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Tuesday, 3 November 2015

INEC and Kogi/Bayelsa guber polls

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With President Muhammadu Buhari’s appointment of a substantive chairman and five national commissioners for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the legal hindrances to the November 21 and December 5 gubernatorial polls in Kogi and Bayelsa states, respectively, have now been cleared. There is no longer any cogent reason to put the polls on hold as earlier speculated in some quarters.

Prior to the appointment of Professor Mahmood Yakubu as the new INEC chairman and the naming of Amina Bala Zakari (North-west); Prince Solomon Adedeji Soyebi (South-west); Dr. Mohammed Mustapha Lecky (South-south); Dr. Tayo Okoosi-Simbile (North-central) and Alhaji Baba Shettima Arfo (North-east), as national commissioners, there had been fears that the gubernatorial polls in the two states would not hold because of the absence of a substantive chair for INEC and the depletion in the ranks of its national commissioners, on account of retirement.
The Governor of Sokoto State, Alhaji Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, who briefed journalists at the end of the recent National Council of State meeting in Abuja, explained that the appointments follow the provisions of Sections 154 (1) (3) and 156 (3) of the Constitution of Nigeria which confers on the president the powers to appoint a chairman and national commissioners of INEC in consultation with the Council of State.
Before this, many notable legal practitioners had drawn public attention to the likelihood of a constitutional crisis if a substantive chairman and new national commissioners are not appointed before the Kogi and Bayelsa gubernatorial polls. The lawyers had sternly warned that the results of the elections may be nullified by the courts if the situation was not remedied.
Notable constitutional lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, had in particular argued that INEC, with only two national commissioners, lacked powers to fix dates for gubernatorial polls in Kogi, Bayelsa and other states where Election Petition Tribunals ordered the conduct of fresh polls.
He had insisted that the membership of the commission fell below the minimum legal requirement for it to function.
Now that INEC has been validly constituted, as required in Section 159 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended), all is set for the Bayelsa polls to hold as scheduled.
We commend President Buhari for averting a crisis with these appointments. Now that the INEC team is in place, we urge the agency to fine-tune its plans for the polls. Good enough, the political parties concerned have conducted their primaries and the contestants are already known. A lot of preparations have already been made for the elections and it is important that INEC gets its acts together. It should make arrangements for a foolproof exercise to ensure a credible outcome.
Coming on the heels of the 2015 general elections, Nigerians expect a better outing from INEC on Kogi and Bayelsa polls. Incidentally, the two polls are holding on different dates, so the agency can concentrate its efforts to achieve a good outcome.
The impression should not be created that INEC is not ready for the polls. The political parties should also not give any room for postponements. They should rein in their members to ensure that they do not do anything that can cast a slur on the elections.
We also advise the security agencies to be neutral and abide by the codes of their engagement. They must be civil at all times and do all that they can to ensure the smooth conduct of the elections.
INEC should ensure that the elections are conducted as stipulated in the laws of the land. All electoral materials should be available at the polling booths and the rules and regulations guiding the polls strictly adhered to. Above all, the polls must be free and fair.

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