A senior advocate, Chief Emeka Ngige, bares his mind in this interview with KUNLE OLASANMI, on electoral issues and expressed confidence in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct credible elections in 2019.
There has been controversy over the new amendments to the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) by the National Assembly, but how would you assess the Electoral Laws as a whole?
A lot of things are still not right. For instance, there was an amendment which President Goodluck Jonathan signed into law, two days into the last presidential election in 2015 and here we are, as lawyers to some of the petitioners at the election petition tribunal, we did not know that there was such an amendment to the Electoral Act. We did not see the gazette. It was after we had concluded the litigation that we now saw that indeed former President Jonathan signed into law amendment to the Electoral Act, which even, permitted INEC to decide the manner of conducting election, whether by use of card reader or electronic device. But by then, the Supreme Court had already ruled that the use of card reader is not known to law. But the Justices of the Supreme Court did not even know about the amendment. So, I agree with INEC that the legislature should be very tidy, if they want to do the amendment. At least, let us have clear nine months to implement that law. Otherwise, if we amend the law over night, and if there are litigation, the lawyers and judges will be in the dark.
From the preparations so far made, do you think the INEC will improve on the sucesses recorded at the last general election in 2019?
There is nothing that makes me to feel otherwise. We believe that, if INEC had done it right in Anambra state and that if after the election, none of the serious political parties went to election tribunal, they can repeat that feat in 2019.
It is only some individuals that got 30 and 45 votes that went to tribunal. Those who came second and third did not go to tribunal. That shows you that, if we can conduct free and fair election, Nigerians will not go to court. Nigerians are good losers. Once you conduct an election that is neither free nor fair, that is where you see litigations. I believe INEC should be encouraged because what they did in Anambra was substantially free and fair. But there are rooms for improvement in the sense that on the use of ad-hoc staff they should ensure that the ad-hoc staff they deploy for election are people of integrity. They should not be using the same ad-hoc staff consistently in the same area. For instance, the adhoc staff they used in university of Calabar in 2013 were the same staff they brought in 2017. I don’t think that it was right. They should have gone to another university, even, if it university of Uyo or university of Benin. Get the adhoc staff there and let them come. But all the same they did well. There are still rooms for improvement in the conduct of election, particularly as it regards the law. There are still some grey areas about the issue of law on substantial compliance. The argument on the issue of substantial compliance has been very controversial. It should be stated clearly in the laws whether substantial compliance means, if the entire election is affected by irregularities, the votes should be voided. I think the amendment should go deeper into improving the conduct of elections in the country.
Recently, President Mohammadu Buhari once again commended former President Goodluck Jonathan for conceding defeat in the 2015 election, how would you react to this?
It is a bold statement, given commendation once again to former President Jonathan for the spirit of sportsmanship. He is advising other politicians in the country to change their attitude to election results. So, what the President said is well taken and I pray politicians will adhere to his admonition.
What’s your take on the proceedures for party registration
Yes, it okay! INEC is reacting to Supreme Court decision. INEC wanted to streamline the procedure for registration of political parties. Late Chief Gani Fawehinmi and Balarabe Musa went to Supreme Court and got the court to pronounce that once you meet up with the requirement in the constitution, it should be recognized. The 1999 Constitution is so liberal that anyone in a suit case can register a political party once you have an office in the Federal Capital Territory. Whereas, INEC proposed that you should have an office in atleast, two thirds of the state of the Federation. But the Supreme Court struck it down. This is the right time to include that provision that for you to register a political party, you must have an office in at least two third of the states of the Federation. But as it is now, any NGO can transform into a political party; any brief case company can transform into a political party. So, you won’t blame INEC for registering them, they are complying with Supreme Court judgement.