…..says we’re thinking of how to design ballot papers to include new parties ……electoral process in Nigeria deeply weak–AGF By Ikechukwu Nnochiri ABUJA – The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, on Tuesday, said it had received applications from 80 new groups that are seeking to be registered as political parties ahead of the 2019 general elections. Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) INEC which made the disclosure at a National Stakeholders Forum on Elections, organised by a coalition of over 70 Civil Society Organisations in Nigeria, said it was equally besieged with requests by people advocating for independent candidates to be allowed to contest in the next elections. INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, in his keynote presentation at the event, said the commission would continue to register new political parties pending the deadline stipulated in the Electoral Act for closure of the registration process. It will be recalled that INEC had on December 15, approved the registration of 21 new political parties, bringing the total number of registered parties in the country to 67. Addressing the Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room in Abuja, Prof. Mahmood who was represented by a National Commissioner at INEC, Mr. Kunle Ogunmola, said the electoral body was concerned about how it would design ballot papers for the 2019 polls to accommodate all the new political parties. The INEC boss maintained that the recent governorship election in Anambra State was hard for the commission considering that it had to accomodate 37 political parties that participated in the electoral exercise. He said: “As it stands today, 80 more groups are seeking registration as political parties. We will continue to register them until the time scheduled by the Electoral Act for us to stop.The issue of Independence candidacy is still there too. “Right now we are thinking of how to design our ballot papers to take care of all the registered political parties. So far, the hardest was the Anambra election where 37 political parties fielded candidates”. On the issue of double registration by Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello, the commission said it may re-visit the case-file when the tenure of the governor who it said is still enjoying immunity, expires. “Like it was stated in a press release we issued earlier, the Kogi state governor is enjoying immunity for now, but after his tenure, maybe the issue will be taken over from there”. INEC said it was determined to ensure that the 2019 elections are free, fair and credible, saying it would give special attention to the voters’ register. “We are presently carrying out daily registration of voters and the process will last till sometime in 2018. The exercise is also for those that did not register before and transfering of voters from their original point of registration to their new residence. “We hope that by 2019, we will perfect the electronic transmission of results. We started it with the Anambra election and it was a success”, INEC chairman added. Meanwhile, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, in a paper he presented at the event, said the electoral process in Nigeria remained deeply contentious and weak despite remarkable reforms in the system. He said the Federal Executive Council, FEC, had set-up an implementation committee headed by the Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osibanjo, SAN, to develop a white paper on report of the Senator Ken Nnamani-led Electoral Reform Committee. He said: “With just about one year to go to the next general elections, the need to finalise every preparation for the 2019 general election has become an imperative. “In 2015, Nigeria achieved a milestone in democracy when it achieved the first democratic transition to the opposition party. This feat would not have been achieved without previous governments that introduced electoral reforms from 1999 to date. “The government of President Muhammadu Buhari came into power with a determination to improve on the gains made in previous elections and has taken several steps to strenghten the INEC. “This government believes that a credible electoral process provides a sustainable basis for the survival of democracy in Nigeria and will do everything possible to support the achievement of this. As part of its effort, the government has given every support to INEC including support to retain its independence and financial autonomy. “In addition, the government has ensured that INEC is able to operate as an independent and credible umpire. “This government acknowledges the role played by Civil Society Organisations as election observers and welcomes this role in supporting the integrity of Nigeria’s electoral process”, Malami added. Likewise, Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Electoral Matters, Hon. Aishatu Jibril Dukku, In her presentation, said 12 Bills seeking to amend the provisions of the Electoral Act 2010 and the Electoral (amendment) Act 2015, have been referred to the House Committee on Electoral and Political Parties Matters after subsequent second reading for further legislative action. She said major areas the 12 Bills sought to alter include, “A Bill proposing that a Court or Tribunal should declare the person with the second highest votes winner of an election if it finds/holds that the winner of the election was not qualified to contest the election ab-initio. “A proposed Bill to mandate all political parties to ensure that women leaders are women or persons of the feminine gender and that all youth leaders are between the ages of 18-45 at the date of elections into such offices. “A Bill for an Act to outline a procedure for the use of the Smart Card Reader in elections. A Bill for an Act to increase maximum election expenses to be incurred by a Presidential or Governorship candidate, Senatorial and House of Representatives seat, State Assembly election and Area Council Chairmanship elections. It also seeks to increase the amount that an entity or individual can donate to a candidate. “A Bill for an Act to establish the Nigerian Electoral Offences Commission, which shall examine all electoral offences connected with, or incidental to the commission of an electoral offence. “A Bill for an Act to establish the Electoral Offences Tribunal situate in Abuja that shall be a superior court of record with an equal status with the High Court. “A Bill for an Act to include Nigerians in Diaspora who are qualified to vote in the list of voters that the Commission should include in its National Register of Voters for Presidential elections. Under the provisions of the Bill, the Commission in collaboration with the Nigerian Embassy/Liaison offoce will decide the number of registration and voting centres where Nigerians in Diaspora can vote. As well as a Bill to provide a time frame for the submission of list of candidates, disclosure of source of funds contributed for political parties and to empower the Commission to uphold party primaries where there is a change in the result. Hon. Dukku maintained that the proposed Bills, when passed, would further sanitise the electoral system and provide a level playing field for a credible, just and fair elections in Nigeria.