The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has noted that it lacked power to arrest and investigate electoral offenders under the legal instruments that created it, saying it “is the weakest electoral body in the world.”
INEC Director, Voter Education and Publicity, Mr. Oluwole Osaze-Uzzi made the remarks at the 11th Wole Soyinka Centre Media Lecture Series held at MUSON Centre, Lagos Island on Saturday.
Osaze-Uzzi, one of the discussants at the lecture, said the powers of the INEC under the 1999 Constitution and 2010 Electoral Act (As Amended) was limited to the conduct of elections.
He said: “Even though INEC has the powers to conduct elections, it lacks the powers to sanction or disqualify erring candidates. Aside, it lacks power to determine the number of political parties the country should have.
“If the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) realises a person or an organisation under its watch violates any provision of the Act that established it, it has the powers to sanction such person or organisation.”
In its case, however, Osaze-Uzzi noted that INEC “does not have such powers under the legal regimes that established it. The law does not empower it to stop candidates from contesting elections. It is the weakest electoral body in the world.”
Besides, the INEC director said the commission “does not have the powers to arrest or investigate any erring candidate or an electoral offender. It relies on the security agencies to arrest and then investigate before it can come in to prosecute.
“INEC also is not in charge of security during elections. In the 2019 general election alone, there were at least 820 cases of who is the rightful candidate for political parties.”
He said the act of giving or taking bribes in exchange for votes “should not be called vote buying or selling, as the words legitimises the act. In the electoral act, it is called voter inducement, which is referred to as an act of corruption.
In an ideal situation, according to him, both the buyer and seller should be arrested, investigated and prosecuted in a court of competent jurisdiction.
Osaze-Uzzi, therefore, suggested that the federal government should establish Electoral Offences Commission to empower the INEC to decisively deal with cases of electoral offenses.
He equally cited the acute dearth of staff members as a major constraint to the INEC, noting that the commission currently “has 16,000 trained staff. But the commission requires at least one million staff member during the election.
“If we do not use volunteers and youth corps members, where then do we see a pool of trained professionals for election conduct? The INEC chairman is not on the field. It is this pool of persons that are in the field conducting the elections.
“Citizens have roles to play in a free, fair and credible election. The INEC should not be blamed for the few hiccups experienced during the last elections. When we try to put stringent measures in place for registration of political parties, the people go to court.
“Then we are told we do not have the powers to stop groups from registering as political parties. It is easier to register a political party in Nigeria than register a business,” he said.