Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
The Civil Society Situation Room, an election observation group, has expressed worry over what it described as increasing inability of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to stand up against interference from partisan state powers and interests.
The group, which has monitored many elections conducted in the country, said the commission could not check the excesses of state interest that seek to manipulate elections using security agents, including the military.
The Convener of the Situation Room and Executive Director of the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC), Mr. Clement Nwankwo, spoke on the group’s assessment of the current challenges facing the electoral system in an exclusive interview with THISDAY.
Nwankwo said INEC needed to strengthen its resolve to deal decisively with anyone trying to undermine the credibility of election.
He said the group viewed the behaviour of political parties, especially the lack of internal democracy in their primaries and violent conduct during elections, as a major source of concern.
Speaking on some of the challenges INEC faces in its efforts to conduct peaceful and credible elections, Nwankwo said there were occasions where the partisan interest of the incumbent would clash with that of the constitutional role of INEC to ensure free and transparent elections.
He also said there were instances where some security agents who abandoned their responsibility to maintain peace, started helping political thugs to undermine the electoral process, stressing that it would require a strong and courageous electoral umpire to check these excesses.
“So, that’s where I think we have a constant issue with INEC with its failing to stand up to challenge efforts of agencies of state to manipulate elections and as long as it continues to be unable to stand up and say to such agencies ‘keep away from elections’ for so long will it take responsibility for the failings of an election,” he said.
According to him, INEC as an independent commission ought to have a firm control of the electoral processes, including assigning roles to security agents on election duty to ensure that no unfortunate incident that always cast shades on the elections occurs.
“We have always said to INEC; take control of your elections! The elections are yours, you are not just the number one stakeholder but also the critical stakeholder, the deciding stakeholder and you give responsibilities to the agencies of states which are supporting you conduct elections. When agencies of states become tools in the hands of partisan incumbent’s political interest you must act in the best interest of the country to give your election credibility.
We worry that INEC continues to fail to stand up to check the excesses of state interest that manipulate elections including security, including the military. When you find the security are running circles around you; the military is running circles around you and trying to discredit an election that you have invested so much resources and your credibility in then you must pull back and say to this agency ‘get off’ and when they refuse you insist on not going on with the elections.
“So, INEC must stand up. Of course, there are issues of rogue INEC officials and security agencies running off on their own to help to frustrate the electoral process but the bigger issue is that of the leadership of the commission taking responsibility and saying ‘we can’t allow security agencies, we can’t allow police to team up with political parties and subvert the will of the people.’ So, as long as INEC fail to stand up to push back on this agencies for so long we will insist that it has responsibility for failing with election”.
Speaking on the actions of political parties, which often led to disruptions and undermining of elections, Nwankwo said the group had noticed an ugly trend where the incumbent tried to manipulate the primary elections to favour his preferred candidate.
On whether more amendment is needed to strenghten INEC, Nwankwo said laws alone could not solve the problem but that the human element was at the heart of it all.