A former House of Representatives member and one time leader of the Alliance for Democracy caucus in the House, Dr. Wunmi Bewaji has commended the INEC for the conduct of the last general election. Bewaji, a human rights lawyer and Executive Secretary of the Coalition of Democrats for Electoral Reform, recently spoke to newsmen on the outcome of the 2019 general election and thought that despite its many imperfections INEC’s handling of the elections reduced the rate of litigations by about 95 per cent. Segun James presents the excerpts:
Taking a cue from the last elections particularly, the conduct of party primaries, what is your take on internal democracy?
There is the possibility that a party is not allowing internal democracy, but internal democracy defined as what? We must be careful when we get to that because we have found a situation where a political party would be sponsoring another candidate in another party. That has happened a lot and it’s still happening. A political party would be the one sponsoring another candidate to run on another party, yes.
So, for the party elders, there must be a structure, that is why you have Board of Trustees. You also have the National Working Committee and so, the elders of the party as represented by the Board of Trustees must be given that say. There should be no internal democracy that would go beyond that elders’ committee, because you are going to go to court; it is going to be determined by one man, who for lack of better word to say is not even aware of history of this party.
Look, in all other facets maybe in finance, and all that, judges are trained specifically. As a lawyer, this is what I know. If you want judges to handle maritime cases, they are trained for such. If you want them to handle sophisticated matters coming from the security and stock exchange, shares and debentures, you must train them for that purpose. Since 1999, when was the last time judges were trained in democracy? Do we have to assume that judges know democracy? Don’t forget that we have pervasive political illiteracy in our system. You might see a professor, but he may not be politically literate. Somebody can be a judge and not be literate in the art of democracy.
So, what I am saying is this: the role of judges must be limited. The organs of the party must be strengthened by law. This internal democracy, INEC can come in and say look you have to strengthen your organs. When you strengthen your organs, you have the NEC of the party. The reason why outside of the NEC, you have the National Working Committee, outside the National Working Committee, you still have the Board of Trustees is that any complaint that goes through the party to the level of Board of Trustees should end there, not the court. When we free the court of this, it can do some other work.
Also, in the constitutions of these political parties are provisions that say you must explore and exhaust these remedies there before going to court, but now the first thing people do is they go to court without even exploring those remedies. So the court must now tell them, go back to your party and resolve this. And then probably now, we amend the Electoral Act to say any issue relating to party primary must be dealt with by the internal organs of that political party.
But for election proper, we also must define it. What are the situations where somebody can challenge an election in court? If you say there was violence, again the violence would affect everybody as well as members of all the 93 political parties, so that should not be the reason so long as the election held on that particular day. The fact that you are able to come to court to say oh, there was violence here and there, then, you are not going to be able to say that such violence affected only your own supporters such that they were not able to come out and vote.
So, we must determine what and what we want the court to do, not that we will leave it open that the court should now be in a situation to say you are the winner and you are not the winner. The court should not be the one to say that, the electorate should be the one to say you are the winner, you are not the winner.
But when you give that power to the court, you are undermining our democracy. It is also undermining the stake of the average voter, because a voter, who thinks that the loser, by going to court can buy his way in the court room, will also not be so encouraged to come out to vote.
What then is the solution?
In Nigeria, I have said it before an election is free and fair where the person has won. If he loses that election, it is not free and fair. So, that one we have to factor it into whatever solution we want to proffer. But at the end of the day, if we are having 93 political parties, if they are all fielding candidates; that would mean 92 persons are going to lose that election. I think what we can do is that you must cultivate the culture of democracy in people and that was why we advocated the idea of enshrining in our constitution democracy as a fundamental human right.
We have to start even from the schools. When you contest, when you run for an office maybe as class captain or school prefect, at the end of the exercise, you must be made to deliver minimum of 10 minutes speech, congratulating your opponent. You must say something for a minimum of 10 minutes otherwise you would not be eligible to run for office again.
So, we must put something like that in our law whereby if an election has been conducted and somebody has lost, the person must have the courage to pick up the phone and congratulate the other person, who has won. We are not saying don’t go to court if there are valid reasons to go to court, but a situation whereby the reason for going to court is because he thinks he can buy his way in court room, that must be discouraged.
Earlier, in your pre-interview remarks, you said INEC performed very well. How?
I said the process, not INEC. INEC is a part. I rated the process. INEC is a stakeholder.
A majority of the people would disagree with you, because the presidential election earlier fixed for February 16 had to be shifted for a week whereas INEC assured the people that it was fully ready for the exercise. Again, we had inconclusive elections in about six states and one suspended. Do you still believe INEC did well despite these developments?
I scored the process 99.99 per cent, not INEC. INEC is part of the stakeholders we are talking about. The electorate and the security agencies are also part of the process. It is not everything that goes wrong with the election that we are going to blame on INEC, but you would remember in our report, we talked about population explosion. And then when we are now talking of inconclusive elections unlike before, the point is that the population of voters we now have happened to be the total population of Nigeria some years back.
As the population continues to explode, unless INEC embraces technology, INEC is going to be finding it more and more difficult to conduct elections. We are having 80 million registered voters now, the next exercise, it might be 120 million. How will INEC cope with that figure? We are talking of 34 per cent voter turnout. If we had recorded 60 per cent voter turnout, would INEC have coped with that figure? That is the question we should be asking ourselves. If we had recorded 80 per cent voter turnout maybe the results wouldn’t have been announced by now. So, the INEC is facing the problem we have described as archaic method of conducting elections.
The system is archaic. INEC itself has become obsolete organisation, an obsolete bureaucracy, it’s not growing and it’s not in tune with modern development in the conduct of elections. So, for INEC to be able to rise up to the occasion especially, the growing challenges that population explosion is bringing about, then, INEC has to embrace technology. Electronic voting is long overdue. I think the time has come for electronic voting.
And then on the idea of one-day voting, INEC also has to revisit that. But I think electronic voting would take care of a lot of these problems if people can vote electronically.
I will give the example of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) which before now, whenever we were having NBA conference, it was always like motor park union having an election. But today, you now find a situation whereby even the day NBA is holding its election, nobody is even aware. This is because I will open my phone; the Supreme Court no is my password. I use my Supreme Court no to enter into it and then I vote and that’s it. And by evening, we already know who has won and who has lost.
And that has started a couple of years back and then people are saying some people are hacking into the server. Nothing has been proved. But if it is the problem of hacking, I tell you that there are organisations that we know of. CODER can assist INEC in that regard. There are technology organisations that can handle it, that is, those that have been handling such for these big banks in the world. There has never been any occasion, when anybody made any allegation that any of their servers were hacked before.
So we can deploy top notch technology for that purpose. But I think the truth of the matter is that there are vested interests in INEC, who are making a whole lot of money from this manual system – billions of naira. Do you know we can conduct our election with less than 5per cent of this present INEC budget if we embrace technology yet the election will be far more credible than what we have now and the level of participation would rise? In the 21st, for us to be queuing up in the sun, inside the rain to vote, I think it’s very sad. I think the time has come for us to embrace technology in Nigeria.
What percentage will you give INEC because the EU and American government are critical of the performance of INEC?
The comments of the EU and US are unwarranted and self-serving. Do they have any interest in our democracy? Were they not the same people dealing with Abacha? People that were dealing with Abacha have no interest in our democracy. Are the elections in EU and US perfect? Look at what is happening with Brexit. After three years, the Brexit is yet to take effect. They cannot even handle it. So, EU and US have nothing to teach us. We saw how elections were rigged in the US through fake news.
Hilary Clinton won the popular vote by 3m votes but Trump won through the Electoral College. But what I am saying is that they have a lot of problems at home that they should take care of. Where are the so-called foreign observers today? Apart from releasing some few paragraphs, did they go back to review the data as we the domestic observers have done?
We should never allow a situation where the legitimacy of our elections will depend on the assessment of the so-called foreign observers. The danger in that is tomorrow it could happen, like they are doing in Venezuela now where they are encouraging a man that did not win election to declare himself president and they are giving him every support. So, we must never allow the credibility of our elections to be determined by the so-called foreign observers.
When you talk about election observer job, it is regulated by three ethics – no meddling, no interference, no quid pro quo. Did they observe that when they came here? Did they invite us to their own elections and give us all the access? I have been invited to US for their elections. I was not taken to CNN or allowed to issue any statement on their election. That never happened. They should respect us. Nigeria is a sovereign nation. We have had 20 years of democracy. This is no longer a nascent democracy. Nigeria is now a stable, strong and virile democracy. They must recognise and respect that.
What do you have to say on voter’s apathy, which was observed in the last elections, and what do you think is the way forward?
It is not good for any democracy. The national average is 34 per cent. It is even worse in some states. In Lagos, it was 18 per cent. Even the number of uncollected PVC is high. I think the democracy itself is under threat and the threat is not coming from the military but the army of lazy Nigerians, who think that the only thing they want to do is to talk on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and criticize the government. Every citizen must have a sense of civic responsibility. Of course, these elections are held once every four years.
In some countries, it is mandatory for citizens to serve maybe two years in the military. Even after that, you now enter into the list of reserves, which means they can call you back at any time during emergency. We don’t have that in Nigeria. All we are asking you to do in Nigeria is to make you come out for just one day and vote. I think that is not too much to ask from citizens. In the end you find a lot of people in their houses sleeping. Some youths were found on the streets playing football. So, that means with what we are witnessing now, something urgent has to be done.
Lagos recorded 18 per cent but do you know that a state like Jigawa recorded 54 per cent. Sokoto recorded 50 per cent. Katsina also recorded 50 per cent. But the lowest figures are coming from the areas where we have the so-called educated people. That is why I made the comment that elites don’t vote. Even in this Lagos, when you look at that 18 per cent, 90 per cent of that 18 per cent are market women. From our data, women are taking active part in our elections than men. The so-called illiterate are taking active part than the so-called educated people. 90 per cent of these educated people don’t even have PVC to start with. So, something then must be done.
We are talking of problem of godfatherism and all that; how does that affect outcome of elections? You can even come to the polling booth to express your mind about that godfatherism. That is how it is done in advanced democracies, which Nigeria is aspiring to be one. We must make it difficult for people, who would not want to perform their civic duty. We are not asking you to come and pay your tax at the polling booth, we are asking you to come and vote.
While in some countries, voting is compulsory, we are not advocating that voting should be made compulsory but people that vote must be recognised by the system when it comes to the enjoyment of certain privileges like you want to enter civil service, government, you must provide your voter’s card to show that you are a responsible citizen and several other things. That will go a long way to making people live to their responsibility as good citizens.
You are a former lawmaker, the leader of Alliance for Democracy in the House of Representatives, can you compare the National Assembly you were to the one of today and what are your thoughts on the composition of the next leadership of the National Assembly?
I think the party should be allowed. The tradition has always been to allow the party to determine the leadership structure of the National Assembly and the reason is simple. The party ran on particular policies and programmes sold to the electorate. Now the party knows its own members. You are not going to outsource that to members of another party, because the leadership of the National Assembly is meant to complement and synergize with the elected president. In established democracies, that is the reason. For example in the US, unless something personal is found against the nominee of the President, the nominee would be allowed to go by the Senate.
The convention is always that the president knows the people he wants to work with. As far as the Parliament is concerned, the leadership of the party; the Board of Trustees and others would be able to sit down and say, ‘ok, at the end of the election, the President is coming from this, the Vice-President from this, the remaining positions, how do we distribute them in such a way that other interests would be represented?’
In 1999, the only reason the National Assembly was not inaugurated on 29th of May was because as at that time, meetings were still going on in the Villa to choose the Senate President and agree on the Speaker and all the rest of them. They were still holding meeting until June 2nd when candidates finally emerged and the National Assembly was inaugurated on the 3rd. So, the party hierarchy must be allowed to choose the people that they know would deliver on their agenda.
But people are critizing the way the party is going about it instead of lobbying the members.
Yes, they should continue to lobby but what we were thought is that multi-party democracy is founded on three principles – party loyalty, party discipline and party supremacy. So, once the party decides, you leave that room to grow. That is what we were taught by Baba Ayo Adebanjo (an Afenifere leader). You can say anything you want to say inside the room, but once we have decided, you leave that room to go and defend the position of the party.
Sometime even the person that brought the contrary idea that was defeated would be the one to go and address the press and say, ‘this is what we have decided.’ There was no problem at that time. What you are seeing is the problem of indiscipline that has crept into our politics. It is not about personal ambition that you want to be the President of the Senate, it is about the party. You are not going there to effect your own programmes but the programmes of the party.
The party has decided that this is the best suited man to deliver on this agenda, then, you should embrace it. If you have any misgivings, let the party know. It would be resolved through the internal mechanisms of the party. But it is never heard that you go to the floor and go against the position of the party. When I was chosen as the Minority leader, the decision was made at the Airport Hotel, Ikeja by the leaders of the party.
So, what we went to Abuja to do was a formality and nobody ran against me. That is party discipline. I didn’t lobby for the post. I was in my house when they called. They said the reason why they chose me was because the man that left was not loyal to the hierarchy and that they wanted somebody that would be loyal 100 per cent to the party.