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Nigerians to Buhari: Ways to credible polls in 2023


Last week, before President Muhammadu Buhari left the shores of the country to participate in the inaugural UK-Africa Investment Summit in London, he reaffirmed his earlier pledge to bequeath credible elections in 2023. The President, who spoke during a dinner with members of his legal team for the 2019 presidential election petition in Abuja, said he was a beneficiary of free and fair elections and was morally bound to ensure that the processes get even better in 2023.

“…I insist that elections must be free and fair because I am a clear successor to a free and fair election. Morally, I want to have a clear conscience. I swore by the Holy Book that I would abide by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I will continue to do my best and I hope that by 2023, I can handover quietly to whoever succeeds me and I wish him the best of luck,” he said.

President Buhari’s pledge to make the vote of Nigerians count in 2023 was not misplaced. Despite the successful conduct of five general elections in the country since the restoration of democracy in 1999, Nigeria’s electoral process is still deemed deficient in many respects. Cases of electoral violence in all its forms, lack of internal democracy in the political parties, alleged poor management of the process by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and involvement of security agencies in the conduct of elections have compromised the process. The volume of election petitions after every general election clearly indicates that something is wrong with the electoral system and this demands urgent reform.

For instance, records show that after the 2007 general election, the number of election petitions stood at 1,290. In 2011, the number came down to 732. In 2015, the number further scaled down to 611. But after the 2019 general election, the number rose to 807.

INEC’s National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, who released the 2019 figure in December last year, stated that “out of this figure, 582 cases were dismissed while 183 were withdrawn by the petitioners. Out of the remaining 42, the tribunals ordered reruns in 30 and issuance of certificates of return in 12 cases.”

The increased number of election petitions in 2019 was proof that the country made a backward leap in the conduct of elections in 2019 and needs to quickly retrace its steps before the next elections. To achieve this, the system will have to undergo far-reaching and inevitable reforms that will give force to the President’s promise. What are these reforms? How would they be accomplished in good time? The reports below provide answers to the posers.

‘There Should Be Election Marshals To Investigate And Prosecute Electoral Offenders’
Comrade Osmond Ugwu is the National President, International Solidarity for Peace and Human Rights Initiative (ISFPHRI). He has monitored several elections in and outside the country. Ugwu in this interview with the Southeast Bureau Chief, LAWRENCE NJOKU, spoke on the need for electoral reforms and why he does not feel it will be achieved before 2023 despite assurances from the government.

How do you think President Mohammadu Buhari’s pledge to bequeath a credible election in 2023 can be achieved?
Let me say that it is not a matter of saying; it is a matter of the will and reality of the mind of the person saying it. It is the honesty of the person saying it and the system that he is working with and this includes the party system and the way his government is run. You will also need to know how serious the National Assembly is over this, among others. Going by what transpired during the last elections, there are so many questions that need to be answered as to the seriousness of the mind of the person saying it. It is no doubt that Nigeria needs a credible and sound operational electoral system and processes and there are several blockades along the line. I have not seen any serious thing on the ground to show that the statement is a statement of fact. I doubt the capacity to actualise and drive the process. He has not demonstrated the sagacity that could convince one into believing his words for now. Although somebody may say it is still early in the day, with what we have seen so far, with the way he has played and continued to play his politics along his party line, one will need to take a second look at that promise. So for me, for now, they are mere words of the mouth.

What exactly do we need to see to assure us that the government is committed to credible elections and electoral reforms?
Let me quickly point out that I have been opportune to monitor election and voting in elections in this country. At least for the past 20 years to date, I have engaged in election duties both within the country and outside the country. Judging by the immediate past elections and places the elections held, there are several flaws that are supposed to be corrected for things to look up for Nigerians in elections. It is not as if the government is unaware of these things but they may have decided to be ignorant of them.

During the last election, from the places I went, I saw several new developments where there are campaigns at the voting centres on Election Day against stated rules and regulations. These things are still taking place even in our staggered elections thrown up by court rulings. At the venue of voting, I saw people distributing money. I was personally approached by those very people to collect the money and vote for their chosen candidate.  There is the issue of ballot snatching, the issue of thuggery, and intimidations at the venue of elections. I saw during the elections where thugs invaded voting units to destroy ballot boxes openly and they do these things in the presence of security officials. All is not well.

One thing is to make a law and another is to enforce it. If we should be sincere to the enforcement of the already existing laws, the electoral process will be improved upon. There are two basic things I feel that can help us curb some of those atrocities. Apart from the issue of electronic voting, there should be an electronic transfer of results. I know that if we had done this during the last election, we would not have many cases in court over the election. It will reduce the burden of moving materials from one end to another.

Look at what we are faced with presently over the case of Uzodinma and Ihedioha in Imo State. These things are avoidable if we had an electronic transfer of votes. It would have not been difficult to know what other candidates scored at the various polling units in that very election. How many persons have we prosecuted since the conclusion of the last elections over electoral offences? Are we pretending we did not see them? These are some of the indices that when pursued will begin to give assurances that government meant business.

You don’t give what you don’t have and therefore, a government that benefitted from fraud will hardly pursue equity. There should be a law allowing unfettered access of candidates into the information bank of the INEC so that they can recall whatever is transmitted to their satellite by candidates; there will be a law backing it up. Nigeria should be able to invest resources into achieving credible elections by providing the facilities needed for the purpose. I say this because without a credible election, there would not be good governance. Election is the window for good governance and I am also of the view that there should be a device for a close CCTV system in every voting centre. If we have a system of monitoring electronically the voting system at the ground of voting, it will help curb vote-buying, campaigns at a voting centre, thuggery and carting away of electoral boxes at the voting unit. With this, you will have solved a lot of problems that inhibit credible election.

The same camera system should start from the disbursement of electoral materials, storage and even distribution to the local governments and polling units. The environment of the election should also be such that it should guarantee the security of the voters. If the politicians know that they are being monitored in so many ways and that culprits will be effectively dealt with, I think they will be careful how they carry themselves at a voting venue

Do you see setting up of special courts to try electoral offences as relevant considering the number of courts we already have in the country?
I think it will not amount to a waste of resources if we should engage in that. It will quicken the process of trial. Subjecting electoral offences to the regular courts where there are a plethora of cases awaiting dispensation will continue to hamper quick justice and delay in the electoral process. If you look at what is happening now, you will discover that other matters in the regular court suffer a lot when cases of elections are there to determine. It is either a judge is pulled from his chamber to another jurisdiction for the purpose or those cases are stood down for the election cases to be considered. So, I want to agree that there should be special courts for electoral offences. It will expedite investigation and trial; we can have election marshals for the investigation and prosecution of election offences outside the police. It will make things easier and that will make people believe that we are serious. If you are involved in election malpractice, it is this group that will prosecute you and if found guilty, you will go in for it. It will help in many ways.

What do you think is giving rise to electoral offences and thuggery in elections?
Weak laws, unemployment, and greed among the leaders and the led. Any seriously engaged youth will not have time to be used for the election. There is poverty in the land. In the places I participated in monitoring during the last elections, women were scampering to pick N500 because they don’t have much money with them. Some of them may not have gotten much money in weeks. There is ignorance on the implications of getting involved in electoral malpractices. Those that engage in them do not know that they would be the ones to suffer at the end of the day. This is because the system that is supposed to protect them will be weakened by the immoral person that has been elected or who has succeeded in buying himself into power. There is also a lack of balance of political power. For instance, when PDP is in power, every other element not of PDP is not put into consideration.  

Political parties in Nigeria don’t have ideologies and that is why somebody will win the election in party A and cross over to Party B. They don’t have well-designed programmes of consistent mass enlightenment and that is the problem. The system at play has sustained people who have continued to enrich themselves politically irrespective of what those who elected them are passing through. If you are in politics you are worshipped and adored. These are the issues and until we leave them, we will continue to have malpractices in elections.

How ready are Nigerians really for electoral reforms?
It is just like asking us whether we need democracy or need good health. The question is, who are those Nigerians? Are you talking about a segment of Nigerians who call themselves the political class? Let me tell you that it is the leaders of a country that define the character of a country. It is not enough to say by mere words of the mouth that I will guarantee free and fair election. And come to think of it, the ones that happened under your nose, how free and fair were they? Whatever you give the followers is what they take because they don’t have access to the fundamental things that make them to be independent. We don’t have critical mass here, where people can ask questions individually and stand by it.

So, the responsibility of electoral reform lies with the leaders. I tell you that the Nigerian people are eager for electoral reforms but the problem and challenge to do this lie with the leaders. How ready are they? But I think the various organisations we have in the country should sit up to ensure that this is actualised. The civil society groups and the labour unions among others should lead the way. They have become complacent on issues that should help chart the country to the path of growth and development. Our associations should be assertive and activist in nature to be able to demand the due rights of the people.

One of the things that the people of this country deserve as a matter of right is the free and fair election and at any time, they are denied of this, then it is no longer their country; it is no longer their democracy; it is no longer their government. I don’t see any pointer leading to electoral reform. The structures are there but the mechanisms are not there. There is nothing to show that we are ready for this. We can only do that when there is an alliance between labour unions, civil society organisations, students union and peasants founded on strong ideology.

We should have in place a kind of system like that of the late Chima Ubani that should ginger the people into asking for their rights. The masses have become weak because institutions have been compromised. Those who are looked upon to provide leadership are nowhere to be found. The opinion of the people no longer counts and the way it is, there will not be a credible election in 2023. The way the ruling government is going, I doubt if they would even want any other political party to win anything come 2023. They are feeding fat from the malpractices and that is why nobody will want reforms in the electoral system.

If we are serious, there should be an insurance policy for the electoral personnel, the journalists and security officials in our constitution. We have heard about a number of people who died during election duties. What had happened to their families and those that killed them? That is why I have advocated for special marshals for elections so that they can be the ones to investigate these cases other than the regular police. These are things that should be put in place for us to begin to say that we are ready for change and we are ready to take our democracy further.


‘Nigeria Needs An Electoral Offences Commission’
Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi is the chairperson of Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), a foremost election observation organisation in Nigeria. A lawyer and civil rights activist, she is also the founding director of Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC). She speaks with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA on electoral reforms in preparation for the 2023 elections.

What have you observed are wrong with our elections?
Elections serve a twin purpose in a democracy. First, it gives voters the freedom to choose candidates of their choice in order to manage their affairs. Second, it affords the candidates the opportunity to canvass for the votes of the eligible voters in a free and fair contest. However, elections in Nigeria are far from achieving these purposes. They are increasingly contentious and often divide the country along ethnic and religious lines; characterised with hate campaigns, mudslinging, and violence which often threaten post-election peace and national integration. This is the more reason the majority of Nigerians saw the 2019 election as a disappointment and a step back given the progress in our electoral process since 1999.

The enabling law seems not to be activated; rarely are people arrested for obstructing electoral processes or vote-buying. Elections have also moved from the people to the courts; courts now affirm elections and under a lot of suspicions. The court judgments come as big surprises to people and the logic oftentimes make people doubt the concept of justice and the rule of law. The election has fallen below best practices. So many nuances define the voting patterns and old problems of logistics still plague our elections. 

What necessary reform do you advocate and how should the government go about it?
There is a need for a national dialogue on electoral reform involving stakeholders to set the stage and shape the debate of the national exercise. This should involve political parties, CSOs, media, security, Labour, traditional leaders, women as well as youth groups. There is also a need to recalibrate our electoral jurisprudence and how the courts arrive at a decision in the election petition. There is need for consistency in the rulings in order to establish norms and standards. We can also borrow and implement from recommendations provided in some of the earlier committees constituted by the government such as Mohammed Uwais and Ken Namani Committee reports.

We have to be practical going about it and it must be holistic. As such, there is need for policy, legal and legislative electoral reforms. However, there should be a proper and good working relationship between the executive and legislative arms of the government for effective implementation. We should have stronger laws regulating the operations and spending of the political parties. We should have electoral offenses commission and political party regulation commission. We should also unbundle INEC.

Do you think the reforms are achievable before 2023?
Yes, it is achievable if we get serious with it. We shouldn’t wait until the eleventh hour before we kick-start this conversation. Starting early will give room for debate on some of these issues such as a decline in participation, operational problems at INEC, contentious roles played by the security and sundry issues that bedevil our elections.

The staggered governorship elections will also give us the opportunity to test the reforms to know if they are delivering on the promises or not so that we can further reform before 2023 if need be. We should also have a more inclusive electoral process that can support more women and people with disabilities through affirmative actions.

‘Existing Electoral Laws Should Be Firmly Enforced’
Executive Director of Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), Ohabuenyi Ibuchukwu Ezike, in this interview with ONYEDIKA AGBEDO, says existing laws in the country are enough if President Muhammadu Buhari sincerely wants to bequeath credible polls in 2023.

Based on what you have witnessed over the years, what has been wrong with our elections?
A lot! One, there is the issue of absolute insecurity of the votes and the human persons. In every election run in this country since 1999, we lose many Nigerians to election violence and crisis. Both voters, electoral officers, and security agents are shot, either severely injured or murdered. In similar circumstances, ballot boxes are criminally stuffed and carried by political thugs and there have been cases of vote-buying on election day by politicians. Moreover, electoral officers have been caught rigging elections in favour of candidates and parties. We have witnessed situations where elections results are written in hotels and residents of politicians and/or their supporters after which they (fake results) are admitted as legitimate votes and counted. These are the issues that are wrong with our elections and they have continued to be repeated in every election in Nigeria.

How can these challenges be addressed?
First, the rulers of Nigeria should have the willpower and summon the courage to do the right thing to ensure that even the existing electoral laws are respected and that we play the game according to the rules. Also, we should have very credible, law-abiding people of impeccable character to man the electoral management body and who will have the moral standing to resist those in power who would want the rules to be distorted or bent for their primitive interest. Third, there should be a police force that will refuse to play to the dubious desires of the devious and wicked politicians but work as patriots to allow the law to follow its due cause. The police must ensure that those who offend the electoral law are punished in accordance with the provisions of the law not minding their position in government or society.

How long do you think it will take to accomplish these reforms?
They can be achieved even as we speak. We are not asking for new laws. The ones in existence are enough to correct the anomalies and put Nigeria back to the path of honour, integrity, and respect in the comity of nations. Nothing is wrong with Nigerian climate or resources or soil, but with the Nigerian rulers and their associates. If we have leaders who talk less but do more and work towards achieving the best for our society like the late President Umaru Yar’dua, we will fix Nigeria soon.

Our present political rulers are wicked; they are not interested in rebuilding Nigeria. The crop of rulers in Nigeria today is much more concerned about what they pluck out of Nigeria than what contributions they make for her good. It is regrettable and, indeed, worrisome. We want to see electoral offenders convicted and imprisoned not minding their standing in society and position in government. Nigerians want to see those who sponsor election violence prosecuted, convicted and jailed. Once this starts happening without minding who is involved, our electoral system will be alright; it will begin to be credible and the outcome acceptable.

‘Election Petitions Should Be Concluded Before Winners Are Sworn-In’
From Adamu Abuh, Abuja

The director of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Idayat Hassan, has expressed concern over the appalling state of the country’s electoral system.

Idayat, who heads the Abuja-based think tank aimed at deepening democracy in the country, believes that much needed to be done to ensure free and fair elections in the country.

Her words: “Considering Nigeria in her 60 years of existence has celebrated 20 years of democracy, the country’s elections should have witnessed a gradual improvement instead of rollback in gains. The elections have grown more violent, marred by intimidation. There has also been a decline in participation.

“Voter turnout hit the lowest with just 35 per cent turnout in the 2019 general election compared to the 44 per cent recorded in the 2015 general election. The low turnout is of course not unlinked to failure of democracy to deliver development to the people and associated violence in the elections. The low quality of elections being conducted, violence and zero sum politics played by the actors have placed on the agenda a need for electoral reform. 

“However, I will like to emphasise that electoral reform is not just enough to overhaul the electoral system.  But the following are important reforms that should happen.”

The CDD chief canvassed the establishment of elections offences commission as well as the appointment of the Board of the Electoral Management Body to be made by the Council of State on the recommendations of the National Judicial Council and subject to confirmation by the Senate and no longer the President.

She also pushed for independent candidacy, adding that political parties seeking registration should establish offices in two-thirds of all the states of the Federation.

She added: “That elected political office holder will not be allowed to cross carpet to any other party under any circumstance. The burden of proof in relation to the fact that an election was conducted substantially in accordance with the principles of the Electoral Act shall lie on the Independent National Electoral Commission and not the petitioners.

“All election petitions should be concluded before swearing-in of the winners. To improve the collation of results and authenticity of results, every result form completed at the ward, local government, state, and national levels shall be stamped, signed and countersigned by the relevant officer, police officer, State Security and, where available, polling agent at any such level and copies shall be given to the concerned police officer, State Security Service Officer, and polling agent while another copy shall be pasted at the relevant polling station.

“There is a need for the judiciary to remain consistent in her rulings especially if it has to remain the last hope of the masses. Trust in a democracy is eroded when people perceive justice is denied. I keep thinking if the burden of proof is charged onto INEC, what we witnessed with the Imo case may have never been. As they would have called evidence to discountenance the votes as rendered by the petitioners and police.”

‘An Independent Judiciary Would Strengthen The Electoral Process’
From Adamu Abuh, Abuja

The Executive Director of YIAGA AFRICA, Mr. Samson Itodo, has said the country’s electoral process would be strengthened if the judiciary is truly independent.

Speaking with The Guardian in Abuja, he said judges must be seen to be upright and just whenever they rule on any matter revolving around the electoral process brought before them.

He said: “Democracy thrives with an independent judiciary that is insulated from undue interference. Over the years, the judiciary has played the role of an arbiter in the resolution of electoral disputes. While some judgments have strengthened our democracy, others leave so much to be desired from our judiciary especially the Supreme Court. 

“The number of conflicting judgments issued on the same or similar matters by courts of coordinate jurisdiction is alarming. Some judges are either yielding to corrupt politicians or shying away from responsibilities. Several questions beg for answers in the recent judgment issued by the Supreme Court.

“For instance, in the lead judgment for Sokoto read by Justice Uwani Abba-Aji, the court held that the evidence presented by Aliyu had no evidential and probative value having not been properly certified at the tribunal. But in Imo, the evidence on which the judgment was based was not certified at all and dismissed by both the tribunal and the Appeal Court. 

“When courts issue contradictory and questionable judgments, they undermine democracy and deepen distrust in democratic institutions amongst citizens. A recent survey shows that 58 per cent of Nigerians are dissatisfied with the way democracy works in Nigeria. 

To insulate the judiciary from political inference and corruption and build trust, we need to revisit the discourse on the independence of the judiciary especially in appointment, funding, and training.”

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