Fixing Nigeria’s Election – How Far Can it Go?

Fixing Nigeria’s Election – How Far Can it Go?

…A Collaborative Efforts is Necessary for Passage of New Electoral Act …An Inclusive Process to Provide for More Representation for Women, Youth, PWLDs …Achieving Transparent Elections is Hinged Largely on Attitude of Political Class Experts at a three-hour Citizens Town Hall discourse on Fixing Nigeria’s Elections, say a more collaborative effort involving the National Assembly,

…A Collaborative Efforts is Necessary for Passage of New Electoral Act

…An Inclusive Process to Provide for More Representation for Women, Youth, PWLDs

…Achieving Transparent Elections is Hinged Largely on Attitude of Political Class

Experts at a three-hour Citizens Town Hall discourse on Fixing Nigeria’s Elections, say a more collaborative effort involving the National Assembly, Civil Society, the Independence National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the government is necessary to speed up the passage of the Amended Electoral Act that will provide for biometric voting and electronic transmission of results and make our elections more transparent and credible.

Apart from the Amended Electoral Act which is envisaged to be passed before December 2020, there’s also a bill for the setting up of an Electoral Offences Tribunal to deal with cases of thuggery, vote buying, intimidation of voters, ballot snatching and violence and other crimes during elections.

Organised by Yiaga Africa and the European Centre for Electoral Support (ECES) with support from the European Union (EU), the experts at the Tuesday town hall conversation also called for an inclusive political process that will make for more representation of women, youths, persons living with disability (PLWDs) and the vulnerable.      

They however say that fixing Nigeria’s elections is ultimately largely hinged on the attitude of the political class while calling for making the trappings of political office less attractive in order to reduce the ensuing acrimony as different faction of the political elite are pitched at each other’s throat.

Expressing deep concern at the huge cost of conducting elections In Nigeria particularly against the challenges of meeting other social costs, the experts also canvass the need to explore ways of bringing down the cost with deployment of technology.  

Speaking at the event, INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, says that the Commission remains committed to improving electoral processes in the country. Reeling out efforts by the Commission since the cleaning up of the voters register in 2010, the use of the card reader in 2015 election and the addition of 14.2 million voters to the register by 2017, Yakubu is upbeat that INEC has recorded some strides in making the elections more transparent.

Electronic Balloting Slated for Anambra

According to him, one of the things it plans to implement in the coming year is the introduction of electronic balloting. Yakubu said the Commission intends to introduce this during the Anambra elections, taking place in 2021.

“The Commission is committed to introducing at least electronic balloting in the major election we are going to conduct next year, which happens to be the Anambra governorship election and thereafter, with the support of the National Assembly, we hope that the legal environment will improve such that we can also go ahead to collate and transmit results electronically.”

“At present, the law doesn’t permit that because the system is essentially manual.

“There are quite a number of issues, one of which is the deployment of technology,” the INEC boss said.

“We would like a situation where the electoral legal environment is reformed in such a manner that will continue to deepen the deployment of technology in elections.

“I am happy with what the Commission has done since 2010. Recall that there is a trajectory. We started in 2010 with the biometric register of voters and so in 2011, the Commission essentially updated the biometric register and we did the same thing in 2014 and in 2017 and in 2018 over a period of 16 months in which we added 14.2 million Nigerians to the register.

“The second is biometric accreditation of voters and there was an innovation introduced in 2015, the smart card readers that go along with the permanent voters’ card.

“We have achieved that. We are looking forward (particularly with the 2015 amendment) to the Electoral Act that will empower the Commission to deepen the use of technology, in voting, particularly in the era of electronic voting, to see how far we can go a notch higher,” he added.

Yakubu also disclosed that the process of filing candidates by the political parties and accreditation by election observers and the media can now be done online. “Even before the 6pm deadline yesterday (Monday, June 29th, 2020), all the parties had filed in their candidates for the Edo governorship election using our portal,” he said. 

Election Offences Tribunal

Positing that given the huge task confronting INEC, Yakubu said it was unrealistic saddling the Commission with the additional responsibility to prosecute electoral offenders, particularly when it had no power of arrest, noting that it is refreshing that effort is now being made to set up an Electoral Offences Tribunal to deal with electoral offenders so that INEC can focus on its core mission.  

Deploring the attitude of the political class who always undermine the electoral process in their anxiety to win at any costs, Yakubu said that unfortunately this cannot be addressed by legislation but by attitudinal change. “We need attitudinal change on the part of the political class who are always in the habit of undermining the electoral process. Unfortunately, you cannot do this by legislation,” he said.

Achieving transparency in our elections according to the INEC chairman, involves maintaining the independence of INEC, deepening the deployment of technology, punishing electoral offenders and ensuring the passage of the amended Electoral Act, noting that “We have the courage to confront these challenges.”

Disclosing that there are more litigations on the conduct of primaries, than the actual election, Yakubu implored the leadership of the political parties to ensure that the process of choosing their candidates is more democratic, open and devoid of acrimony.

On the huge cost of elections, the INEC chairman said, “One of the areas of cost is litigations. We have 2000 cases but don’t have enough lawyers at the Commission to handle the cases. So we have to hire lawyers. Out of 800 cases that are in court, 300 were withdrawn, meaning that many of the litigants do not really wish to see the process through but we would have hired and paid lawyers. We also do a lot of by elections which cost a lot of money.

Stalling Electoral Process

Analysing the stalling of electoral process in the cumulative period of military rule and the 1964 election which he put at 35 years, at the town hall discourse, former Deputy Senate President, Mr Ike Ikweremadu said many of our laws had become anachronistic and needed to be brought in tandem with modern development. “We’ve had issues from 35 years of military rule which was a setback,” he said.

Also listing the gains from the Justice Muhammed Uwais report, the Lemu report and the Ken Nnamani report, he showered praises on the National Assembly on electoral reform and amendment to the Electoral Act, disclosing that there are two bills – Electoral Amendment Bill and the Electoral Offences Tribunal Bill, which he said hopefully, will be passed before December this year. He also said the Executive had not been forthcoming in sending any bills on electoral reform to the National Assembly.

While not being adverse to the conduct of all elections in a single day, Ikweremadu canvassed for single term tenure like it’s done in other countries to remove the possibility of incumbents influencing the process in their quest for second term.

“There are attitudinal issues. In other to guide against interference on elections by incumbents, we may look at adopting the single term of office because incumbents usually show more than a passing interest in the amendment of electoral law,” the former deputy Senate President said.

Government Committed to Electoral Reform

Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami (SAN) says that the country’s electoral system has been positively developing. He said that “In 1999, the system was unpredictable as pre-election matters were pending for 6 to 10 years. The Legislature then came up with a new law that now limits the time frame for pre-election matters which are to be concluded within a statutory regulated time. From 99 and now, I think we have a great story to tell.”

Dismissing charges of the absence of executive bills on electoral reform, the AGF said the Buhari government is committed to the electoral reform process, noting that the leadership of the ruling party has complied with the decision of INEC in respect of court judgements in Zamfara and Rivers where the APC was adversely affected.  

“Within the context of establishing the independence of INEC, we as government have supported the electoral process. The function of the Executive is not to develop electoral laws. We’ve supported a collaborative process. We’ve supported the evolution of an electoral process that gives us confidence,” he said.

On the proposed National Electoral offences Tribunal which will be saddled with cases arising from the elections, Malami said “At the end, those responsible for breeches during elections will have an institution for filing cases for prosecution. Unlike what obtains after elections are over, the witnesses are gone, the adhoc staff would have left and there’s no institution that you can lodge cases.

Explaining why the President refused assent to the last amended Electoral Act passed by the 8th National Assembly, Malami said it came too close to the last general election which if appended to would have been in violation with some international legal instrument that the country is signatory to. He also said that some of its provisions undermined the functions of INEC to fix the date for elections, noting that “The President is committed to the electoral reform but will not be associated with any internal breeches.”

Minister of State for Labour, Mr Festus Keyamo however does not believe that we’ll achieve much with the creation of the National Electoral Offences Tribunal. “It’s a complex situation. You believe thugs who will rig and kill for the ruling party will be charged to court by the Police,” he asked rhetorically, saying that “It must be that the President cannot do anything to this reform then,”

People’s Lives not Getting Better

Former Presidential Candidate of KOWA Party, Prof Oluremi Sonaiya says there’s no basis for any self glorification when the lives of the people are not getting better. “What’s the purpose of an election? I do not share the self congratulatory process. The lives of the people that you are working for are not getting better.

“We have seen what’s currently happening in Edo and Ondo states. It’s not heart warming. Nigerians need to rise up and ask for some changes. Why should our election cost so much? The universities don’t have such monies to conduct research and learning. We better begin to define our priorities,” says Sonaiya, a professor of Linguistics who retired in 2010 from the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife.

Also chiding the poor attitude of the political class in devising means to undermine the electoral process, former Country Director, Action Aid International, Dr Hussein Abdu, says, “I want to say it’s a bad outing for Nigeria. The challenges have been quite enormous. With the kind of politics and interest involved, it dictates the character of politics that we have. We wanted to have better elections in 2019 but the Kogi election was totally undermined by major disruption in the election.”

He argues that “Whenever you put as safeguards, increasingly the politicians perfect ways to undermine it. People found gaps between 2015 and 2019 and went to undermine the process. Every time, the political class is always designing ways to undermine the process.”

Abdu, now country director, Plan International in Nigeria, advises that we need to avoid the pitfall of effecting amendment too close to elections. “As long as amendment gets too close to election, it becomes problematic,” he says, counselling for the need to engage the civil society, women, PLWDs, the youth and the political parties in the electoral reform process.

Former Chairman of Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON), Mr Muiz Banire (SAN wants a situation where we make political office less attractive in order to reduce the attrition that goes with it. “The perks of office are too attractive to want to engage in a fight,” he opines.

Dictatorship or Democracy

Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Mathew Hssan Kukah says we delude ourselves thinking that we’ve left dictatorship for democracy. “We are mistaken in assuming that we’ve left dictatorship for democracy because we are no longer under military rule,” he quips.

Taking a swipe at the Judiciary, Kukah argues that, “We have a dysfunctional Judiciary that undermines the process of people’s will. What we are seeing is the lack of consistency. Increasingly, the integrity of the Judiciary is coming to question. We are talking about the future. The Judiciary is talking about freeing convicted persons on the basis of technicalities. A Judiciary that will be highly politicised will be harmful to our electoral process.

“We’ve had 20 years of democracy but not much has happened to the lives of the people apart from having few cowboys who have done well for themselves,” he said.

Executive Director, Yiaga Africa, Mr Samson Itodo earlier in his welcome address, says with 959 days to the 2023 general election, there was need to fix the country’s elections to get better. He also express concern at the whooping cost of our election, revealing that the N139 billion spent between 2011-2015 is put at the cost of 9 dollar per voter.

Head of EU Delegation to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Mr Ketil Karlsen, who explained that his organisation has committed more than 100 hundred Euros to the support of democracy in Nigeria, said that “Even if we are in a permanent storm, we need to support democratic government.”

Although the EU does not get involved in the struggle for primacy by the political elite, the incidents of intimidation, vote buying and shooting like it happened in Kogi governorship election in the view of Karlsen, do not augur well for the country’s democratic process. 

Others who made contribution to the discourse include Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, chairman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, his counterpart in the House of Representatives, Hon Aisha Duku, Chief Mike Ezekhome (SAN), Dr Benson Olugbo, executive director, CLEEN Foundation, Mr Jake Epele, founder of Albino Foundation, Dr Akin Akingbulu, executive director, Institute for Media Studies (IMS), Mr Maaji Wilson, a representative of ECES and Dr Qasim Akinreti, chairman, Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Lagos State Council.     

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