Even though the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is a regulatory body, the agency has disclosed that its powers are actually weak.

The commission's Director of Voter Education and Publicity, Oluwole Osaze-Uzzi, said this at the 11th Wole Soyinka Centre Media Lecture Series which held in Lagos on Saturday, July 13, 2019.

The event, themed 'Rethinking credible elections, accountable democracy and good governance in Nigeria', was in commemoration of the 85th birthday of Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka.

Osaze-Uzzi said improving the electoral process in Nigeria will have to go beyond looking to INEC for all the answers. According to him, many relevant stakeholders - political parties, all arms of government, security agencies and Nigerians themselves - have important roles to play.

Oluwole Osaze-Uzzi [Sahara Reporters]
Oluwole Osaze-Uzzi [Sahara Reporters]

He complained, for example, that INEC's powers are incredibly limited in punishing electoral malpractices committed by parties, politicians and organisations that participate in the electoral process.

He said, "INEC is an election management body and also a regulatory body. By the way, it's the weakest regulatory body in the world today. 

"People say, 'Why doesn't INEC sanction people found guilty of violence or sponsoring electoral malpractices? Why doesn't INEC sanction them or disqualify them?' I'm sorry, INEC has no such powers.

"If you're dissatisfied, the good thing about democracy is that you can challenge that in a court of law; but INEC cannot stop an erring candidate or party from doing wrong things. 

"Campaigns are not supposed to start till 90 days to the elections, but two months, six months to the election you see billboards, posters and people campaigning. It's outlawed by the constitution. 

"Section 221 says there should be no campaigns by any association other than the political party, but it doesn't empower INEC to disqualify or sanction anybody."

Osaze-Uzzi further advised that when Nigerians talk about improving the electoral process, the roles, responsibilities and powers given to institutions must be examined.

He noted that INEC's reliance on other institutions to conduct elections means that there are peculiar problems that it cannot accept responsibility for.

For example, he said the dysfunctional internal democracy of political parties hampered INEC's operations during the 2019 general elections. 

"What is the impact of politicians and the desperation of the political class? What do they do? Out of the primary election, there are over 820-something cases (in court) contesting who's the rightful candidate of the party," he said.

Osaze-Uzzi cautioned that even though INEC is the leading agency responsible for how smoothly Nigeria's electoral process runs, the commission should not be blamed for everything that goes wrong.

INEC complains about number of parties

Osaze-Uzzi also lamented that the electoral commission doesn't have much of a say in how parties are registered and contest in elections in the country.

He complained that, with the current system, Nigeria could end up with thousands of political parties by 2023.

He said, "There were 91 parties that took part in the (2019) elections. There's a 92nd party registered as a result of a court order, and there'll be more.

"Are we satisfied? Should there be more parties? There are two sides to that.

"Republic of Benin, Niger, Chad have more parties than Nigeria. India has thousands of parties, but they have regional and national parties. 

"So in making solutions, people say open up the democratic space, they forget that when INEC tries to make the conditions for registration more stringent, we're taken to court and the Supreme Court says, 'No, you cannot do that, it's not in the constitution'.

"What do we ask for? That parties should have offices in 24 states, that's all. But they say it's not in the constitution. 

"If people knew how easy it was to register parties, we'll have thousands of parties before 2023. It's easier to register a party than a limited liability company, for example."

Rotimi Sankore says party registration should not be restricted [Twitter/@WSoyinkaCentre]
Rotimi Sankore says party registration should not be restricted [Twitter/@WSoyinkaCentre]

While speaking later during the event, Rotimi Sankore, the editorial board chair of Nigeria Info Group, said party registration should not be restricted as it'll only further empower the old political class.

"Nigeria doesn't have too many parties. If you look globally, our neighbouring countries have more parties than us. 

"Maybe, Nigeria, to run a presidential candidate, maybe your party should have 1,000 signatures from each state to show that you're a serious party. We shouldn't restrict (party registration) at all. 

"Why are we restricting the registration of parties? We don't even have really ideological parties in Nigeria, and we want to restrict for the moneybags," he said.

Speaking further on Nigeria's electoral process, Osaze-Uzzi noted that the years of disruptive human interference means a more effective system must be implemented. 

Even though he acknowledged that technology can fix some of these problems, he warned that it's not a cure-all and comes with its own set of problems including cost and cyber-security.