The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is seeking an enhanced autonomy from the federal government to enable it carry out its functions optimally, pointing out that the present powers conferred on it had limitations. There is no doubt that the INEC deserves all the powers it can get to deliver on its mandate. Once the commission is emasculated through a deficient power configuration, such an exposure will culminate in lacunae in its accountabilities.
In other words, its responsibilities are so critical to our political evolution and, by extrapolation, our national survival that nothing should be spared to make it achieve efficiency in the conduct of polls. Over the years there had been agitations that the commission should be really independent not just in name but in its functionality. This point cannot be overemphasised because of its obvious merits. Once the commission is suborned to the executive, its freedom will be manacled. There is absolute need to excise INEC from the apron strings of the executive and allow it to be truly independent in nomenclature and character. This way, the government of the day will be seen by everyone as an impartial arbiter in the country’s democratic processes. This will further boost confidence in our electoral system within and outside these shores.
It has been canvassed that the commission should enjoy the kind of freedom that the judiciary has and be placed on the first-line charge so that there can never, at any point, be fiduciary challenges that will make it to crawl to the executive for reprieve. Such a beggarly disposition will naturally expose it to the whims and caprices of the ruling cabal. Once this kind of fiscal freedom is established through legislation, no arm or agency of government can hold it to ransom anymore. Funding is very critical to its operations and relationships with other segments of governmental administrative chain. Once this susceptibility to operational interference is structurally exterminated, the commission will not have any reason again if it falls below expectation in the discharge of its duties.
The Electoral Act 2006, as amended by the Electoral Act 2011, will have to be reviewed to accommodate the foregoing submissions and other related issues. The country’s president should, of course, still have the authority to appoint the INEC chair subject to other procedural requirements precedent to such appointments. But the right should not be taken as a form of supervisory hammer over the INEC boss. Inasmuch as we support the demand by the INEC for more powers, the commission needs to step up its performance. Going by its current form and all the reservations the public make before, during and after elections, it may be tempting to dismiss this call for greater autonomy.
Apart from the sole elections in Edo and Ondo states, where it performed creditably because of the compactness of the polls, the commission still has a lot of buckling up to do. Once the government extends the commission’s powers, the electorate will not accept any excuses for shoddiness again in terms of the general conduct of elections. Ahead of the additional powers, the INEC must begin to get its act together such that late arrival of electoral materials or officials, connivance with riggers, disappearance of voter cards, late declaration of results and overall logistical inadequacies, especially in the coastal plains, should become history.
On the issue of Diaspora voting, which the INEC is also requesting, we do not subscribe to that on the grounds that we have not yet perfected local conduct of elections. When we get it right at home, Nigerians in the Diaspora can then be factored into our electoral system. For now, let us sort out the domestic front first.