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Nwankwo: Constant review is necessary to imbibe lessons

By Leo Sobechi
14 May 2017   |   3:40 am
This brings to the fore, the issue of an electoral offences commission, which civil society and election observers have long advocated and which more now, than ever needs to be introduced and made to work. 

Clement Nwankwo is the Executive Director of Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC)

Clement Nwankwo is the Executive Director of Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC). In this interview with LEO SOBECHI, he advocates for constant retraining of ad hoc electoral staff, saying that electoral system needs constant rejigging to be effective.

In the light of Nigeria’s unending attempts at electoral reforms, would you say the challenges are more on the legal framework or institutions?
There are shortcomings with the legal framework for conduct of elections in Nigeria and as well, challenges with the Institutions. Additionally, there are challenges with the individuals managing the institutions and implementing the laws. There is also the extra factor of opportunism by political actors and their supporters, who seek to stretch and subvert processes. Given these negative tendencies of the said political actors and their supporters, it becomes important to ensure that the law, as much as possible, anticipates every given situation and provides answers where gaps are found. It is also important that the individuals who operate the laws and institutions are held to account by entrenching legal provisions of enforcement. It is then understandable why there are constant efforts at electoral reform.

What do you consider at core of flawed elections?
At the core of flawed elections is the tendency by candidates and political parties to manipulate the political process to their advantage and the failure of adequate legal provisions and sanctions to hold erring parties and candidates to account. This brings to the fore, the issue of an electoral offences commission, which civil society and election observers have long advocated and which more now, than ever needs to be introduced and made to work.

From the political bureau, through the Justice Mohammed Uwais’ and Nnamani electoral review panels, does it not seem that the country is moving around in circles?
I do not think that all of the electoral reform initiatives can be described as moving around in circles. I think that these reform initiatives have been useful at the times and for the times that they were created. Having operated or having carried out five election cycles since the 4th Republic began in 1999, the need for constant review arriving from lessons learnt is important.

Analysts have argued that if most Nigerians can use the ATM cards, that electronic voting will serve as a cure-all for our electoral malaise, do you concur?
I think that the integrity of electronic voting goes beyond the comparison with the use of ATM cards. People want a system that they can trust. Over time, the ATM card has proven to be largely trustworthy and reliable. With electronic voting, we would need to get to the point where people trust it, its integrity and its reliability. We can only get there if we begin to test it and fine tune it. Don’t forget also that electronic voting is not the entirety of the electoral process; it is only a part of it. This means that the entirety of the process needs to be built on integrity so that all parts of it are recognised as reliable.

Between the use of ad hoc staff and corrupt security personnel, which impacts greater damage on our electoral system?
Ill trained and incompetent staff cause their own damage – sometimes inadvertent – to the electoral process. The cure to that really is to ensure that ad hoc staff are properly trained. It may also be important that this country needs to create a corps of election volunteers who donate their time during election periods to assist in the process. Of course, their neutrality and non-partisanship needs to be guaranteed. That would solve the problem of relying on NYSC and the shortcomings of improper training that comes with their use.

The problem of corrupt security personnel is a different stock. Where a security personnel or indeed any other person charged with electoral duties violate their responsibilities, the law should be well established to bring them to account and to serve as a deterrent to others.

Independent candidacy and establishment of electoral offences tribunal have not been enjoying enthusiastic support of both the legislature and the executive, why and what challenges do you think they will solve?
The fact that the legislature at the national and state level passed alterations to the Constitution in 2015 to allow independent candidacy shows its acceptability at that level of government. Unfortunately, former President Jonathan at the head of the executive vetoed these amendments. Independent candidacy provides an option for aspirants who seek to avoid the complications and lack of internal democracy currently happening with political parties in Nigeria and should be encouraged to become part of our electoral process. However, this should be subject to well defined guidelines by INEC.

The Electoral Offences Commission and Electoral Offences Tribunal are two distinct bodies. The commission, if created, would apprehend and prosecute electoral offenders, while the tribunal would adjudicate on offences. I believe that apprehending, charging and prosecuting electoral offences is a more urgent need. Electoral offence suspects should be charged to the regular courts of the land so that they can get justice as well.

Based on your wide-ranging experience on the subject matter, which country’s model or what would you recommend for credible and acceptable elections?
I think that every country can only operate an electoral process or system that best suits its people. Nigeria’s electoral system could certainly do with some tinkering to make it possible for it to operate successfully. For instance, the idea of a single, rather than a bicameral legislature may be well recommended for Nigeria to avoid the kind of waste we see. It may also be important to reform the electoral process so that the exclusion of women and other marginalised groups from elective positions is addressed.