The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) yesterday disclosed that the number of court cases from the 2019 general election had risen to 1,700. Chairman of the commission, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, made the disclosure while appearing before the Senate Committee on INEC to defend the 2021 Budget of the agency. He said that the commission spent between N3 million and N4.5 million on each case.
He said: “Each time anyone goes to court, INEC is joined, but we have to hire lawyers to defend us. We are not paying fantastic fee, we are applying Federal Ministry of Justice scale of fees. “If, for instance, you have a case for governorship election before the Supreme Court, it’s a maximum of N4.5 million. But because of the number of cases, we are almost getting close to 1,700 pre-election and post-election cases in 2019 alone, and every day, you hear people going to court and joining INEC, but we will continue to do what we can within available resources,” he added. The INEC Chairman also disclosed that it had completed all preparations to conduct elections in which Nigerians in Diaspora could vote.
He, however, asked Nigerians to wait for such a time the National Assembly would be ready to amend the Constitution and the appropriate laws that currently prohibits participation of persons in the Diaspora in elections.
“The commission is desirous of giving Nigerians living abroad the right to vote. After all, all our neighbouring countries do so. But it requires the amendment to the constitution and the Electoral Act for that to happen.
“We have already worked out the document. Once the law is amended today, we can roll out. We are ready. We have had several meetings with the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), but we can’t go beyond what the law provides.” On some groups who are always disenfranchised during elections, Yakubu admitted that the law should be amended to correct the situation.
“It’s not just those in the armed services, the police involved in election duty, journalists, INEC ad hoc staff and some INEC staff don’t vote. The reason is that you are posted for election duty to places other than where you are registered, and the law says you vote where you are registered.
“So, if you pass some amendments to the electoral act to enable people to vote, two solution perhaps, early voting, so that those involved in election duty can vote early or major reform of electoral legal framework to allow people to vote wherever they are,” he added.
Yakubu also announced the commencement of another phase of the voters’ registration, adding that the exercise would gulp not less than N1 billion. “For continuous voter registration, the commission intends to resume voter registration in the first quarter of 2021.
And once we resume, it will be continuous for one and half years, at least until six months to the next general election. In other word, the commission is not going to resume voter registration for a week, two weeks or a month, but we are working out the details.”
The INEC chair equally briefed the Senate on the need for its financial independence. Yakubu said that the commission could not be independent unless it was financially independent, adding that there are some activities that happen that are time bound which required the commission to act swiftly. He said the INEC Fund, which was established in 2010 to allow the commission to discharge those responsibilities, became useful some months ago when the commission was put under serious financial pressure.
“It was established in 2010, but there was no cause to spend from it, and from the last five years, this commission did not spend from it. But what has happened now is our budget for 2020 dropped to N40 billion from N45.5 billion in 2019. And as a result of the 10% COVID- 19 cut, it further dropped to N36 billion in the middle of the year when we had already made preparation for expenditure. “Therefore, since that fund is made for the rainy days, I informed the committee that the rainy day has come. So we are taking part of the fund to balance our budget for this year.”