The impartiality and commitment of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC to conduct free, fair and credible general elections in 2023 is being called to question. “We sincerely doubt if INEC is committed to deepening democracy and development in Nigeria, Osazee Imuentinyen told cross fire”.
Imuentinyen’s grouse with INEC is its non committal attitude to live up to its responsibilities and constitutional duties. Apart from the body language of INEC which he says dances to the tune of the Federal government, the Benin based legal practitioner and human rights activist noted that he cannot understand why the electoral body has refused to conduct several bye-elections across the country.
“To keep several senatorial districts and federal constituency unrepresented is to deprive the people of a voice in national issues. It also affects them by losing out in developments as there will be no one to speak up for them” he said. The human rights lawyer is referring to the vacant three senatorial districts in Nassarawa State, Bornu State and Zamfara State. This is in addition to the one vacant federal constituency in Edo State.
Following the National Convention of All Progressives Congress, APC on March 26th, 2022 Abdullahi Adamu representing Nassarawa West Senatorial District was elected Chairman while Abubakar Kyari emerged as Deputy Chairman (North). Whereas Senator Muhammad Hassan Nasiha of Zamfara Central was named Deputy Governor of Zamfara State after the impeachment of Mahdi Aliyu Gusau.
Senator Adamu and Kyari resigned from the Senate on April 12th 2022 and their letters of resignation were brought to the attention of the Senate during a public sitting by the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan. And Senator Nasiha resigned on March 1st 2022 immediately after he was named as Deputy Governor.
Hon. Ise – Idehen representing Egor/Ikpoba – Okha Federal Constituency in Edo State unfortunately died on July 2nd, 2022. With these vacancies and some others in some state assemblies, INEC is expected to conduct elections to fill the various vacancies within 90 days from the date the vacancy occurred.
In an interview in Punch Newspapers, Mike Ozekhome, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN said, “it is inexcusable, egregious and politically unwise. Senators are direct representatives of the people, hence three Senatorial Zones are created per state by the constitution. There are 109 Senators in Nigeria. Aside effective representation of their people, Senators (and House of Representatives Members) also play crucial oversight roles in accordance with Section 88 and 89 of the 1999 Constitution.”
According to Ozekhome, “they are important in attracting constituency projects to their constituents and also stabilizing their political parties in terms of voting members, whether in achieving one – third or two – third majority votes”.
However, some analysts have argued that the preparation for the 2023 general elections may be responsible for the lukewarm attitude of INEC in conducting bye-elections to fill the various vacancies. According to Idayat Hassan, Director of Centre for Democracy and Development, CDD, “the issues of representation is important but no doubt the forthcoming 2023 elections have preoccupied the attention of INEC”.
Using the preparation for 2023 general election as an excuse is hog wash according to Anthony Johnson, a lawyer based in Lagos. “INEC has a constitutional responsibility to conduct elections and that responsibility is not limited to general elections alone. It is democratically fatal to deprive the people of representation in whatever form”.
He advised INEC that if it must be taken seriously, it should conduct bye-elections immediately to fill the various vacancies, except it has something to hide”. But will INEC heed the call? Time will tell.