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Olurode: INEC should not bite more than it can chew



Prof. Lai Olurode is a former national commissioner of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). In this interview with LEO SOBECHI, he examines the implications of the new order of elections and ability of the commission to deliver on its mandate.

Can INEC grapple with monitoring campaign expenditure of candidates and parties even when it says it has elicited the assistance of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC)?

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has enough to bite; it has more than it can deal with. For example, look at the issue of registration of under aged. There is actually no explanation for it, to now dabble into campaign finance.

All over the world, it is very difficult. Even for countries that have better and well-developed sources of information, not to talk of a country like Nigeria. Well, it is going to be too difficult, because you can spend through a third party.

INEC under (Prof. Attahiru) Jega tried to have an idea through the support of one international organisation. But I would advise that INEC should not dissipate energy in that direction.

As a matter of fact, monitoring of campaign finance should be removed. The EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission) already has enough, talk of all the array of cases under prosecution by the EFCC, how many of them have come to reasonable conclusion, may be one or two or none at all.

Why add more? INEC should remain focused and should not be used as a tool for politicians. If you prosecute people for expenses on election or campaign finances of a particular party, allegations would turn up that you are sparing some candidates or that candidates of the other party are not being prosecuted.

So when you dabble into that, you will be taken to court. Let INEC just focus on just conferring integrity on elections. The register should be sacrosanct, it should be clean; that is what INEC should concentrate on. Election is around the corner.

How do you monitor it if somebody is taken to a shrine or an oath place, how do you monitor when I attend a party or social gathering and announce a donation or finance it underground? It is a very difficult terrain. Again, how do you separate campaign or election finance from social finance, like somebody brought cow to my child’s naming ceremony or such expenditure?

So it is really very difficult. I would advise that INEC already has more to chew. Let it remain focused so that it would not be distracted.

Recently INEC complained that the plethora of political parties would compound challenges to deliver credible election, what do you make of it?

I believe that most of them are going to fizzle out; they cannot muster the financial strength. If you monitor them to their offices you discover that most of them exist on paper. They would open up offices to meet the requirements of INEC and as soon as those offices are open, they go to sleep. There is a way to monitor them even through the state offices and remove some of them. I think what INEC should do is to sponsor a bill.

Since the Balarabe Musa case in court, the political space continues to be enlarged, such that you can sit down in your sitting room and conjure up names of people, set up offices in some states in the federation and then you are registered as a political party. That requirement is in line with the Supreme Court ruling.

What INEC should do is to find a way around it. What do I mean? The requirement should be strengthened that you must have won one local government election. If you have not tried at that level and you want to throw up a presidential candidate just to create chaos, drop names that you are a leader of a party, maybe as in the days when INEC gives out money, there is no money any longer. So, it is for INEC to sponsor a bill that will create additional requirements that cannot be questioned by a court of law in order to further restrict the formation of political parties.

Some of these mushroom political parties don’t go beyond their offices; they cannot win any election at all. They are many now because they are all looking for opportunities, once they know that a party has selected a candidate, they can now come together to say they are supporting and adopting the candidates of so and so party, so that they can get some bite.

INEC will really need to get back to the legal fireworks and do something to tackle them, getting them onto the ballot will create problems. The ballot will be so long, printing of the ballot would also be more expensive. It will begin to confuse the electors. Then you have to do rigorous voter education to be able to let them learn to elect the people and make reasonable choice from the competing political parties.

Looking back at the Jega days, a lot of people feel the present INEC does not inspire much confidence on the impartiality of the commission?

I would not say that. That would not be true, because I think there is a measure of continuity. It may not be entire, but there is a measure of continuity in the present INEC. Some of the members that worked with Jega, are still there. Most of the directors that worked with Jega are still on ground.

There is what is called institutional memory that also has not disappeared. I have not seen any sign, either in terms of body language or policy issues that communicated to me that the present leadership of INEC under Prof Mahmood Yakub is distancing itself from some of those steps. It would be dangerous to do that.

But, whether we like it or not, under the Jega leadership, Nigeria has never had it so good within the electoral landscape. And jega has breathed formidable confidence into the electoral system that anybody coming and wanting to disperse away is going to be faced with a lot of challenges from civil societies and some organisations. I don’t think there is such in the current INEC.

I think the commission has been building on the foundation that was laid by Jega, both in terms of interaction and engagement with stakeholders. Maybe not as robust as it used to be, but I think you cannot say it has not been in existence, may be how vigorous engagement we have, but this issue will not set in until when elections are approaching.

So, I will want to believe that there should be more engagement with stakeholders, both the critical stakeholders and the strategic ones. You see, any electoral commission should inspire confidence and it would not inspire confidence if you dance around men in power.

I think the present commission has been doing trainings, as Jega was known to do. And more importantly, there has not been any departure in terms of throwing more technology into the process. The only thing that has changed and I think the commission has good reason to have done that, was that people now go to the polling unit you don’t have to wait.

As soon as you are accredited, simultaneously you do your voting and go away; as far as this will not make people to go and gang up somewhere and disrupt the process.

What Jega’s format did at that time was to withdraw some of the bad boys from the streets, so that when they go for votes in a place the would be robbed of the opportunity of roving around the street. But now you get accredited, exercise your franchise and leave immediately. Once that will not return the bad boys to the polling unit there should be no problem at all.

The critical issue at the moment is about the reordering of elections, there are calls on the president to veto the bill passed by the National Assembly, while some say INEC should go to court to challenge the bill…

The danger if INEC had challenged the amendment to the electoral act on its own is that would have gone. But, now it would look as if it is doing the bidding of the president and that would be dangerous. It could be seen as if there is a gang up between INEC and the presidency, then the credibility of the public on INEC will begin to shake.

For me, the National Assembly is an institution of government, it has respect and it is an institution that was created by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Of course the court of law is there to mediate if there is disagreement between the legislative arm and the executive. But then, we should not be setting roadblocks to 2019. 2019 is far away, but before you know, it would dawn on us. I will say nobody should be afraid whatever the order of election.

If you have called people out for battle and you say it has to be in your father’s room in your father’s house, if you know you can do battle with anybody, the venue does not really matter. Of course election is about taking advantage.

If the legislature feels that this will confer more advantage on it in terms of bargaining or in terms of winning or whatever, or in terms of maintaining autonomy by not tying their fate to that of the presidency, of course they have right to do that.

Let us forget about sentiments or reasons why they might have done that, whether it was a good reason or not, law is law.

Does the order of elections now confer on the electorate the confidence and freedom to elect their leaders without the hangover of bandwagon effect?

I think in a way what it does, if you are going to have the presidential election last, you are also checkmating the possibility of bandwagon in election. To tie the fortune or misfortune of a president to another candidate, with the law, the National Assembly members want to be free to determine the way they want to go. They want to be able to talk to the people and say this is how we want to go.

They believe they have acquired some political reputation and they don’t need to latch unto somebody else’s success, that may be the reason why the legislation. They may be making a mistake, because there is nothing to measure that. But there should be certainty in the electoral process so that INEC will begin to plan and prepare which set of elections will come first.

If INEC is not sure what the president is going to do whether to assent or not or it would end up in court, that may affect and forestall, probably tamper with INEC’s preparations for 2019. In 2015 there was no question that (President Muhammadu) Buhari had the charisma, the reputation and political capital that people wanted to latch unto.

But, even as it is, people are decamping from one party to APC; nobody of note I think has left APC other than Atiku Abubakar. And we never know what is going to happen the next couple of weeks. But, that may be the fear of those that are in doubt whether to capitalize on presidential image or not.

What I think is that if there are concessions to be made, there are a thing that you must do and that is politics. If you think you are not strong enough to stand on your own so be it and what do you do? Then you have to lean towards the group of candidates that will make it up to you.

Will the new sequence not result to more spending for the INEC?

The new sequence needs not cost more as the general elections would still hold three times – National Assembly, followed by Governorship and House of Assembly elections and lastly, the Presidential election. By implication, the individual aspiring to the office of the President would be at the mercy of the National Assembly members-elect. But, if the aspiring (presidential) candidate has formidable character, ethics and charisma, nothing is to be feared.

After all, independent candidates, without party resources had won elections in other climes. Really, it is unfortunate that a party that went into a highly competitive election and won the general election in 2015 when it was out of government is engaged in a prolonged fiasco. And going into general election in a state of disarray and deepened internal crisis when it should be engaged in consolidating its domination and take winning in 2019 for granted. It is hoped that the party won’t be done and exhausted by the time it crushes the ‘enemy’ from within its fold. I hope it won’t be on a life support by then.

Nigeria is in dire need of politics of give and take, rather than winners take all. It must be recognised that there aren’t saints in politics. The discordant tunes between the National Assembly and the Presidency are an expression of heightened mistrust and lack of internal cohesion and perhaps, internal democracy, within the ruling party.

Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu already has a tall agenda to unite the warring party members. The cracks send disturbing signals to the international community. Crafting coherent and implementable policies for good governance becomes fundamentally flawed. INEC’s job of delivering on its core mandate can become compromised as its preparations could be thwarted by possible litigations that could be triggered when political parties are deeply divided.

There cannot be a worse path to reversals of recent turnaround in INEC since 2010. The gains in Nigeria’s turbulent electoral landscape can become frittered and dissipated. Nigeria is certainly too weak to withstand the consequential backlash.

Political parties shouldn’t pressurize further Nigeria’s tolerance threshold, which isn’t inelastic. Winners shouldn’t be allowed to take all. Politics is about give and take and not about a pound of flesh. We commit and concede too much to politics and too little to governance. The latter connects citizens to the State.

The motive might be sinister, but in politics you are bound to take advantage. The president can refuse assent, but he has a period within which he had to assent or withhold assent and it becomes a law.  Or you go to court to challenge it.


In this article:
INECProf. Lai Olurode
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