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INEC Chairman Calls for Reforms in Local Government Elections

Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), has raised concerns about the conduct of local government elections in Nigeria, describing them as mere coronations of ruling party candidates. He has called for significant reforms to ensure fair and credible elections.

Speaking on Wednesday during a courtesy visit by the Executive members of the Forum of State Independent Electoral Commissions (FOSIECOM), Yakubu criticized state governors for not allowing State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs) to operate independently. He noted that many SIECs lack functional offices, permanent staff, and the security of tenure necessary to conduct free and fair elections.

“Realising our shared responsibility for the conduct of democratic elections in Nigeria and the challenges faced by SIECs in carrying out their mandates, INEC encouraged the establishment of FOSIECOM in a genuine effort to foster partnership for credible elections in Nigeria. Unfortunately, the conduct of local government elections in virtually all the states of the federation has become mere coronation of candidates of the ruling parties. It is time to stop the coronation and conduct proper elections,” Yakubu said.

He highlighted that many SIECs are constituted shortly before elections and dissolved immediately afterward, with critical functions often taken over by government officials. He also pointed out the severe underfunding of SIECs, which forces them to rely on INEC for basic election materials, leading to public confusion between SIECs and INEC.

“In some states, the SIECs are either not properly constituted, have no security of tenure, or their critical functions have been taken over by government officials. Some SIECs are only constituted on the eve of elections and dissolved thereafter. They are also severely under-resourced to the extent that some of them rely on INEC even for basic facilities such as ballot boxes and voting cubicles,” Yakubu stated.

He emphasized that INEC’s support for SIECs would now be largely restricted to providing the voters’ register, as mandated by the Constitution, given INEC’s extensive responsibilities and limited federal budget.

“INEC cannot shoulder its extensive responsibilities and at the same time extend almost limitless support to other independent electoral commissions for elections outside our mandate across the country from our lean federal budget,” he added.

Yakubu clarified the jurisdictional boundaries between INEC and SIECs, noting that while INEC is responsible for elections in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), SIECs manage elections for 768 local government chairmen and 8,747 councillors across the country. He pointed to the FCT elections conducted by INEC as a model for local government elections nationwide, highlighting improvements such as secure tenures for elected officials, regular elections, and diverse electoral outcomes.

“Despite the challenges encountered, there has been a progressive improvement in the conduct of the Area Council elections in the FCT. There is security of tenure for chairmen and councillors, which is now four years. There are no caretaker committees as elections are held regularly. There is plurality in electoral outcomes as no single party has ever won elections in all the constituencies in the Area Councils,” he noted.

The INEC Chairman called on FOSIECOM to address the legal and financial challenges hindering their operations and to courageously protect the integrity and credibility of elections. He stressed that true independence stems not only from statutory or financial provisions but also from the commitment to uphold democratic principles.

“I, therefore, appeal to FOSIECOM to take the bull by the horns. While there are legal and financial constraints to your operations, your independence does not necessarily draw from statutory or financial provisions alone. The courage with which you discharge your obligation to protect the integrity and credibility of elections is the most important determinant of success,” he concluded.

On May 13, 2024, a former member of the House of Representatives called for the transfer of the conduct of local government elections from State Electoral Commissions to INEC, arguing that this would minimize manipulation of the process by governors.

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