INEC’s position as the impartial umpire is the position of the directives of the extant legal framework. As Managers of the electoral process, the commission has institutional memories and knowledge of the advantages and pitfalls of the different methods of conducting party primaries. But as Alexander Pope said, for forms, mode or methods, it’s scarcely necessary to contend because “what is best administered is best”. In other words, there’s nothing inherently so good or bad about Indirect or Direct primary to warrant the ongoing acrimony that may affect other profound provisions of the current bill given that this issue of Direct primary is just one item in the entire one bill. We must avoid a repeat of the 3rd term situation whereby just one obnoxious item in a single bill truncated the entire bill. We must bear in mind that one common formula for success in any approach chosen depends on the sincerity of those who lead and manage these parties as well as those who participate in those primaries conducted by political parties. Unless political party members from top to bottom sincerely submit themselves to the due process they subscribe to, any hope for the success of whatever method they subscribe to will be a futile hope.
From our political experience in this country, one of the biggest political challenges has been the inability of political parties to organize primaries without squabbles. Whenever they manage to do so, it has always been seen as a remarkable achievement, whereas it should be something of a routine. Looking beyond the problems to the solution, our take is that whatever mode that we subscribe to, political parties should do the following; a mandatory submission within a reasonable time before any primary election certified true copies of verifiable party Register of members of each Ward or delegate list for the election and certified true copies of party guidelines for same election submitted to INEC and published on the party website, as well as two newspapers displayed in all LGA offices of the party within the Constituency of the Election.
There is also the issue of a huge financial burden on INEC monitoring the process associated with Direct primary?
Look, no mode of primary is cost-free. The commission had always spent money to mobilize staff who are deployed to monitor either Direct or Indirect primaries in the past. There is absolutely nothing new about this issue of financial burden argument. What the political parties have done in the past because the Commission bears the burden alone was that after giving notice to the Commission of date, time, and venue and after the commission’s staff have all been mobilized, even some staff from the Headquarters in Abuja, suddenly officials of parties will send notice to the states, few hours to the time that the exercise is suspended and sometimes it may even be a message of outright cancellation received at the venue of the scheduled primaries while mobilized INEC staff and their members are waiting for party officials that will conduct the primary. As a result, funds and time committed are all wasted to be repeated.
We are just monitors of compliance to guidelines set out by political parties to regulate their affairs and not the Commission that conducts the primary. Why so much noise and concerns about the cost of monitoring by NEC and a loud silence over the cost of the exercise itself by the political parties? Why are people not talking about the cost to be incurred by the political parties but INEC cost of monitoring and by implication dragging the Commission into the arena of a subject matter that has now assumed partisan dimensions? We have been conducting elections in 119,973 polling
units deploying staff. And in the 2023 election, the Commission will conduct an election in a total of 176,846 polling units. So what is this hue and cry about monitoring primary exercises in just 8,809 Registration Areas or wards compared to several polling units in general elections? We should simply make up our minds on what we want to do with the greatest promise and hope of democracy, which is participation, whether it should be given meaning and purpose in our practiced democracy.
So you don’t think that monitoring cost is a serious issue that should be considered?
I have not said so but rather saying that all cost elements should be considered and not just that of monitoring by NEC itself that has not mentioned any figure yet, monitoring cost has suddenly become the main issue with some mischievous outrageous figures put out there in the social media to conflate the conversation. This is unnecessary and unhelpful at this time that we all should ensure we have a new electoral Act in preparing for the 2023 elections. As I pointed out a while ago, the most important factor is willingness and sincerity for the process to succeed by all. I’m warning against relapse to cognitive cherry-picking, with emphasis on one and maintaining loud silence on other elements in the mix. What is currently going on is nothing but an echo chamber, individuals seeking to share the views on those areas of the Bill they agree with to reinforce their held position, there is no more objective engagement and understanding of the subject matter.
The Electoral Act (as amended) would it in any way affect INEC’s effectiveness as we approach another election year?
While the constitution provides a broad general framework on matters of elections particularly concerning tenure and time frame within which election should be conducted, qualifications, and other matters. The Electoral Act is the principal legal directive framework for organizing, conducting, and supervising elections in addition to the Commission’s guidelines and manuals made under the powers donated exclusively to the Commission by the Constitution. Therefore, changes and proposals in the expected new Act will affect the conduct of elections, marginally or profoundly depending on the significance. We hope that this bill comes out as we enjoin all stakeholders to make it happen for the improvement of our election and the sustenance of our democracy.
Anambra election has come and gone, what do you attribute to its success?
One will attribute it principally to the commitment of all stakeholders to see that competition, participation, and legitimate outcome of the election occurs to the joy of the overwhelming majority of the voters. We must commend the people of Anambra, the Security agents, and indeed the leadership of the Commission under whom there is a steady progressive consolidation of innovations and the entire staff of the Commission for a job well done. The media has remained our dependable ally helping to educate the public in keeping to its credo which is the people’s right to know. All these factors came together in a good mix that led to the acceptable outcome of that election.
How do political parties’ actions and inactions impact INEC’s performance?
Modern representative democracy is inconceivable without political parties. They are the main actors in the Electoral process and governance before and after elections. Their impact is therefore significant, the values that political parties subscribe to, promote and convey in their actions shape political behavior and make a difference in the impact n Electoral performance.
If the values they subscribe to and act upon adversely affect key indicators of electoral performance i.e free participation, unfettered competition, it will affect how the outcome of the election will be accepted y stakeholders.