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Between INEC and unending conspiracy theories

Between INEC and unending conspiracy theories
February 24
08:54 2020

On 6th February 2020, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced the de-registration of 74 political parties. The Commission’s Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu at a media briefing held in Abuja, attributed the action to the Fourth Alteration of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).

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Specifically, Section 225A empowered INEC to deregister a political party on the following grounds: breach of the requirements for registration as a political party; failure to win at least 25 percent of the votes cast in one state of the federation in a Presidential election; 25 percent of the votes cast in one local government area of a state in a Governorship election; at least one ward in a Chairmanship election; one seat in the National or State Assembly election or one seat in a Councillorship election.

Before implementing this law, the Commission carried out an assessment of all the 92 registered political parties last December, using the just concluded 2019 General Elections and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Area Council Elections to determine the level of compliance. Let’s be reminded that INEC is only empowered to conduct local government elections in the FCT and good enough, the last FCT area council polls coincided with the 2019 general elections. Each State has its electoral commission, known as the State Independent Electoral Commission (SIEC) which conducts local government elections, although, INEC makes the National Register of Voters and list of registered political parties available to them when local government elections are conducted.

After the assessment, 16 political parties fulfilled the requirements stipulated under Section 225A while 75 political parties failed. However, one political party filed a suit in court and obtained an order restraining the Commission from de-registering it, therefore, the Commission could not take further action until the determination of the case. Another political party registered by court after the 2019 general elections could also not be de-registered since it was not among those assessed during the period. These two, plus the 16 political parties that initially scaled the hurdle, bring the total number of registered political parties in Nigeria today to 18.

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This is not the first time that INEC had deregistered political parties. Between 2011 and 2013, the Commission deregistered 39 political parties, relying on Section 78 (7a) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended). But some political parties challenged the Commission’s action at the time, insisting that the Electoral Act was inferior to the Constitution. The courts agreed with the political parties and ordered INEC to reinstate them. The Commission complied.

Just as some political parties had challenged the Commission’s action at that time, an ample opportunity exists for any political party that disagrees with the latest move to also test the matter in court. Unfortunately, since the announcement was made, some of the deregistered parties even after filing their case in court have also embarked on unwarranted mudslinging, talking anyhow and making outrageous claims. The other day, the National Chairman of one of the deregistered parties on national television said INEC “does not have the power to deregister political parties”. He was wrong and he knew it.

Contrary to the familiar conspiracy theories usually fabricated by aggrieved politicians each time INEC acts within its powers, the Commission did not make the Fourth Alteration of the 1999 Constitution. The Legislators did and it is within their powers to do so. What the Commission was expected to do and simply did was to give effect to the constitutional amendment, based on the parameters prescribed by the same Constitution. Therefore, it will amount to an act of ignorance for anyone to say that INEC acted unconstitutionally.

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Again, a Presidential candidate of one of the deregistered parties recently made an unbelievable allegation – a fat lie – that the results of the 2019 general elections on which the commission based its assessment “have not been officially released anywhere.” Shocking! The results have, of course, been on the INEC website (https://www.inecnigeria.org/elections/election-results/) since March 2019. They are displayed under five icons: 2019 Presidential Election, 2019 Governorship Election, 2019 Senatorial District Elections, 2019 House of Representatives Elections and 2019 House of Assembly Elections. In fact, his political party scored 4,340 votes in the Presidential election.

In any case, the results were known at every segment of the general elections (Presidential, Governorship, National, State Assembly and FCT Area Council) even before they were officially announced, courtesy of an innovation introduced by the current Commission to engender transparency in the electoral process – the People’s Result Sheet, also known as Form EC60E – which is pasted at every polling unit after an election. This innovation was introduced during the Anambra state governorship election held in November 2017. Agents of political parties are expected to attest to the results released at the polling unit level before they are entered into Form EC60E and then pasted at a conspicuous place for all to see. Indeed, Nigerians knew the winner of the 2017 Anambra governorship election even before INEC officially announced it, by simply doing the arithmetic of all polling units’ results in the state’s 27 local government areas.

It is also not true, as conspiracy theorists have often claimed, that the 2019 General Elections were “discredited by every external and most local Observers and the international community.” A total of 335 Observer Groups, comprising 293 Domestic and 42 Foreign, applied for accreditation to observe the 2019 General Elections. The Commission accredited 159 Observer Groups (120 Domestic and 39 Foreign). All of them, put together, deployed 73,562 Observers (71,256 Domestic and 2,306 Foreign). Out of these, only 42 domestic observer groups submitted reports on the election to the Commission. In all the reports submitted by both Domestic and Foreign Observer Groups, there is nowhere that any of them expressly condemned or discredited the 2019 general elections. Of course, they individually drew attention to certain irregularities and weaknesses that they noticed in some of the places they deployed to, but they also commended the Commission’s efforts in several other areas.

To be sure, there was no single Observer Group with the capacity or personnel to deploy to all the 119, 973 polling units and over 50,000 Voting Points across the country where the elections took place. The point to note here is that each group could only report on what transpired at the location(s) where its members were privileged to cover. It is therefore an exercise in futility for embittered politicians and their collaborating pseudo civil society organisations to rehash lies about what transpired during the 2019 general elections. Nevertheless, the Commission takes the observer reports seriously and will continue to make use of their implementable recommendations for the improvement of the electoral system.

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As for the credibility of the 2019 general elections, INEC believes, without any doubt, that the elections were free, fair and credible but not perfect. The beauty of it all is that all aggrieved persons had the opportunity to challenge the outcomes. And they did. A total of 807 post-election petitions were filed in the courts. Out of this figure, 582 were dismissed and 183 were withdrawn by the petitioners. Only 30 re-run elections were ordered by the courts, while INEC was also instructed to issue 12 Certificates of Return to persons other than those earlier declared as winners. The last set of rerun elections were concluded on 25th January this year, bringing the 2019 general election cycle to a close.

Interestingly, some of the politicians currently bad-mouthing INEC and trying to discredit the last general elections did not take this route until the deregistration. And in doing so, they are distorting facts, throwing up wild allegations and even questioning the Commission’s legitimacy. It looks like some political parties simply want to dictate what the Commission should or should not do. This is laughable. Political parties cannot tell INEC, the regulator, how the rules of the game should be applied. It is not in their place to do so. Their obligation is to respectfully comply with all the rules set by the Commission.

Rather than engage in a campaign of calumny against INEC, I will advise the deregistered political parties to seize the moment, engage with the National Assembly constructively and present robust arguments backed by empirical facts – if they have any – to change things. The courts cannot solve every problem.

Going forward, with the Fourth Alteration of the 1999 Constitution now in force, all political parties in Nigeria will be assessed after every general election and any party that fails to meet the threshold under Section 225A will face the prospects of de-registration, unless the Constitution is amended again.

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Oyekanmi is the chief press secretary to INEC chairman.

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