Distressed about the desperation, violent conduct, vote buying, manipulation of election results, and ‘win at all cost’ disposition of Nigerian politicians, the Chairman Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Prof. Mahmood Yakubu said that the commission had continued to initiate water tight strategizes and introduce technologies that is aimed at checkmating and curtailing the dubious schemes of the political class in the country.
He explained that the commission is the weakest regulatory body in the country, arguing that the commission is the only regulatory body that lacks the power of arrest and investigation but the yoke of prosecution was place on her shoulders.
He further argued that other agencies like EFCC, ICPC, NDIC and CBN have powers under the law to arrest, confiscate or suspend license in a bid to enforce compliance but INEC lacks the powers to even deregister political parties that fall short of legal criterion for existence as political parties in the country, therefore, how can INEC control and curtail the excesses of political parties.
The chairman expressed this frustration in Abuja while delivering a paper at the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Discussion Series with the theme “Credible Electoral Processes in Nigeria, Challenges and Prospects” organized by the Abuja Branch of NBA christened ‘Unity Bar’
Prof. Mahmud who was represented at the discussion series by the Director in charge of Voter Education in the commission barrister Oluwole Osaze Ozzi further posited that the introduction of card reader machine in the electoral processes in Nigerian is part of the commission resolves to use technology to fight rigging and electoral manipulation by politicians.
“When the commission discovered that the secret ballot system is aiding rigging, we decided on open ballot system but choices still remained secret, the politicians then metamorphosed from stocking the ballot box with illegal ballot papers to writing of results while the process is still ongoing.
“What they did with secret ballot system is to stock their cloths with ballot papers and cover it with ‘agada’ and when they go in to cast their ballot they would deposit all the illegal ballot papers that they had concealed with their big cloths into the ballot box and they will then come out so thin.
“Now that we had changed that system with the view to nipping such ugly malpractice in board, they again came up with writing of result which of course the card reader technology is out to curtail. We would continue to deploy technology to outwit their evil schemes. Meanwhile in the area of limit to electoral spending, the politicians are also devising means to spend above the approved limit. Some of them would float a foundation and therefore hide under the guise of charity to spend above approved limit.” He observed.
He also decried the conflicting judgments arising from court of cognate jurisdiction, while describing election as the building blocks upon which a democratic process is build.
The chairman also admits that the commission lacks the capacity in terms of manpower and adequate resources to prosecute electoral offenders, saying that the 150 case files submitted to INEC by security operatives after the 2015 General Elections is still pending due to lack of funds and enough lawyers in the commission to follow up the cases.
He nonetheless advocated for the establishment of a body that will be charge with the responsibility of prosecuting electoral offenders owing to the fact that the commission as constituted lacks the capacity to do so.
On his part, the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu commended the Nigerian Bar Association for organizing the discussion at this time in the nation’s history, saying that ‘those who have been called to serve in the temple of justice must play far reaching role in the protection of ballot and democratic process in Nigeria.’
He also made case for the adoption of direct primaries by political parties in Nigeria, arguing that direct primaries will compel political parties to conduct their primaries on time as is the case in Ghana, United States of American and other advanced nations.
Supporting the aforesaid view, the Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki represented by his senior legislative aid and former Secretary to Taraba state government Hon. Ibrahim El-Sudi said that direct primary is the way to go.
“There should be direct primary election amongst political parties and not the current indirect primary. There should also be a time limit to pre election litigations to avoid a scenario where a legislator who is not validly nominated by his party would be in the parliament for over three years before the court would rule on it.
“Unlike governors where your tenure starts from the day you were sworn in, the legislators do not enjoy similar privilege as they are only entitled to the remaining months or even days as the case may be and that is unfair. So I would like an amendment to that section of electoral Act, which would mandate parties to settle all legal tussles arising from pre election matters 3 to 5 months before the election so that the candidates involved would know where to direct their energy and resources.”
He also advised politicians to play by the rule and avoid desperation so as to help the system, “As politicians, we need to be patients, honest and contented with whatever the outcome of election results are, in so doing, the system would be improved. When the outcome of the election did not go your way, do not instigate violence or be angry with your opponent and the system.
“All you need to do is to continue to try your luck in subsequent elections and one day you will succeed if the purpose of your contestation is for the benefits of the generality of the people. The only thing you need to do is to strive hard to let the people understand your vision and mission for them and they will vote for you instead of laboring to subvert the system.” He counseled.
Explaining the rationale behind the ‘Discussion Series’ the Chairman, Nigerian Bar Association, Abuja Branch (Unity Bar), Mr. Ezenwa Anumnu said that the discussion series is part of its effort to contribute her quota as a professional body to the effort of nation building.
“The topic of discussion is part of the series of discussion we have been engaged in, we believe that in Nigerian Bar Association, especially in Abuja Branch, we have a knowledge pool of experts that can contribute to national discuss but for some reasons it had been ignored.
“So what we do is to bring our people and engage them with relevant authorities so that we can contribute our own quota as a professional body and experts to the process of nation building. So that is the whole idea behind the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) discussion series.
“If you have followed the discussion series, you will notice we have moved from sector to sector; we have done a discussion on Real Estate, Procurement Act, Fiscal Responsibility Act, Tax, and today it is on electoral process. We had moved from sector to sector with the whole idea of making sure that our members in FCT contribute their expertise to the process of nation building.”
He also explained the mechanism put in place by the professional body to ensure that the outcome of the deliberation is implemented at the end of the day, as well as get down to the people.
“At the end of every programme, we normally come up with a communiqué which we transmit to relevant authorities. In this particular one, you see that the electoral umpire is represented, the President of the Senate is represented and the Deputy President of the Senate is here in person to make useful input to the discourse.
“Therefore, we are engaging relevant principalities, we have our members here, we have people from the Civil Society Organizations (CSO), and we have various media organizations that have come on our invitation to cover the event so that the outcome will get to the relevant bodies through these groups. We would engage whoever needs to be engaged from the President to the least representative to ensure that our points are communicated adequately.”
The Chairman also theorizes that credible electoral process contributes in enhancing good governance in Nigeria.
“Good governance is rooted in confidence of the electorate; if you do not inspire that confidence in the electorate then you have not started the issue of good governance. Consequently, what we plan to do is to use this discussion series as a platform to inspire and improve the confidence of the electorate in the process.
“When people have confidence in the process, you can now have their support and once you have their support, I am sure we would have less of electoral litigation, less of violence and less of other electoral challenges we are confronted with as a country.” he concluded.