By Olanrewaju Ajao President Muhammadu Buhari has called for the prosecution of electoral offenders by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
President Buhari said this on Monday, during the swearing-in ceremony of the new Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu and five National Commissioners of INEC in the State House Council Chambers.
“Another area of concern is the justice administration of the Electoral Tribunals. It is long overdue that our justice system addresses these shortcomings. It is not just enough for an election to be cancelled and a new one ordered.
“It would be much better if all whose actions or inaction that led to the cancellation of such election are to be investigated and if culpable prosecuted, whether they are individuals as candidates or party agents, Institutions such as political party, electoral body, or public officers as electoral staff or security agents.
“Similarly, perpetrators of electoral violence and thuggery should not be spared. Unless our system stops covering up all forms of electoral malpractices we can hardly get it right. No system endures with impunity.”
The President also promised to respect the independence INEC in fulfillment of his campaign promise.
He added that his government would not by any means interfere with its operations.
The President continued: “In the conduct of elections we promised to respect the independence of our electoral body, INEC. We promised non-interference in its activities and above all we promised to encourage them to conduct transparently free and fair elections. I hereby pledge to keep that promise.”
He therefore urged the Commission not to allow itself to be unduly influenced or subjected to the control of extraneous forces.
“You must respect the law and we will hold you bound by the oath which you have just taken. The nation has reposed a lot of trust and confidence in you. You cannot afford to fail,” he charged the new officials.
The President also frowned against State Electoral Bodies that hide under the cover of legal technicalities to deny citizens their rights, vowing that the Federal Government would protect the citizens at all times.
“I am aware of the Federal Government’s constitutional constraints in its engagement with the State’s Electoral Bodies. But the government has a social responsibility to protect the democratic rights of all.
“I am of the view that it is totally unacceptable to hide under the cover of the technicality of law to deny the citizens’ rights,” he stated.
To that extent, he said that the Federal Government was considering a different strategy of engagement with State Electoral Bodies to make them come to sync with INEC with regard to credibility and acceptability to Nigerians.
Buhari noted an unfortunate trend in almost all the States, whereby the party of the sitting government would win all the Council Elections.
He said: “While there is nothing wrong with that if it is the true wish of the people, but majority of Nigerians more often than not think it is not, hence have little respect for the outcome of our council elections. This is responsible for questioning the integrity of such election winners throughout their tenure.”
“Needless to add that the APC is not limited to the control of Federal Government alone. There are many states that are APC controlled; I expect them to do no less in the way they handle their various States’ Electoral Commissions.
“All of us, and this includes other political parties have a responsibility to safe-guard the sanctity of democratic values; and the foundation of such values are free association, transparent electoral process and free and fair elections.”
He also stated that the change promised Nigerians by the All Progressives Congress (APC) government should be all embracing in electioneering in the country.
“It starts from change of attitudes, change of work ethics, change in attitude to corruption and corrupt practices, change of party political conduct-right from primaries to the emergence of candidates and finally the conduct of elections, he declared.
Buhari thanked the Press, the Social Media, various Local and International Monitoring Groups, International Community, particularly the Donor Agencies for the support to Nigeria’s electoral management and operation, expressing optimism that such cooperation would continue,
Responding address on behalf of INEC, Prof. Yakubu pledged the commitment of the commission to discharge its responsibilities without fear or favour.
“We shall not fail the nation.” He declared.
Speaking with State House Correspondents after the ceremony, he added: “The constitution and also the electoral Act are very clear. These are the two documents that will guide the operations of INEC under my chairmanship and we will not waver.
On what he is bringing on board, he said: “Well, we have achieved universal accolades for the successes recorded in the 2015 general elections. I think it is prudent that we are going to consolidate on these elections so that what counts ultimately is the will of the Nigerian people.
“Whoever Nigerians vote for, they should be rest assured that their votes count. And those they vote for will be their representatives at all levels.
He also said his commission would sustain the use of card readers: “In fact if there is any value that technology is going to add in addition to the card readers, we will happily introduce that.
“As I said at the screening at the Senate, no more will elections be won and lost at the headquarters of INEC. Whoever wishes to represent Nigerians at whatever level, he or she has access to the ballot box and whatever Nigerians chose is what INEC will uphold.”
According to him, the forthcoming Kogi and Bayelsa states governorship elections would be strictly conducted in line with the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act.
The elections, he said, would be free, fair and credible like the 2015 elections.
He said: “It is about doing the right thing that the Constitution and the electoral Act enshrine. So, yes there will be elections in Kogi on the 31st on this month and election on 5th December, as far as INEC is concerned, they are routine matters, governed by the constitution and the law.
“It is not like we going to do anything new that Nigerians don’t know. The goal post is not going to shift; Nigerians will know that the elections will be credible as the 2015 general elections were adjourned as credible.
“The card reader will be deployed and the PVC will also be deployed and thereafter, if there is any value technology can add, we are going to also explore it.” He stated
The Commissioners who took oaths of office on Monday were Mrs. Amina Zakari, Mr. Solomon Adedeji Soyebi, Prof. Antonia Taiye Okoosi-Simbine, Dr. Muhammed Mustafa Lecky and Alhaji Baba Shettima Arfo.
Dignitaries in attendance included Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Senate President, Bukola Saraki and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara.