Panelists at a roundtable on the 2023 general elections in Nigeria have raised concerns over the ability of the Independent National Electoral Commission to conduct a credible election because of what they described as its “lack of entrenched due process in decision-making”.
They warned that except the weakness was cured and due processes entrenched in the regulation of elections, INEC would likely not deliver free and fair elections.
The roundtable organised by the Abuja School of Political and Social Thought had as its theme, ‘Ensuring fair and effective decision-making by INEC on the 2023 general elections’ and ‘Improving the prospect of free and fair election in 2023 by engendering due process in election management’ as lead paper.
The programme was organised to examine the administrative resources and structures available to INEC and enable it to effectively and fairly make decisions that could guarantee credible, free and fair elections in the 2023 election.
The chairman and Director of ASSPT, Dr. Sam Amadi, in his lead paper, called on INEC to strengthen its administrative due process and enforcement of new electoral laws ahead of 2023 general elections.
“With the positive changes to the electoral process introduced by the new electoral law, the most potent danger to free and fair elections in 2023 is the capacity of INEC to make fair and just decisions”, he said.
According to him, the objective of the July roundtable was to develop a reliable and trustworthy administrative adjudicatory system that supports INEC effective exercise of its legislative mandate.
He said, “What remains underdeveloped is the decision-making process of the electoral management body. Although the new electoral law has improved the efficacy of the regulatory powers of the commission, there is poor procedural safeguard in the management of elections.
“The absence of entrenched due process in the regulation of elections in Nigeria is the biggest challenge to credible, free, and fair elections in 2023.
“Therefore, ensuring regulatory due process in INEC is the most critical support to credible, free, and fair elections in 2023.”
He said that INEC had deepened the use of technology including the use of Biometric Voter Identification System to accredit voters and the electronic transmission of results, which strengthened faith in the electoral process.
Amadi, a former chairman of Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission, however, said that the history of INEC’s administrative lapses and periodic biases and misjudgments did not give confidence that INEC could become a fair and effective regulator of credible elections, except it was supported with critical regulatory resources.
He cited a situation where INEC decided to extend the deadline for parties to conduct their primaries on the eve of the primaries of one of the political parties and gave the All Progressives Congress an advantage of extra weeks to plan its convention.
“The public has no basis to believe in the neutrality, impartiality, and independence of the commission in its decision-making process if there is no established process of decision-making that is open and transparent. This becomes more troubling in the context of 2023 general elections that would be extremely contentious.”
Amadi said that INEC did not realize that it had violated regulatory due process by the manner it made the decision.
He said, “Our overall commitment is to support INEC to become a truly independent and impartial regulator of elections in Nigeria and by so doing, enable the further democratization of the Nigeria politics. We believe that from the recent interventions of INEC, the weakest chain in the electoral value-chains in Nigeria today is administrative due process in INEC’s decision-making.
“Except this weakness is cured, INEC will likely not deliver free and fair elections. The Abuja School wants to improve INEC’s decision-making earlier before voting by helping to institutionalize due process regulation in the commission.”
The President, Public Interest Lawyers League, Abdul Muhamud, advised INEC, like every public institution, to be guided by the principles of ‘lawfulness’, ‘rationality’, and ‘governmentality’ and to make a fair decisions on electoral matters.
“Whatever decision you make should be consistent with the law creating the agency, on whose behalf you act, must be consistent with the law granted to you by law”, he said.
Muhamud also advised INEC and other administrative decisions makers to always understand other principles such as the basis and limits of power, administrative procedures, know the facts as well as evaluation and application of evidence.
Others, according to him, included the principles of precedence, administrative law, impartiality and the rules against bias.
“Administrative decision-makers must act impartially and fairly; and must strive to recuse themselves from the decision-making process in which they have a conflict of interest – potential or actual”, he advised.