Buhari’s covenant on electoral reforms
Given the excruciating and equally rich electoral experiences President Buhari harvested in his quest to become president of the Federal Republic in three failed attempts from 2003 to 2011; given the costly epic journeys he made to and fro election tribunals, the Appeal Court and finally terminating at the Supreme Court, until the chance opportunity he was offered in 2015, many were convinced that his first port of call, in his desire to rid the country of corruption, would be to commence a revolutionising of the entire electoral system. Many had hoped that Buhari would heave a sigh and say, ‘never again would citizens’ votes no longer count.’ A number of people thought we had seen the end of electoral violence, vote rigging, vote buying, inconclusive elections and spurious, but carefully calculated postponements, as was the case in recent Edo’s governorship.
Many will not forget in a hurry, the 2011 press conference Buhari’s former party, Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) held at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, to round off the campaigns for that year’s election. The man wept bitterly for the missed opportunities and upon confessing that that was to be his last chance, he was moved to tears.
Buhari’s statement at that meeting was highly emotive. He had said: “After being head of state, I am sure I could easily have retired into a life of comfort and ease as an elder statesman, as a contractor or as a beneficiary of anyone of the nation’s many generous prebendal offerings. But that is not what I wish to do with my life. And so, if I don’t take any of these alternative courses of action, it should be clear that I am not in this for the love of office or for pursuit after personal glory or in order to achieve some personal goal. Far be it from me that this should be. I need nothing and I have nothing more to prove. I am in this solely for the love of my country and concern for its destiny and the fate of its people. And that is why, despite the many disappointments along the way, I am still in the struggle and will remain in it to the end. I have decided to dedicate the remainder of my life to fighting for the people of this country, until their rights are restored to them.”
When he lost that election and decided to challenge it at the tribunal, on the day the Supreme gave the final verdict, Buhari went to court with a prepared speech. That speech is a must read for all those who want to assist this government to improve on the electoral system it inherited. In that speech, Buhari lampooned the Supreme Court, INEC, Police and nearly everybody for the “decision of the Supreme Court that is politically motivated and has little judicial content.” Therefore, among those in today’s political class, who were at the receiving end of government induced electoral malfeasance, Buhari has far more practical experience to cause a change, if he sincerely desires to. He ought to know better, where to begin from and what to do to thoroughly cleanse the system.
But how soon we forget. No sooner had the All Progressives Congress (APC) stepped into office on May 29, 2015 than Buhari and members of his kitchen cabinet commenced a micromanaging of critical appointments that have to do with elections. The first was that of Mrs. Amina Bala Zakari, who was made acting chair of INEC, after professor Attahiru Jega had successfully completed his term in office. Jega had actually handed over the affairs of the commission to Mohammed Wali on June 30, 2015. Wali, a national commissioner, was said to be the most senior then, but whose tenure was to lapse on August 12, of that year. The haste with which Zakari was catapulted into the seat of INEC chair, as desirable as it was to have a female occupy that office for the first time, raised eyebrows and it was even alleged that she had some filial relationship with Mr. President. There were attempts by the Presidency to insist on her imposition, as efforts were made to market her, hoping that opposition to her appointment would soon die down. But that did not happen, until Prof Mahmood Yakubu was appointed substantial chair on October 21 2015.
In the case of Yakubu, the president acted in good faith by complying with the Constitution, which in Section 153 listed INEC as one of the Federal Executive Bodies over which the president is entitled to appoint the chair and board members, subject to confirmation by the Senate. This is where many expected President Buhari to be different from former presidents who had made similar appointments since 1999. Because he had suffered hugely from such personalised appointments between 2003 and 2011, many expected that he would seize the opportunity to throw it open just the way Justice Mohammed Lawal Uwais and his committee recommended in 2007/2008, when late president Yar’Adua appointed the committee on Electoral Reforms.
The Uwais’ committee strongly recommended that presidents have no business appointing the INEC chair and board members; that a neutral with no political affiliation should be vested with that assignment. The committee wants INEC removed from the list of Federal bodies in Section 153 of the Constitution, which gives alibi to presidents to do whatever they like. Former president Jonathan gave a lame excuse for not implementing the panel’s report, claiming the Constitution had to first be amended. President Buhari, upon assumption of office, could have put on hold critical appointments into INEC and use the party platform to lobby the National Assembly to consider the Uwais report and amend the constitution. But he did not. In a presidential system, where the entire country could be personalised by an overbearing and overreaching president, Nigerians expected Buhari to be different.
He has sent a list of six names to be screened by the National Assembly for appointment as national electoral commissioners. The mode of appointment is not different from what the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had done in the previous 16 years, which made it extremely difficult for the electoral body to be neutral. If care is not taken, as more appointments are made, APC members will be smuggled into sensitive INEC positions. And that will not guarantee fairness and justice in electoral matters.
The APC promised to be different and to implement the Uwais committee report. We are yet to see that. We do not expect APC, as a political party, to do all of that because it is not in the gene of any political party to want to free INEC from its control, but we expect Buhari, the man who has seen it all, to lead the way. But alas, time is running out. In a matter of months, the party will be too busy with 2019. INEC itself will be overwhelmed, because we have over-centralised political authority.
There are other issues, like Diaspora voting, electronic voting and seamless real time voter registration. The process, the way it had been crookedly designed, is too rigid to allow Nigerians in foreign countries to vote. The politicians in the NASS will not allow the law on electronic voting to pass, because it will affect their vote stealing capacity. Smaller and less endowed countries in Africa are gradually perfecting their electoral systems, while our own ‘giant of Africa’ is unable to move forward, because of religion and tribalism.
Nonetheless, the newly constituted committee to be headed by former Senate president, Ken Nnamani, has its work well explained. The man himself is a veteran of political subterfuge, having recently dumped the PDP, which had lost capacity to provide ‘shelter.’ Yet, he is conversant with the issues and expectations are that this time, we must all put Nigeria first and assist this government to transform itself and reform Nigeria. Otherwise, come 2019, we shall be singing the same dour song of ‘baboons and monkeys getting gravely soaked in blood.’ And that will be to our collective shame.