Osadolor: Need for overview of existing electoral processes
Professor Benson Osadolor of the Department of History and International Studies, University of Benin is a social commentator and political activist. He spoke to ALEMMA-OZIORUVA ALIU.
What is your take on the Ken Nnamani committee?
I consider the setting up of this Nnamani committee as quite unique, in the sense that successive governments have not been able to implement the Uwais report. A number of issues that were raised in previous reports on election reforms have not been implemented and this government is talking about change. They are looking at the possibility of looking at that report. Rather than implementing the report the way it is, it is setting up another committee to make additional input into that report. That is the essence of the Nnamani committee.
I don’t expect him to do his work without a review of the work the previous committee has done on this electoral process. And you will also agree with me that as a developing country, we are experiencing what we call developing democracy. And in a sense, the kind of challenges that we witnessed, which the Uwais report touched, have been overcome by other new challenges that Nigerians did not anticipate.
And so, what we expect Senator Ken Nnamani to do now is look at certain areas that actually create problems for the electoral process in Nigeria. What exactly is wrong with implementing the Electoral Act? The constitution is there. It interprets exactly how elections should be conducted. What exactly is it with Nigerians understanding the law that guides the electoral process? This is precisely what the committee will be looking at.
For instance, we have had all kinds of reports about the way and manner elections are conducted, particularly preparation for elections, sensitive and non-sensitive materials, and the way they are handled. The problems that normally go with the process itself, Uwais did not look at all these. What Uwais did was identify the problems and what should be done in dealing with them.
So, I expect Nnamani to do a general overview of the existing electoral process and come out with a report that will set Nigeria on a different platform of electoral process and development. We do not expect, for example, that the kind of inconclusive elections we have had in parts of the country in the past year, the kind of challenges that attended such problems, would still continue.
In Edo State, for example, we just had an election. There were so many reports about things that were not expected, the role of law enforcement agents, and so on. So, we expect that as a people and a nation, Nigeria would learn from history and learn from the experimentation, because what is very critical in a political process, in a democracy, is the electoral process. And the electoral process itself has its own rules and guidelines. Everyone is concerned about the transparency of that process. Everyone is concerned about the fairness of that process. Everyone is concerned about the justness of that process, and everyone is concerned about those that have been assigned with the responsibility to conduct elections, which is the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). What kind of elections do we expect them to conduct? Is it elections that will be adjudged free, fair and credible?
Now, for example, we have had cases where the Appeal Courts, or the Supreme Court passed judgments in favour of candidates that lost. What I expect the Ken Nnamani committee to do is that if it is found that a court has given judgment in an election in which it was announced previously by INEC that Party A won whereas Party B actually won, those electoral officers should be held responsible. By the time they begin to pay for the lapses arising from the conduct of elections, they will realise it is a matter they should take seriously in terms of being fair to everyone, open and transparent.
The laws, of course, are not stagnant. In every democracy, we expect a great degree of order. And what gives order to a political process is the law that guides all the players and the process. So, I expect Nnamani to also look at the enabling law and find out areas where they could advise government to intervene, to ensure that we are able to build a healthy democracy.
Do you subscribe to special courts for electoral offenders?
Certainly not. I don’t subscribe to that. The laws of the land should be able to deal with electoral offenders. Rather than create special tribunals or courts, let special tribunals deal with electoral matters, as the case may be, and let the courts of the land deal with electoral offenders, since matters concerning the laws and Electoral Act are well specified and can be interpreted, as they affect electoral offenders.
There has been no political will to implement past reports of several panels and committees. Do you think this will be different?
My worry about previous reports that have not been implemented is that government, at times, or politicians, strongly believe that they have so much at stake, and that the implementation of such reports may affect them. People think in terms of themselves, in terms of their political parties, rather than in terms of the nation, how to build our state and strengthen our institutions.
The most important thing for us is the will and commitment to implement those reports because it is very vital to strengthening our political institutions, our economic institutions, and our social institutions. The reason we have vey weak institutions today is because reports that would have been implemented to strengthen them were pushed aside. And that is very unfortunate. That is why I have been an advocate of state building in Nigeria. Let us build our state. If you read newspapers and listen to our people talk in public, they talk about nation building. Nation building is all about developing ourselves, building a sense of nationhood and creating a kind of national character and identity. But state building is how these institutions that create opportunities for politicians are strengthened at different levels – national, state and local, to ensure individuals are not more powerful than institutions, as we have had it in the past.
How do you assess the excessive monetisation of election in Nigeria?
The sharing of money during election is certainly a bad omen for our democracy and for our political system. I do not think that any politician who is right thinking will share money at elections. But the political actors always capitalise on the level of poverty in the society. People are poor, people are hungry, and these are the people that will come out to vote. So, they can easily be induced with money to mortgage their conscience.
It is obvious that for many Nigerians, the poverty rate is so high that they don’t think of tomorrow. They think of only today. This is all about having an educated citizenry. We just go to school, many of us cannot think for ourselves. And that is why when politicians come to induce voters with money, they easily grab it. What is more worrisome about this is that there is an electoral law in this country that prohibits such. If we think beyond poverty, I think we can overcome the challenge of inducement.
How best should the National Assembly support these reforms?
I expect the National Assembly to take the matter as an issue of national interest and address all the relevant issues that will be raised – the ones that concern policy, the ones that concern the laws, either amending the laws or introducing new ones. Let the National Assembly take interest in it and see what they can do to ensure it is implemented, not only from their end but also from the Presidency, and ensure that whatever they are going to do, the courts will give better interpretation to the Electoral Act.