Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar
As part of the electoral reform process, former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar has canvassed for financial autonomy for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that will free it from interference from the executive arm of government.
Atiku, responding to questions from THISDAY, recommended that INEC’s funding should have a first line charge on the Federation Account to guarantee its financial autonomy.
His advocacy is in tandem with the recommendations of the Justice Muhammed Uwais Electoral Reform Committee, submitted to the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in December 2008.
The committee had recommended the amendment to Section 84 of the 1999 Constitution to ensure that election expenditure and the recurrent expenditure of INEC have a first line charge on the Federation Account.
Atiku, who also spoke on the 2015 general election, called for the strengthening of the electoral law to make the people’s votes count and the need for the government to summon the will to punish electoral offenders.
Reviewing election trends, violence and the behaviour of politicians generally, the former vice-president noted with concern that many recorded cases of electoral violations had not gone for trial, thereby sending the wrong message to desperate and fraudulent politicians that impunity pays.
Of the 5,356 people whom the police said they arrested for various electoral offences during and after the April 2011 general election, INEC, according to its Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, has prosecuted about 200 of them so far.
According to Atiku, effective punishment is essential to checking impunity by political actors and in preventing future violations.
He said his policy documents during his bid for power in 2007 and 2011 focused particular attention on electoral reforms, which would hold all actors accountable through the enforcement of the rule of law.
“When electoral offenders are not punished or made to account for their misdeeds, they will go back to it, believing that it is business as usual,” he added.
However, Atiku explained that no matter how beautifully worded or well-intentioned electoral laws are, they would achieve nothing if they are not respected or enforced.
He recalled the case of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich in the United States of America who was sentenced to 14 years in jail for attempting to sell former Senator Barak Obama’s seat to the highest bidder instead of allowing a transparent process to fill the vacant seat.
“If a governor could go to prison for corrupting the electoral process in the United States, there is no big deal in Nigeria ensuring that those that contravene the electoral process are brought to book,” he said.
Atiku urged INEC to demonstrate the same level of commitment in the enforcement of the rule of law in the punishment of electoral offenders.
He said the day Nigerians see prominent electoral offenders going to jail, petty violators would obey the law.
Atiku queried why politicians should engage in electoral fraud or conspire to kill their opponents for power all in the name of service, warning that such desperate acts for power threatens democracy.
Previewing politics and elections in Nigeria as a prelude to the 2015 general election, he said INEC still needed a free hand to conduct credible elections.
He called for a review of the Electoral Act so that INEC would be empowered to enforce internal democracy in political parties.
He sympathised with Jega’s repeated complaints that the Electoral Act makes INEC a passive observer in matters of internal democracy in political parties.
Atiku wondered how INEC could enforce internal democracy in the parties when its role is limited to that of a monitor without the power to sanction anybody for breaches.
He, however, advised INEC to initiate a review of the Electoral Act to enable it effectively discharge its responsibility.
He added that if Ghana could make a policeman assigned to elections directly answerable to the national electoral commissioner, which insulates them from partisanship, there is no reason why Nigeria should not emulate such a credible system.
He expressed concern that despite Nigeria’s long journey to democracy and its population, the country was still lagging behind smaller African countries in terms of conducting credible elections.
“Although Professor Jega’s INEC has achieved relative improvement in the conduct of elections in Nigeria, the challenges ahead are still great and grim,” Atiku stated.