was why I told you that we prioritize. When we came in as a commission, we prioritized the things we needed to do. It doesn’t mean that when something is not done, it would not be done. And that is what we are proving now. We are doing things systematically. We have had our priorities ordered. And as we clear some priorities, others become priorities and we take them on board and between now and 2015, we will do so many things that are targeted and aimed at reforming the electoral process. You cannot reform the process, given the fact that it has been bad for so long, with a single stroke. Its takes time and that is it. So, we cannot be blamed for not acting now that we have acted.

Do you have a benchmark for the number of parties?
I do not have a benchmark, the Independent National Electoral Commission does not have a benchmark. The legal regime that guides our action says that any group that meets the requirement for registration as a party, we should register them. The same legal regime says that under so and so, you can deregister. All we are doing is those who meet registration, we register, those who do not meet, we deregister. Our hope is that if we are consistent in doing this, then with time, people will know that if you are registered as a political party, then you must be in full compliance with the requirements of registration and you must continue to meet those requirements of registration. You cannot come and rent an office in Abuja just to be registered and as soon as you are registered, you abandon the office like some of these parties that were deregistered – that is why I said the constitutional provision is very clear: there must be federal character representation in the composition of the parties; there must be periodic elections, atleast, once in every four years. Some of these parties, since 2003 and three, the same executives. has been there. They have not been doing congresses, they have not been doing primaries. They will only do primaries to nominate people to contest for elections but they don’t really do congresses in order to elect officials of the party.

A clarification please. Just before the parties were deregistered, did you at anytime send out letters to them telling them that they have fallen short of the constitutional requirements?

My friend, the constitution is very clear. You either complied with the constitution or you do not comply with it. All we have done is that we looked at who are in compliance and who are not. The constitution did not say that we should be reminding them as you are saying.

But this question reminds me of the fact that you wrote letters to PDP some time back, telling the PDP that look, in these nine states, your congresses had fallen short of the constitutional requirements. But you have not done anything after that?

No, it is not true that we have not done anything after that and by the way, this is a totally different issue. It has nothing to do with registration or deregistration. Don’t bring it because it is PDP, because there are people out there who are already accusing us of favouring PDP. It has nothing whatsoever to do with any particular party. That is a totally different issue. They were suppose to do congresses for the purpose of nominating candidates to stand for elections, and we were preparing for elections, and we saw that names of candidates were being sent to us in places where the primaries and conventions were not held. And we wrote to them and said, look, you haven’t done this, you can’t send us candidates from there. But that is totally different from the issue of whether a party can be registered or whether it can be deregistered.

Does it mean that you will not accept candidates from those states in future elections?
Have you find out from them? You find out, since we wrote to them, they may have done their primaries. Our job was to tell them that the right things was to be done, otherwise their candidates would not be recognised.

In your recent proposal to the National Assembly, you demanded for more powers and independence. Is it right to say that if that is granted, you will have the enormous power to hire and fire electoral commissioners?

No, the appointment and the removal of INEC commisioners is dictated by the provisions of the constitution. In the third schedule of the constitution, it is very clear how the chairman and commisioners are appointed. But I know that it has been reported in the papers that INEC or Jega is requesting for more powers. We are not requesting for more powers. All we are saying is that there are certain things the independent National Electoral Commission should be allowed to do consistent with best practices worldwide. If those are done consistent with good practices worldwide and we are saying let INEC do it, how does it mean getting powers for ourselves. But I have become the wiping boy of politicians.

This issue of disqualification of candidates in one of your proposals, what is the rationale behind it?
I am very happy that you raised that question. Section 31 of the Electoral Act, as amended recently, has a clause at the end of it to the effect that whatever candidate a political party submits to INEC for election cannot be rejected for any reason whatsoever. At the same time, in the same Electoral Act, Section 87 indicated that for a candidate to emerge in a political party for an elective position, he or she must have emerged through democratic primaries and ofcourse they can only do direct or indirect primaries. That depends on what the constitution of the party says. But atleast it must be democratic primaries. So, hiding under that Section 31 clause that says for any reason whatsoever, during the 2011 elections, we had cases where we monitored the primaries of parties, where we have records of who participated in the democratic primaries and where political parties sent to us, names of people who did not even participate in those primaries. There were cases where we monitored the primaries, we saw who emerged as number one , democratically elected. Who emerged number 2, number. But in the end, the party sent us either number three or number four as the candidate of the party. So there is a clear conflict in the provision. Then ofcourse, that Section 31 of the Electoral Act also seems to help entrench undemocratic practices within political parties. All we said when we made this submission to the National Assembly was that, please repeal that clause that says “for any reason whatsoever”. That was all we asked for and yet people are turning around and saying that we are demanding for more powers. All we are saying is that, in practice, we have observed problems with this. And that clause was not there before. It was during this last amendment and nobody could remember even how that clause came about and we are saying that, please, remove that clause, because it is unhealthy, it is promoting undemocratic tendencies within parties. In fact, there is even a party that went ahead and forged documents and sent it to us presenting somebody else as the candidate of the party. We knew all these things. All we are saying is that, this is not good, remove this thing. And once you remove that clause,then the parties know that they cannot just send us anybody. Atleast now, they wil l begin to comply with Section 87 by ensuring that whoever they send to us emerges from democratic processs.

Recently, you said that the commission was ready to carryout the delimitation of federal constituencies. Could you explain the process? Do you have any target number? And how soon should we expect the commission to finish this?

As you rightly pointed out, the last time constituency demilitation was done was in 1996 and it is a constitutional requirement that delimitation should be done atleast, every ten years or after any census. There was an effort before we came in to do a delimitation but it wasn’t completed. When we came in, there was no time for us to do the delimitation before the April 2011 elections. But we are committed now before the 2015 elections. And in fact, we are in the final stages of finalising the arrangement and our hope is that by the first quarter of 2013, we will commence the process and we should be able to end it by the end of 2013 or latest by the middle of 2014. We want to do this because constituency delimitation is politically charged even though there are very scientific and objective ways of doing it. But the bottom line is that because of demographic shift and population changing, you may have to remove from some constituencies and add to others. You are no doubt aware that no politician wants his constituency to be removed or some people may not want to be shifted to another constituency. So, what we intend to do is to ensure that we do this very systematicaly, very scientifically with the involvement of all stakeholders with the sensitization of the public in order to reduce the controversy and in order to ensure that we finish it long before the 2015 elections. Again, the closer it is to the election, the more controversial it may be because as you are aware, the constituency delineation process does not end until there is an act of the National Assembly bringing it into force. That is why we want to do it so that before the heat of the 2015 election commences, we would have finished it. And we have been learning from the way other countries have done it, good practices globally, and we have also been learning from the mistakes of the way in which we have done it before. So that by the time we do it this time, we will do it subtantially and remarkable better than we have done it before. But it is long overdue and we will do it. And in fact, after the constituency delimitation, we will also make sure that we review the numbers of polling units before the 2015 elections. These are the important priorities that we have, going into 2013. In fact, in 2013, there are two major projects we are launching. They are the constituency delineation and continous voters registration.

What number of constituencies are we expecting?

No, the law defines the number. We have 109 senatorial districts and 360 federal constituencies, but the constituion also defines the number of constituencies. Normally, the definition is what would be the upper or lower limits. So, all we need to do is to do a scientific based delimitation and whatever the number turns out to be, then we submit to the National Assembly and they will look at it and see whether a law can be passed that can address that. But whatever we do must be in accordance with the constitional provisions on this matter.

You just returned from Ghana for the elections. Yesterday, a Ghanaian party, NPP, said that they knew the election result would turn out that way because you were present in Ghana and held a private session with the chairman of their electoral body. How would you react to this?

You see, we Nigerians are the architect of our own troubles. There are people in Nigeria who have unjustifiably been impugning my character, my integrity and making all sorts of spurious allegations against me. I think what you are seeing is that some foreigners are now relying on all those unjustifiable bashing and also tagging on to it and doing it. I went to Ghana, the evening before the election. I arrived in Ghana around 8 or 8.30pm. By 8.30am, as a group, we moved to the Volta region to observe the election. I went there as an observer. I did not meet with any Ghanaian official during my trip to Ghana and I did not go to Ghana preceeding the election for any discussion or any consultation with any Ghanaian official, including the chairman of the Ghanaian electoral commission. There is absolutely no basis for this allegation. When you hear this kind of things, people sit down and concoct stories and say all sorts of things. Is it even feasible that I will go to Ghana and I will be the one conducting elections in Ghana or giving them the strategies on how to do elections. No, it is inconceivable. The chairman of the Ghanaian eletoral commission has been there for 20 years and has conducted six successive elections. How can he rely on me to do anything? It is wrong.

Did you give them any form of assistance during the electoral process?
We did not. We had no relationship with them. In Sierra-Leone, we did and it’s positive. In Sierra-Leone, the electoral commission, through the Sierra-Leonean government, asked the Nigerian government to help them with the logistics of their elections. The Nigerian government provided them, I think 24 Hilux vehicles, and provided them with, I think, $1million. That is assistance from a member country of ECOWAS and a brother to brother in the subregion. The electoral commission of Sierra-Leone told us that they were experiencing challenges with the training of people who did their registration, because they had a foreign consultant who did their biometric registration for them. So, they agreed to send 10 people to Nigeria, and the Nigerian government paid for that. They came for about eight days and we gave them training and they went back. Then they wanted us to send people to Sierra-Leone to also help them in supervising what was going on. I told them that we will allow this people to go but they will not be there for the election because they will say that Nigerians are there to fix your election. Fortunately, two days before the election, those people returned. So, I was amazed that people were making all these things. Mr. President went to Sierra-Leone before the election, all the stakeholders, all the political parties were there. They were thanking him and commending him for the contributions he had made for their elections. Sierra-Leone, almost 90 per cent of the funding for their elections came from donors. And there wasn’t a single donor that contributed more than Nigeria and this was done out of brotherly concern in order to have success of the election and peace in the region and people are turning it around making it look somehow. The latest is the Ghanaian thing, I don’t just know what to say.

You have done two major elections in recent times – Edo and Ondo – and they were successsful and people have been commending you. But on a closer look, these were just two states where elections were done on different dates and you deployed virtually all your resources, even police IG travelled there. Now, the view is that when it comes to the general election in 2015 which involves many state at the same time, it may be a different story. how would you react to this? Secondly, look at the security situation in Borno and Yobe State, does it bother you as you prepare for 2015 elections and do you see elections holding there?

First of all, we have been able to record substantial improvement in both Edo and Ondo because we have learnt a lot of lessons from April 2011 and the other governorship elections that we did, and we kept on factoring these lessons we’ve learnt into preparing for these elections. The last election we held, which was Ondo, was the best election we conducted. But people are saying we are deploying all our resources, but really, people who conducted elections in Edo are our officials in Edo. People who conducted elections in Ondo are our officials in Ondo. All we had is a scale-up supervision. Like if we do election everywhere and in every state, may be it is only the national commisisoner and few directors that are able to go to a state with two people to supervise. But we were able to send, maybe, about 10 national commissioners and eight resident electoral commissioners, a total of 18 senior people to supervise. But the truth is that the people who are conducting the elections are the same people. So, obviously, anytime you concentrate efforts and energy, you are bound to succeed more than if you have less. But I can assure you that the way we are preparing the elections, the lessons we are learning, the improvements we are making, the 2015 elections will be remarkably much better than the 2011 we have held. The issue of doing it piecemeal, frankly is immaterial. In fact, some people are also suggesting that Nigerian elections should be staggered. But in most countries, general elections are held in a particular period and that is what we should move towards.

We went to Ghana, both the parliamentary and presidential elections were done on the same day. We went to Sierra-Leone, even municipal elections were held the same day. In America, Venezuela, everywhere. So the trend worldwide is to do all elections the same day. In our own case in Nigeria, we are not doing it the same day but we staggered it over a period of four weekends when we do all the elections. I think for now, that is better. But I have read some interesting suggestions. People are saying that why don’t you conduct the elections in one geo-political zone and move to another geo-political zone. As far as I am concerned, we should keep improving so that consistent with global practices, we should be able to do all the elections in one day. It is possible, it is not impossible. It is just that we have not addressed our minds and energies to it, and all political and other stakeholders are not really joining hands in order to ensure the success of the process.

Are you recommending it for the next election?
I think in future. I am not talking of 2015. But I am saying that the global best practice is to do all election on a single day and Nigeria should move in that direction in future. If you say that if you do one election, it is better, then you will be doing elections every month in the whole four years. And it is not cost effective, it is not cost efficient and is expensive. On the issue of security challenges, security challenges are systemic. All I can say is that I am an incurable optimist. I am optimistic about the future of this country, I am optimistic that no matter how bad things get, we have the capacity and we should be able to solve those problems. I want INEC to conduct the best election all over this country in 2015 and as an optimistic person, I want to believe that by 2015, all these problems of Boko Haram would be behind us. I pray that it is so. But INEC would do its best under any circumstance.

Just a clarification. I know you are an optimist. Everybody wants things to get better. But let’s look at the realities on ground in terms of security in these two states…(cuts in)
What do you want me to say? Do you want me to say that there will be no election

I know that there are preparations that you do before elections, like updating voters register. Will INEC be able or is it able to carry out these preparations in these two states now?
We are doing preparations.

Are you talking of Yobe and Borno?
We are doing preparations. When we can’t do this, Nigerians will know. But so far I can’t just sit back and say because there is problem in Borno, I can’t just do voters registration, I can’ t just do constituency delimitation. I will do my best. We will try.