Egwu: There’s no point reinventing the wheel
According to Egwu, following the 2007, which was widely regarded as the most flawed election since the return to civil rule in 1999, President Umaru Yar’adua set up the Electoral Reform Committee (ERC) chaired by Justice Mohammed Uwais. “This decision ushered in a new wave of electoral reform, which changed the narrative of elections in the country, given the widely acclaimed outcome of the 2011 and 2015 general elections, despite the failure to implement some of the most path-breaking recommendations of the ERC.
“At least, it is on record that the momentum created for electoral reform not only pressured President Yar’adua’s successor, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, to appoint a credible Nigerian in the person of Professor Attahiru Jega as chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), but also gingered the National Assembly to target issues related to the constitutional and legal framework of elections in the amendment exercise carried out in 2010. The most far-reaching element in that reform exercise is granting INEC financial autonomy and empowering INEC to deal with electoral offenders.
“As we all know today, Nigeria’s electoral process has improved in terms of credibility and integrity, and there are obvious signs of democratic consolidation. That is to say, Nigerians now believe that elections have become better, are regularly held, and have become a vehicle for peaceful transfer of power from one civilian regime to another. There is increasing evidence that election results are becoming more acceptable, as there are instances of losers conceding defeat. In the 2015 elections, Nigeria achieved a rare feat of power alternation at the national level in a historic five successive elections during which the country enjoyed 16 years of uninterrupted democracy. Nevertheless, there are challenges that need to be addressed to deepen public confidence in the electoral process, given recent cases of inconclusive elections.”
He said electoral reform should be strategic and handled step by step rather than have an approach that seeks to address all the issues at once. “This is a message that should be taken on board by the Senator Ken Nnamani-led 24-member committee set up by the Attorney-General of the Federation, which has a tight 10 months to conclude its assignment. Rather than reinventing the wheel, it is important to carry out an audit of the Justice Uwais-led ERC. My personal suggestion is that there are key issues to bring back into the reform process. First, there is the recommendation for the structural transformation of INEC, such that an independent process of appointing the chairman and members of the board is instituted.
“This process should be elaborated and further discussed in inclusive consultative process. What appears to be a controversy in this regard is the recommendation that the appointment should be taken away from the Executive and assigned to the National Judicial Council (NJC). The important issue, however, is the independence of the entire process, so that we are not deceived by the accident of a President appointing a man of credibility.
“A related issue that needs to be addressed is the structural relationship between INEC and the office of Resident Electoral Commissioners who are equally appointed by the President. Some of the noticeable lapses in recent elections arise from the fact that some RECs who have political interest often assert their independence and subvert directives issued by INEC. It is an absurdity that needs to be addressed by integrating RECs properly into the INEC structure, to ensure that INEC has better administrative control and discipline over erring RECs.
“Equally important is to reintroduce the debate regarding the State Independent Electoral Commissions, which have conducted the most flawed elections at the local government level. The choice is between defending the principle of federalism, which favours their retention, or going for efficiency, which favours their integration into the INEC structure.”
Egwu also spoke on unbundling INEC to create separate bodies to manage political parties and deal with the huge challenge of electoral offences including electoral violence. He said: “The reform of the party system is also one issue that needs to be given important attention. These are things that should be prioritised. The point that we must not forget is that, at the end of the day, we need to overcome the fetishism of reform, because beyond reform, there are attitudinal and behavioural issues that undermine the integrity of the electoral process.”