Anger and bitterness reigned yesterday as members of the House of Representatives returned from their long break to appraise the conduct of the 2019 general elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
After highlighting the pitfalls in the national and state elections, the lawmakers resolved to tinker again with the country’s Electoral Act to address the unfolded issues.
The same scenario played out in the Senate, which also decided to go the extra mile to address the flaws in the exercise.
Their actions followed the numerous and disturbing electoral issues that were thrown up and the actions that were taken by INEC officials during the conduct of the general elections.
Of great concern to the Lower House was the inconclusive nature of most elections, especially the governorship polls in six of the 29 states of the federation where gubernatorial elections were held.
The affected states are Adamawa, Bauchi, Benue, Kano, Plateau, and Sokoto.
The consensus of the members of the Green Chambers yesterday was that the stalemate which characterised the polls would have been avoided if certain guidelines adopted by INEC and clauses in the Electoral Act were not inserted.
The National Assembly passed the amended Electoral Act Bill before the conduct of the 2019 general elections which President Muhammadu Buhari declined assent to.
At their proceedings yesterday, the lawmakers observed that the controversial INEC guidelines, as well as some provisions in the Electoral Act, created more problems than they were intended to solve.
Consequently, they resolved to set up an ad-hoc committee to point out areas in the Act which require immediate amendments.
The decision was consequent upon the adoption of a motion of urgent national importance sponsored by Hon. Sunday Karimi, who argued that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) lacked the powers to declare any election inconclusive.
Hon Karimi posited that the electoral guidelines did not empower INEC to cancel votes at collation centres as such, should desist from placing election guidelines above the Constitution and the Electoral Act.
He said: “Since the November 2015 governorship election in Kogi State was held, inconclusive elections have become a demon hunting the Nigerian electoral system, eroding the confidence of the electorate in the electoral system and has become a tool for subverting the will of the people during elections in Nigeria.
“Prior to the 2015 gubernatorial election in Kogi State, there were a few isolated cases of inconclusive elections and re-run in Nigeria, due to over-voting in some polling units and wards, and also due to non-voting in some wards. This was the case in Ekiti State in 2009, Anambra in 2010 and Imo in 2011.
“The escalating trend of inconclusive elections has cast a shadow on the neutrality of INEC as an umpire in the Nigerian election process.
“The frequency of cases of inconclusive elections in Nigeria has created in the electorate lack of confidence in the election process. The apprehension and deprivation caused by the rising cases of inconclusive elections in Nigeria are potential security risks in the country,” Karimi argued.
He noted that Section 153 of the Electoral Act gives INEC power to make regulations, guidelines and manuals for the conduct of elections in Nigeria and as a result, the commission issued the 2015 general election guidelines and the 2019 general election guidelines, as subsidiary legislation to the Electoral Act.
“The March 9 general elections, where 29 gubernatorial elections polls were conducted, six of them – Sokoto, Benue, Bauchi, Kano, Plateau and Adamawa States – were declared inconclusive despite the leading candidates meeting the provisions of Section 179(2) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), thereby causing apprehension, insecurity and eroding the confidence of the electorate in the commission,” he lamented.
Hon Karimi continued: “We are aware that as a result of the power of the commission to issue guidelines, the INEC 2015 guidelines in pages 22-23 paragraph 4, Section N, direct the returning officer to where the margin of win between the two leading candidates is not in excess of the total number of registered voters of the polling units where elections were cancelled or not held, to decline to make a return until another poll has taken place in the affected polling units and results incorporated into a new Form EC 8d and subsequently recorded in EC 8e for declaration.”
According to him, this provision of the election guidelines which was reproduced in the 2019 guidelines was the basis for which the commission “whimsically” declared the elections inconclusive.
“It is a source of concern that paragraph 4 of Section N of the 2015 general election guidelines is causing apprehension and lack of confidence in the nation’s electoral system since sections 134,179 and 111 of the Constitution provide for the emergence of the winner of presidential, gubernatorial and Area Council elections in Nigeria.
“The constitution provides that the winner of the election into chief executives office in Nigeria shall emerge where the winner has majority votes of the total votes cast, scores ¼ of votes cast in each of at least 2/3rd of the votes in all states, local governments and wards respectfully.
“Also, Section 26(1) of the Electoral Act 2010 provides that where a date has been approved for the holding of an election and there is reason to believe that there will be serious breach of peace if the election proceeded with that day, or that it is impossible to conduct the elections due to natural disaster or other emergencies, the commission may postpone the election and fix a new date for the election.
“The combined effect of sections 134,179, 111 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and 26(1) as well as Section 53(2)&(3) of the Electoral Act shows that inconclusive elections, are not envisaged in our laws, except where there was over-voting in a polling unit, not where votes already cast were cancelled.
“The commission should not be allowed to continue to whimsically declare elections inconclusive,” he warned.
As soon as Hon. Karimi ended his motion, the floor was thrown open for concise and logical contributions from his colleagues. Hon. Aliyu Madaki submitted that the declaration of inconclusive elections by INEC amounted to “military coups” against the will of the people, warning that the electorate in Kano State would resist any of such attempts.
Hon. Mohammed Soba stressed the need for inconclusive elections declared by INEC to be resisted if the law states that valid votes from polling units cannot be cancelled. He queried why INEC decided to comply with its guidelines instead of the law on the matter.
Similarly, Hon. Adamu Chika declared that elections cannot be cancelled at collation centres, adding that “whoever is found culpable in the cancellation must be brought to book. We must stop inconclusive elections.”
The leader of the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, said that the issue was not left to the House to decide upon given that the Supreme Court had interpreted the law in previous election cases.
Gbajabiamila advised the House to instead look for ways to amend the Electoral Act with a view to making inconclusive elections irrelevant in the electoral process.
He said: “The debate today centered on the interpretation of the law but unfortunately, since we run a democracy, we are not empowered to interpret the law, but that is what’s done here today.
“While inconclusive elections should be a thing of the past, how do we get there, it’s to get the electoral law amended within weeks.
“The Supreme Court has already ruled on it when INEC used it’s guidelines to declare the 2015 Kogi State gubernatorial election inconclusive by looking at all the processes.
“So, there’s a position already and the only solution is to amend the law and have the Supreme Court change its pronouncement.
“Even on the cancellation of a result, INEC is still empowered according to the Supreme Court, and that’s how Hon. Faleke lost his case.
“My advice is, let us tarry for a while and allow the arm of government that has the authority and power to complete its job. We must take a legislative approach through the amendment to address all the areas of concern,” he said.
Gbajiabiamila carried the day as the House agreed to set up an ad-hoc committee to start the job.
Senate To Discuss Flaws In Polls, Adjourns Debate On Budget
The same issues resonated at the Senate yesterday as the Upper House resolved to identify all the flaws in “our electoral laws” by compiling and comparing the experiences of members during the presidential and governorship elections.
The Senate agreed to use the experiences and consider all the “allegations, irregularities and breaches of the constitution and the electoral law” during the two elections.
According to them, the debate will allow them to identify the causes of the irregularities and come up with solutions including the possible signing of the last amended electoral bill which was not signed by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Adopting a motion sponsored by Senator Dino Melaye (PDP, Kogi West), the Senate hinted that it would be careful during the debate on matters pending in court.
Presenting his motion, Melaye charged the Senate to rise against all forms of irregularities and abuses of the law during the elections.
According to him, all legislative interventions that are required must be done to avert a repeat in future polls.
Melaye told his colleagues that the issue was not political, but one which could curb electoral malpractices in the future.
He said: “What I am raising this morning has nothing to do with political parties. I want to bring before this Senate, the elections both on the 9th and 23rd in this country and I believe that the Senate of shall not close its eyes to the happenings of those elections.
“I want that election to be debated on this floor. I want to bring a motion to be addressed by this Senate in the next legislative day so that the militarisation of the process, the abuses of this election, will not go un-discussed in this parliament for posterity sake,” he added.
Senator Melaye further stated that the motion became imperative “so that solutions can be given and the president can also be properly advised and the Electoral Act Amendment Bill be signed into law as we begin to prepare for future elections.
“This is my prayer. Let it be discussed as a Senate. We will debate and give accounts of what happened in our various senatorial districts with a view to correcting electoral malpractices, he said.
But the few senators who objected to the motion tried and failed to stop the Senate from debating it.
The Senate president Bukola Saraki prevailed on the lawmakers to allow the debate even as he assured that partisanship would not be allowed during the exercise.
He cautioned the senators to always balance their political interests with the national objectives.
Meanwhile, the Senate has adjourned the motion on the debate on the 2019 budget till Tuesday next week.
Though Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume (APC Borno South), moved a motion for the budget to be passed for second reading yesterday in view of time already lost in its consideration, Saraki ruled that the debate should continue and end next Tuesday.
PDP Asks INEC To Declare Abia North Election Inconclusive
But while the agitations for inconclusive elections gained momentum, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), yesterday called on INEC to declare Abia North senatorial election as inconclusive.
Citing the number of cancelled votes as above the winning margin, the party asked INEC to organise a rerun election for the senatorial district. The All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Orji Uzor Kalu, was declared the winner of the poll.
The PDP senatorial candidate, Senator Mao Ohuabunwa, also asked the electoral body not to give the certificate of return to Kalu.
The commission listed Kalu as one of the 100 senators-elect from the February 23 election that would be issued return certificates at a ceremony scheduled for today in Abuja.
However, Senator Ohuabunwa campaign coordinator, Ukpai Ukairo, in two separate petitions to INEC dated February 24 and 25, urged the commission to order for a rerun for Abia North in accordance with Section 33 (e) Rule 17 E (e) of the commission’s guidelines.
He said: “The campaign organisation and indeed the entire good people of Abia North are however at shock over the long silence of INEC on the senatorial election even when there are precedence and evidence to right the wrong here and save the zone from an imminent crisis.
“As law-abiding citizens, we have filed a suit before the Federal High Court, Umuahia, Abia State asking it to restrain INEC from issuing the certificate of return to the APC candidate, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu in the said inconclusive election in Abia North.
“The PDP candidate, Senator Ohuabunwa in the ex-parte motion filed by his lead counsel, Chief Ukpai Ukairo, is asking the court to stop the commission from recognising the APC candidate as duly elected. The organisation had earlier in a petition to the commission insisted that it will amount to double standard for INEC to issue the certificate of return to Kalu despite our petition.
“We are worried about the inability of the commission to make a public pronouncement on the matter. This conspiracy of silence must end now; Abia North cannot be different. INEC has done it before (rerun)in some states and senatorial districts where the number of votes cancelled was higher than the marginal lead,” he said.
According to him, Kalu scored 31,000 votes while Ohuabunwa was alloted 21, 000 votes.
He argued that INEC should order for a rerun since the marginal lead which is about 10,400 votes is far below the cancelled votes of about 38,000.
Ukairo alleged that the returning officer, Dr. Anumudu, did not make any official return for Abia North and wondered why the APC candidate in the inconclusive election is parading himself as senator-elect for Abia North.
“We ask the commission to reverse this illegality as it has done in the case of Orlu senatorial election where the commission removed the name of Governor Rochas Okorocha from the list of senators-elect to be issued certificates of return today. Now that the evidence is overwhelming that the returning officer may have acted in error, it’s important that the commission reverse his action,” he said.