The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has given reasons it refused to cancel the results of the just concluded governorship elections in Bayelsa and Kogi States.
INEC’s National Commissioner of Information and Voter Education, Mr Festus Okoye, explained that the Commission failed to void results of the just concluded governorship elections because no law in Nigeria empowered it to cancel an election.
Okoye made the disclosure during an interactive session with the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room organized in Abuja, on Wednesday, aimed at reviewing some lapses observed in the just concluded November 16 elections.
He stated that Section 26 of the Electoral Act only gave INEC the power to postpone an impending election and not cancel an already conducted poll.
The INEC Commissioner insisted that the Commission was helpless, despite several protests it received for election results from the two states to be canceled.
He said: “My understanding of the whole issue, especially on Electoral reform is that electoral designs alone will never and can never solve the problem or our electoral challenges unless we have a concomitant will. Unless the elites in this country believe in our democracy and the democratic system, even if we amend our laws 100 times it will not solve our problem.
“The second issue is that those of us who are in INEC and CSOs have a responsibility to understand the processes and procedures of the Commission and how it functions and some of the powers donated to the Commission, the limitations of those powers and how they can be exercised and how they cannot be exercised.
“I say this because, on the issue of cancellation and whether INEC could have cancelled the elections, my own understanding of the rules of interpretation is that when the intention of the legislature is very clear, you give a particular provision its ordinary meaning. You can’t give any other meaning into the provisions of the law if the intentions of the lawmakers are very clear.
“I believe that the intentions of the lawmakers can be deduced from the clear wording of section 26 of the Electoral Act. It gives the Commission the power to postpone, not cancel an election before the election starts.
“It says that where a date has been appointed for the holding of an election and there is reason to believe that there is a serious breach of peace is likely to occur if the election proceeds on that day or that it is impossible to conduct the election as a result of natural disaster or other emergencies, the Commission may postpone the election and in respect of the area or areas concerned, appoint another day for the holding of the election provided that such reason for the postponement is cogent and verifiable.
“There is no provision of the law that gives the Commission the power to cancel. The law gave the commission the power to postpone an election and then go back if the conditions have improved. “My second point is that if you look at the decisions of the Supreme Court in relation to our processes and procedures, it states clearly that the moment a presiding officer has announced the results from a polling unit, the Chairman of INEC does not have the power to cancel the result from the particular unit. In other words, each polling unit is sovereign in its own right. So the fact that there is a problem in one polling unit does not concomitantly mean that there is a problem in another polling unit. The moment a presiding officer has announced, there is nothing we can do about it.
“The other point is that this commission has attempted to be the driver of this process, in two senatorial zones in Imo state, in one Federal Constituency in Benue in two-state constituencies in Niger and Akwa Ibom, we made a point that the returning officers for those constituencies announced results under conditions that were cloudy and we decided to withhold the Certificate of Return for those constituencies.
“They simply went to court and the court said look the moment a Returning Officer has made a return, only a court of law can reverse whatever was done. “The third point relates to the whole issue of section 177 of the Constitution. Just before the elections, the political parties were asked to submit names and list of their candidates. About seven of them submitted under-aged candidates and we said that those nominations were invalid and we would not take it because we believe that we are the regulatory agency and that since the Constitution said that only a Nigerian by birth can contest governorship election, that it would be irresponsible for the Commission to sit back and then a Chinese national will be nominated to contest governorship election and in the affidavit the person said I am from China, or somebody is nominated and the person said I am five years old and there is an affidavit backing it.
“So we wrote to those parties that their nominations were invalid. They went to court and the court said no, that before we can even remove the name of an under-aged candidate, or before we can remove the name of a Chinese if the person has been nominated, that we must, first of all, come to court to get permission.”