Some of the experiences of the last few weeks have exposed the many failings in the nation’s electoral system in spite of the so-called progress made in the last 16 years. In this discourse, Onyebuchi Ezigbo x-rays the efforts of the current chairman of INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu to reform the process, while Shola Oyeyipo and Segun James sample the pulse of the people on areas that desperately require attention
Last Tuesday, President Muhammadu Buhari mooted the idea of kick-starting the process of reforming the country’s electoral laws in line with the federal government’s policy priorities of carrying out comprehensive legal reforms before the expiration of the present administration’s tenure. Such a move is however seen as being in line with the expectations of Nigerians that something should be done urgently to reform the electoral process to guarantee the conduct of credible election.
While presenting a keynote address at the Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room’s Stakeholders Forum on Elections in Abuja, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Alhaji Abubakar Malami said the Federal Government had already started consultations with the leadership of the National Assembly and the Judiciary to identify key laws and priority areas for reform.
“We have begun consultations with the leadership of the National Assembly and the Judiciary to identify key laws and priority areas for reform. Our priority areas will be clearly outlined in our justice sector reform that we will propose to the National Assembly and align it with their agenda in order to achieve reform within the tenure of this administration,” he said, clearly setting the initiative in motion.
Every government, since the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo-led administration has always taunted Nigerians with the promise of reforms of the electoral process but what usually comes out of every of the moves is a far cry from the expectations and yearnings of the people, who desire a functional system for choosing their leaders in an atmosphere devoid of fraudulent conduct and rancour.
Indeed, such promises of reform usually do not get to the heart of the problem. For instance, the report of the Justice Mohammed Uwais-led panel on electoral reform, which was considered laudable by many made provisions for a number of result-oriented measures to solve the problems militating against the conduct of free, fair and credible elections, but the recommendations were never implemented.
It is against this background that the statement made by the AGF, Abubakar Malami on the commencement of another round of reform should be critically evaluated.
One of the priority areas of the administration’s reforms is the proposal for the amendment of the Electoral Act and other laws in order to empower INEC and similar bodies to deal with perpetrators of serious offences.
Malami had said some of the gaps in the electoral laws which had manifested in the recent decisions of the Supreme Court in relation to election petitions, needed to be filled and something done about it urgently to avoid increasing levels of electoral violence.
“This administration intends to carry out a comprehensive legal reform to address the challenges posed by some of our outdated electoral laws. One of my top priorities as AGF is to lay a solid foundation for a sustainable reform of the justice sector, where the rule of law takes preeminence over and above the rule of man”.
On its part, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) under the new helmsman, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu said one its immediate plans will be to push for a review of the electoral process, taking a cue from lessons learnt from the shortcomings in elections conducted by his predecessors as well as the challenges it is facing in the effort to conduct a free, fair and credible election.
The INEC chairman said the commission is greatly constrained by the resurgence of violence that had attended elections in recent time. According to him, INEC can do little or nothing to stop the specter of violence during elections since it does not have control over security agencies.
Recounting some of the incidences recorded by the electoral body, the INEC chairman said the commission suffered huge setbacks in Adabi and Dekina in Kogi, where two offices of the commission was razed by hoodlums during the last governorship polls.
“INEC is really challenged and INEC is constrained by the resurgence of violence. Remember, INEC is not security forces and we are not going to overstep the security forces. We have our own responsibilities to the regular staff and the adhoc staff as well as the voting. We are challenged by it and we are working with the security agencies to see what we can do. But appreciate our concern; INEC does not handle security during elections.”
Key Areas of INEC’s Proposal
At the end of the 2015 general election, several reports were written and submitted to the electoral body on the experiences during the exercise. Apart from reports generated by the commission’s staff, other reports and recommendations from development partners, the European Union Election Monitors and the African Union observer group were also received and documented.
Whereas certain aspects of the intended reform by INEC require mere regulatory intervention or institutional reforms, other areas may need outright amendment of the constitution.
According to the INEC chairman, the authorities of the commission have already commenced efforts at remedying the situation through the implementation of some policy interventions such as the introduction of the simultaneous accreditation and voting procedure.
But Yakubu said some of the reforms and interventions are outside the purview of INEC and would require the cooperation of relevant organs of government like the judiciary and National Assembly. These include the policing of elections so as to guarantee safety of the electorate, INEC staff and materials for election. It also has to do with the setting up of electoral offences tribunal to address the growing recourse to violence by most of the political actors and their hired thugs.
Clement Nwankwo, who is heading a coalition of civil society organisation clamouring for reform in the electoral process said notwithstanding some progress made by the previous leadership of INEC in introducing innovations that could help guarantee credible election, much still needed to be done to achieve transparent and credible electoral process.
At the civil society stakeholders’ forum held last week in Abuja to present report of its observations during the 2015 general election, Nwankwo made a case for the re-visiting of the Justice Mohammed Uwais electoral reform recommendations as a means of correcting observed anomalies in the nation’s electoral system.
He said the Justice Mohammed Uwais report on Electoral Reforms recommended the setting up of an electoral offences tribunal, adding that the country needed to go back to those recommendations and implement them.
“Unfortunately, recent elections in Nigeria showed a lot of the use of violence to influence the outcome of an election. We need to pull back from this if elections must be credible in this country, then we must try to ensure that violence is not part of the exercise. It looks like we are losing the battle against electoral violence and unless we go back to the recommendations that we should have electoral offences commission then we will keep having this problem.
“For us in the civil society, it is our role to advocate reforms and changes in the system but it is the responsibility of government to respond to the pressure that we continually put for reforms to happen. We will not stop doing this until government responds and as long it fails to respond so long as the problem will linger.”
Speaking on the observations made by his group about the conduct of elections in Nigeria in recent times, he said, “I think the electoral process has faced some challenges and the INEC also indicated its willingness to rise up to these challenges and that is why you see the commission acting and reacting the way it is doing to ensure that there are proper laws and institutional regulations to ensure that these challenges were minimised”.
Nwankwo further listed some of the challenges facing the electoral system to include violence, a situation whereby politicians organise violence to disrupt or manipulate elections.
In the same vein, recent decisions of the Supreme Court that failed to legitimise the key role that the Card Reader played in the last general election. For him, therefore, there is the need to review the existing laws to ensure that the card reader becomes more prominent in elections and that technology is allowed a role in the conduct our elections
Glancing at the Uwais Report
No doubt, the violence that trailed the two recent elections in Bayelsa and Rivers States may have drawn the attention of President Buhari to the need to put electoral reform in the front burner of his administration’s agenda. To that extent, it is pertinent to draw from some of the ideas expressed by the Uwais panel as far as curbing electoral violence is concerned.
In the detailed report, the panel said there was the need to deal with incidences as well as the root causes of violence related to elections.
“Quite often, attention is focused on incidences without a longer term view of how to address the root causes of the problem. There is the need to effectively regulate behaviour and actions of contestants, voters and officials in the entire electoral process and to carefully frame rules and regulations covering all aspects of the electoral process.
“No stone should be left unturned in this regard. There is the need to effectively police the election process and enforce rules and regulations by assigning well trained, impartial and honest law enforcement and security agents and agencies to help police and secure the electoral process.”
In particular, the panel demanded that the Nigeria Police Force should wake up to its responsibility in law enforcement, in the prevention as well as detection of crimes.
The panel further stated that there was the need to ensure proper and adequate training of all personnel involved in election matters, both permanent and ad hoc staff.
What Nigerians Think
Most of the contributions to the discussion on how Nigeria can move forward from the era of flawed elections to a time when elections are the true reflection of the will and wishes of the electorate contended stiff sanctions against those found culpable in electoral offences as a step in the right direction.
Lagos State Publicity Secretary of the All Progressive Congress (APC), Mr. Joe Igbokwe said though politicians are always showing desperation to win all the time, bringing those who run against the electoral processes to justice would help stem the tide of electoral malpractices.
“We will continue to do our best until we get there, but people must learn to win honourably and lose honourably. If we lose, we should go home, but here losers want to be declared winner. Then another problem is that we have not been punishing offenders. If you don’t punish offenders, they get bolder. We need to punish people, who commit electoral offences,” Igbokwe posited.
According to the Chairman, Kwara Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Iyiola Oyedepo, “One thing about INEC and the credibility of elections depends on the leadership of the body. The leader should be knowledgeable, principled and forthright and must have an integrity that cannot be faulted.
“If you look at the elections conducted between 2011 and 2015, there have been remarkable improvement in the conduct of elections but after the exit of Jega, we are sliding back to the era of elections that could not be said to be credible.
“In my own opinion, the INEC chairman should have a tenure that lasts like 10 years. For instance, if Jega was there for like 10 years, whatever he did while at the helms of affairs would have become part of our electoral culture. The Electoral Act must be amended. Like now, the Card Reader is not in the Act.
“We must also stop the impunity of electoral offenders. I would not mind that there is a special tribunal set up for that purpose. Any infraction associated with election must be severely punished. Unpunished impunity makes people get bolder to commit the crime again and again. Our law is good but in the area of sanction, we are laid back.
“Yakubu is now there and he would have to begin to study what he met on the ground. In Kogi and Bayelsa, he conducted inconclusive elections, they are conducting the FCT election today (Saturday), we don’t know what would be the outcome.”
The Lagos State Chairman, Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Mr. Deji Elumoye said politicians must learn to play by the rule as embedded in the Electoral Act.
“We must go by the rules. There should be no cutting of corners. For every election, there are rules. The Electoral Act should be followed strictly. Carting away ballot boxes, over-voting and all that should be stopped. For us to get it right there is the need to follow the electoral Act. The political parties should also tell their followers to go by the rules,” Elumoye suggested.
Former House of Representatives member for Okene/Ogori-Magogo Federal Constituency of Kogi State, Hon. Suleiman Kokori is of the view that the use of state apparatus as witnessed in the recent National and State House of Assembly elections in Rivers State should be discouraged.
“I think our people have problem of election manipulation and most officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and police are compromised. Another problem is that the powers that be always want to use government apparatus to their favour.
“For example, former Rivers State governor, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi and the incumbent Governor Nyesome Wike used government machinery to their favour. He (Amaechi) came with military, same thing with Wike who used other state apparatus too.
“They are doing the wrong thing as far as I am concerned. The arbitrary and abnormal use of the military for election aids rigging and it is wrong. It happened in Ekiti and Rivers States. Our military and police should be checked.”
The National Publicity Secretary of pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation and rights activist, Comrade Yinka Odumakin argued that the ingredients needed to have acceptable elections in Nigeria are lacking and that until those elements are put in place, INEC is helpless.
“The country has reached a point where credible election has become an impossible mission. The software needed for acceptable election is not there. The country is too divided and the body language of the leadership is not helping matters.
“When former president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan was in the saddle, he used to congratulate even the opposition when they win elections, but till date, President Muhammadu Buhari has not congratulated Governor Dickson. That means if they conducted election and lost, the president is not happy.
“The whole atmosphere is terrible and not conducive. I pity INEC. If those factors for conducting proper election are not there, there is very little INEC can do to give us better election in Nigeria,” he noted.
For Mr. Kola Kolade, a lawyer and Ekiti State Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, the problem is not with the electoral system but with the present leadership of the INEC.
“Our problem is not the electoral system but the leadership of the INEC. The present leadership of the commission has no capacity. After all, it is the same system that Prof. Attahiru Jega used to conduct the election that brought in the president and other governors.”
Kolade wondered what would happen if the present leadership of the commission conducted a general election, when it is having problems with just three elections and reruns.
“When all the elections conducted so far all inconclusive, then the leadership of the commission need to be called to question. Is it not the same process that Jega operated and succeeded to a large extent?”
He insisted that even though the card reader did not work in some places in the country, it is still the best option for the country.
“Jega’s card reader failed but it can be improved upon. But if we know that it will not work, we can either discard it or improve on it. But with the present leadership of the INEC, I don’t think we can do anything meaningful on it, they don’t have the capacity.
Mr. Coronation Tokpo, a lecturer in the Political Science Department of the Federal University, Otuoke, Bayelsa, said only the “full recognition of the card reader system as the sole means of accreditation in our Electoral Act will reduce rigging and election fraud.”
Tokpo contended that the card reader system would also reduce violence, which is usually associated with supposed inconclusive elections.
Incidentally, this was also the view of Mr. Duoye Fiderikumo, a Yenagoa-based legal practitioner, who opined that electronic voting will take away the question of stealing of election materials and violence associated with elections in the country.
“Our electoral system is still substantially analogue and that is why we are having the problem we are having now. Electronic voting will take away violence as the every vote will be reflected immediately and cannot be rigged.
“To me, it is the only way out or else, the 2019 elections will be bloody, absolutely bloody, especially in the South-south and South-east states,” he warned.
Alhaji Kunle Akangbe, an Ibadan, Oyo State politician was of the view that the 2015 election could be likened to the 1993 election that was annulled in terms of credibility. He said this was so because the card reader was used.
“But because the Nigerian is smarter than the smart card, they succeeded in circumventing in the process. But for this, we would have become a role model country in Africa today. But in view of this, we must find a way to smoothen the process.
“We cannot say because the disinfectant has a horrible smell we cannot use it to kill germs. We cannot say because some politicians are short of honour, then we should allow them to get away with every electoral malpractice.”
Every government, since the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo-led administration has always taunted Nigerians with the promise of reforms of the electoral process but what usually comes out of every of the moves is a far cry from the expectations and yearnings of the people, who desire a functional system for choosing their leaders in an atmosphere devoid of fraudulent conduct and rancour…Indeed, such promises of reform usually do not get to the heart of the problem