In his first comments on the recently concluded presidential elections in the country, the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Attahiru Jega has revealed that a presidential run-off would have led to a crisis in the country while stating that there are so many gaps in the amended Electoral Act.
Speaking at a session with the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room in Abuja, Jega explained that the Electoral Law needed to be altered as it provides for only seven days after the first election to hold a run-off, urging the next national assembly to review the act before the next elections.
Jega explained that there was no way that INEC could have successfully conducted a run-off election within seven days as provided for in both the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act disclosing that he was happy when the March 28 presidential poll produced a clear winner.
“I heaved a heavy sigh of relief when the election did not result to a run-off. That would have occasioned a big constitutional crisis. This is in view of the fact that the 1999 Constitution only made provision for seven days for such poll. You and I know that there was no way we would have been able to conduct a run-off within seven days,” he said.
“This is why I emphasise that amendments to the electoral laws should be done in good time. We could have further sanitised the electoral process if we had got some of the amendments we required in the Electoral Act.”
He explained, “In future reforms to electoral legal framework this issue has to be looked at carefully. It’s a delicate balance: you have to balance whether you will give the chairman of INEC or the INEC at the headquarters a lot of powers which may be abused or whether you will want to localise the powers which may also be abused. So, it’s a tricky balance and the balance has to be struck.”
“Clearly, from our experience in 2007, a lot of the powers were removed from the INEC national officers and localised to the Returning Officers. And now, we are seeing the challenges and some abuses in some respects. So, in future, as we review the Electoral Act, we may have to look at how to have some balance in this regard.
“Sometimes, when we hear something and a mistake is likely to be made, we can intervene and advise the Returning Officer about the right thing to do. Sometimes some of the Returning Officers, if they are confused and do not understand what they are supposed to do, they can call us directly and seek for clarification. There are a few cases a Returning Officer may just go ahead and do his own thing either based on lack of understanding or because of some partisan considerations.
“There are many Returning Officers for example in some states where they disappeared with the result sheets. And we have got information about these people and we are going to follow it up in terms of not only reporting them to their institutions but also prosecuting them appropriately for the offences they committed,” he said.