The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) yesterday sought constitutional powers to disqualify candidates, who do not possess the required qualifications to stand for elections.
Making this request at a retreat organised by the Senate Committee on the Review of the Constitution in Abuja yesterday, Chairman of INEC, Professor Attahiru Jega, who said such disqualification would however be subject to judicial review, added that the commission deserved autonomy to regulate electoral process to the extent of disqualifying candidates.
Jega argued that if the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Nigeria Deposit Insurance Commission (NDIC), among other regulatory institutions, possess autonomous powers to regulate the financial sector, INEC should also be empowered to adequately regulate the electoral process.
According to him, a situation where the commission has to go court to seek the disqualification of people who forge certificates presented to it, does not enhance its regulatory job.
“This is not desirable. It should be empowered to do so (subject of course to judicial review) if there is a prima facie case shown from the documentation that the candidate is unqualified; after all, it is not only a management body , it is also a regulatory one and should have some powers in this regard just like such bodies as the NDIC or CBN,” he said.
Jega, who wants the commission’s positions incorporated into both the constitution as well as the Electoral Act, also suggested that anyone convicted of an electoral offence, including registration offences, campaign finance breaches and a breach of political party finance provisions) should be disqualified from contesting an election for a period of 10 years from the date of conviction.
He also advocated powers for INEC to determine the parties to be listed on the ballot paper in line with what he described as best practices.
He listed the criteria for the determination of parties to be on the ballot paper to include payment of fees as prescribed by the commission; securing of certain percentage of votes at general election and winning specific number of seats in legislative elections.
He listed such sections of the constitution he wants amended to include Section 158, 76(1),116 (1), 132(1) and 178(1) 134 (1) and 179 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). He also sought power for INEC to conduct election to fill vacancies for only two periods in a year.
Jega also wants amendment to Section 134 and 179 of the constitution respectively to the extent that before the declaration of presidential and governorship candidates as winners of elections, the declaration should be in accordance with the number of valid votes cast and not the total number of votes cast.
Section 134 of the constitution provides “that a candidate for an election to the office of president shall be deemed to have been duly elected, where, there being only two candidates for the election (a) he has the majority of votes cast at the election; and (b) he has not less than one-quarter of the votes cast in the election in each of at least two thirds of all states in the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).” Section 179 makes the same provision for governors.
But the committee disagreed with some of the requests of Jega, including the call to fix only two periods for the conduct of bye-elections in a year, saying it would be fraught with difficulties and would undermine the electoral process.
Presenting the position of the committee, a hired expert, Professor Uche Amuchiazi, disagreed with INEC’s quest to disqualify candidates for election, saying political parties have the right to nominate their candidates and the issue of qualification should be left to the court to determine.
He also faulted the request to declare the aspirant with the second highest votes in an election winner if the first runner up is disqualified, saying the election tribunal has the power to nullify an election and order a fresh one.
He added that disqualifying a party from participating in an election because it fields an unqualified candidate would further heat up the polity.