The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is currently facing high hurdles as it prepares for a new round of the general election in 2023.

In the last few months, there has been a wave of attacks targeting INEC offices and facilities across the country. Also, the commission is in a legal battle with some political parties in the country that are protesting their de-registration last year.

The increasing attacks on the commission’s facilities in recent months have become a serious concern for INEC and stakeholders who are of the view that if the situation is not checked it could adversely hamper the performance and ability to conduct a credible and transparent election.

Within the last few months, more than 12 offices of the commission have been attacked in some states across Nigeria with the South East having the most of such cases. This is coming amid the difficult economic condition of the country, of which a huge amount of money may be required to replace the facilities.

The commission has expressed concern and acknowledged the difficult task ahead in the present circumstances. Speaking last week in Abuja at an emergency meeting with state Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs), INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu noted that events in the past months have challenged the Commission and adversely affected its commitment to improving the electoral process.

Yakubu added that attacks on its offices and facilities were unfortunate and had been on the rise since the 2019 general election but have now developed into a crisis.

According to him, “The spate of arson and vandalism targeting the commission’s facilities and property has become profoundly worrisome. Surely, these attacks are no longer freak events but appear to be quite orchestrated and targeted at INEC. Clearly, these are acts of unjustifiable aggression which may undermine the Commission’s capacity to organise elections and dent the nation’s electoral process.

“In the last three weeks or so, three of our local government offices in Essien Udim in Akwa Ibom State, Ohafia in Abia State and Udenu in Enugu State have been set ablaze by unidentified persons. “Last Sunday, 16th May 2021, our state office in Enugu suffered yet another arson and vandalism in which parts of the building were ransacked and several vehicles razed.

“And more of our facilities are being systematically targeted and attacked. Just last night, Tuesday 18th May 2021, two more offices in Ebonyi and Ezza North Local Government Areas of Ebonyi State were burnt down.”

Also some Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have equally raised concern about the situation; they alleged that the attacks were threats to the 2023 election and a conspiracy by some state actors to undermine the electoral process.

However, analysts have also linked the situation to the prevailing security situation in the country and agitations. They expressed fear that it was a clear indication that turbulent time lies ahead for INEC in their bid to conduct a credible election in 2023, if the situation is not checked by the government.

The convener, Coalition in Defence of Nigerian Democracy and Constitution, Ariyo Dare-Atoye, however, expressed worry over government’s refusal to address the situation and bring perpetrators to book.

He said it would be difficult to absolve the state due to the government’s unwillingness to deploy basic intelligence to unravel the root cause of the attacks and arrest the arsonists attacking INEC facilities.

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“There is a grand conspiracy to undermine the 2023 general election either by some devious elements plotting to extend the stay of the current regime beyond 2023 or by some terrible agents of secessionists trying to make a statement or by those who want to occupy the South-East and undermine the zone, thinking the Biafra war is still on,” he said.

Another hurdle INEC must overcome is the legal battles with some political parties that were deregistered last year. In the last few months, major actors in these parties have been grumbling, threatening that they would not accept their fate

Recall that the commission had said it proscribed the 74 political platforms from participating in elections in the country following their lack of acceptability by the electorate during the 2019 general election.

The commission’s decision did not go down well with the deregistered parties; one of them, the United Progressive Party (UPP), led by Chekwas Okorie, however, quickly folded its group and fused into the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).

But some of the parties, about 22 out of the 74 de-registered parties, approached the court, pointing out that INEC did not follow the laid down procedures in deregistering them. About three months to the last Edo State governorship poll, precisely on August 10, 2020, the Court of Appeal upheld the argument of the 22, saying that INEC erred in law by proscribing the parties.

Similarly, one of the parties, the National Unity Party (NUP), filed a separate suit challenging INEC powers to delist parties. Although it lost at the High Court and Court of Appeal, it however, took the matter to the Supreme Court where it also lost recently.

However, despite the Supreme Court Verdict on the NUP case, the other 22 parties have vowed to continue with their struggle and push their case at the apex Court, they are of the view that proper procedure was not followed before they were deregistered by INEC.

They said their victory by the Court of Appeal which set aside the decision of INEC to deregister them was an indication that they have a case.

The Court of Appeal had ruled that the commission infringed on the constitutional rights of the affected citizen to freely associate in their decision.

Stakeholders have expressed divergent views on the decision by INEC, with some supporting and others opposing the commission action.

They are of the view that INEC acted against the constitution which guarantees freedom of association to Nigerians and that there had been a Supreme Court decision which voided INEC powers to deregulate parties in the suit instituted by the National Conscience party and INEC.

“Personally, I have watched this scenario with keen interest, but for some of us, I mean Nigerians have the right to association in the constitution, I am not sure if the constitution would surpass the electoral Act in this case.

“But I can tell you that also that there was a Supreme Court judgment against INEC in this similar case involving them with the defunct National Conscience Party and INEC lost. I think it is in 2003. So, we just need to be careful so that we would not throw the system into chaos,” Sylvester Odion Akhaine, professor of Political Science, said.

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However, a former national publicity secretary of Action Democratic Party (ADP), Adeoye Adelaja who spoke in an interview with BusinessDaySunday, said though there may be lapses in the process that led to the parties’ deregistration, several of them do not meet the requirement to be called political party.

According to him, “The constitution of Nigeria guarantees freedom of association by individuals and groups of people, which also gives the right to vote and be voted for through a registered political party. And this is what informed the registration of political parties; however, there are so many political parties that are not in existence to provide a credible alternative to the big parties such as PDP and the APC.

“These parties have turned out to create more problems for our elections, by making it cumbersome; in fact some of them are in existence for political business transactions such as endorsement of candidates, helping parties to sue through proxy, and all other shady things.

“Apart from making our ballot papers longer and messy on election day, so many of them don’t have business being in existence, because they are not meeting the criteria and requirements for setting up political parties. I remember when I was still the National Publicity Secretary of the Action Democratic Party (ADP), we did a re-verification, where INEC came to physically inspect our book, to ensure our National Excos were in place, at least 2/3 of our State Chapters are in existence and that we are not just a party on the pages of newspapers or portfolio political party.

“A lot of these deregistered parties didn’t meet these criteria, and they were grossly exposed as what they are, and the reality of today is that only PDP and APC are the functional political parties. So, INEC is right to have scaled the parties from about 75 to 18 parties. Our democracy is evolving, this does not mean that we can’t have more parties as time goes on, the parties must be functional.

Speaking in an interview with BusinessDaySunday, Tade Ademola, former Lagos State chairman of the Inter-Party Advisory Council of Nigeria (IPAC), and also the state chairman of one of the delisted political parties, however, said it was wrong to believe political parties should be registered solely for winning elections.

“There is no place in the world where political parties must win elections. Political parties are formed to represent the interests of a section of the people you registered with 6 months before the election and expect us to do miracles.

“The Appeal Court judgment did not in any way try to take away the power of INEC to regulate and deregister parties if needed. But the appeal court says that INEC, like a responsible agency, should follow due procedures in dispensing their work,” Ademola said.

Another major challenge is the foot-dragging by the National Assembly in the amendment of the Electoral Act, which observers have noted may negatively affect INEC’s preparations.

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