Mr. Ezenwa Anumnu is the Chairman Nigerian Bar Association; Abuja Branch also known as (Unity Bar), in this exclusive chat with Linus Aleke, the legal luminary posited that the electoral umpire should not take all the bashing whenever the outcome of electoral process fall short of the acceptable standard. He however expressed his association’s wiliness to collaborate with INEC to improve elections in Nigeria, while also calling for aggressive voter education to increase voter awareness amongst electorate with the view to minimizing electoral misconduct, vote buying, violence during election and manipulation of the electoral processes.
As the controversy surrounding conduct of election in Nigeria continues to rage like wide fire, political analysts and professionals are divided on whose door step the blame for failures in conducting transparent elections in the country should be heaped on.
While some posits that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should be blamed for undesirable outcome of elections and praised when the outcome is free, fair and transparent.
Other hypothesizes that the electoral body should not be liable for all the shortcomings during elections, arguing that the culpability should be compartmentalized.
They also observed that the agencies or individuals responsible for the failure or the negative outcome of the said election should be held responsible instead of the current practice where all the missiles are directed at the electoral umpire.
Giving credence to the forgoing view, a legal practitioner and the incumbent Chairman, Nigerian Bar Association, (NBA) Abuja branch Barr. Ezenwa Anumnu decried the barrage of criticism often directed at the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), after every election.
He opined that the culpability or otherwise of a bad election should be channeled to the appropriate agencies or individuals that orchestrated the negative outcome of the election, adding that criticism should not be a straight jacket thing where the umpire alone takes all the bashing.
According to him, “Let me use this opportunity to ventilate my opinion on the widespread criticism of INEC at any slightest provocation. In as much as I do not want to sound as its spokesperson, I do not buy into the narrative of the politicians and their paid propagandist that whatever goes wrong during election is blamable on the electoral umpire.
“I refuse to believe that INEC should be blamed for the ineptitude and shortcoming of another distinct body or agencies during elections. Take for instance a situation where election is disrupted as a result of insecurity in certain area and the election is declared inconclusive or canceled.
“What then is the rationale in blaming INEC for the failures of the security operatives to provide adequate security for the election even when we know that the security operatives in the field are not answerable to the commission but to the Inspector General of Police, Director General of Directorate of State Security and Commandant General of Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corps who in turn take orders from the President.”
Anumnu further argued that “If the shortcomings in the election resulted from inadequate polling officials or late arrival of materials or missing of result sheets or inadequate logistics in transporting the ballot papers to polling stations, the blame should be situated on the door steps of the electoral umpire.
“But when the problem is orchestrated by political actors or ineptitude on the part of security operatives, INEC should not be blamed for that but the institutions or individuals involved should be called to account. It is hard time Nigerians learn to direct their grievances to the appropriate quarter.” He posited.
On whether the kind of do or die electoral process in the country today the brand of democracy Nigerians clamored for, he answered in the negative.
“No, this is certainly not the kind of democracy Nigerians clamored for or deserve as a people but that is not to say that everything about our democracy and electoral processes is negative. Democracy is a process and we are making remarkable progress, though we are not there yet, steadily we will get there.
“No matter how you look at it, democracy is better than military dictatorship. What is happening is not unexpected; we are still learning the rope after several years of military occupation of political space in Nigeria.”
The legal luminary was however indifference to issues relating to vote buying, electoral misconduct and violence been perpetrated during elections, especially the recent River state parliamentary re-run election, noting that he did not monitor the election and therefore ineligible to comment.
“I would not want to comment on any particular elections in recent time because I did not personally monitor any of the processes. Though there were reports from the media, civil society organizations and election observer group on some vide spread violence, vote buying and electoral misconduct but how factual the reports were is not mine to say.
“Only time will unravel the truth, we have also seen instances in the past where such claims were made by observer group and the media and the election tribunal will decide otherwise at the end of the day based on fact before it and how the lawyers presented their arguments. “Nonetheless, there is need for improvement in our electoral processes. All the critical stakeholders need to play according to the set down rules and procedure to avoid electoral misconduct and violence, before, during and after elections.”
He equally contented that the use of military during election can only be said to contravene democratic principles and norms when they fail to give the required distance from the polling stations or deliberately interfere in the process.
“It all depends on the circumstances that orchestrates or necessitates the deployment of military during elections but in as much as they stay a certain distance away from the polling units; it does not contravene the known democratic norms.
“You only talk of violation of democratic creed when they meddle or interfere in the electoral process. Meanwhile, it is not in all elections in the country that military are deployed to maintain peace and orderliness, it is only in critical circumstances where there is likely to be serious break down of law and order.”
He noted that, “I would not want to believe or say that elections in Nigeria are deteriorating but one thing is clear, there is room for improvement. This is because more and more Nigerians are getting involved in the electoral process and what that mean is that the electoral body needs to up their game in the area of voter education to minimize violent during elections.”
Anumnu also explained that the nation’s laws are weak or that the electoral umpire is incapacitated as electoral offenders works the street free without prosecution but however observed that effort is been intensified to nip the problem in the board.
“When we had the NBA discussion series on electoral processes in Nigeria recently, this same question featured prominently in the discussion and I can tell you that work is ongoing at the level of the legislature to amend some sections of electoral Act with the view to improving the system.
“There are identified lapses in the Electoral Act but I am optimistic that the ongoing amendment will take care of them and reduce the undue pressure arising from electoral litigation on the judiciary.”
He nonetheless frowned at the clamor in certain quarter for the creation of a distinct commission that will relive INEC of prosecutorial powers to speed up trails of election offenders in the country.
His word, “Of course I do not support such call because of some obvious reasons. Creating a new body to prosecute electoral offenders will amount to creating a new bureaucracy in the system. Secondly, that will also create a new form of inter agency rivalry which will of course render the body ineffective.
“So what we need to be discussing at this material time of economic recession is how to strengthen the capacity of INEC to function optimally and not creation of new body to increase the wage bill of government. We can make do with what we have.”
On whether they are assisting or considering to assists the electoral umpire as a professional body in ensuring that election offenders are prosecuted, he had this to say.
“I cannot speak for the Nigerian Bar Association, because we have a national executive headed by a president that speaks for the Bar. But at our level, the NBA Abuja branch is collaborating with the electoral body to ensure that they achieve their primary objective of conducting free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria, as well as ensure that election offenders are prosecuted.
“We have a standing committee on INEC and we are working closely with the electoral umpire to advance the course of democracy in our country. As social engineers, we always organize conferences, symposium and training where some of these troubling issues are discussed extensively and solutions proffered by the assemblage of professional and critical stakeholders in the electoral process.
“This forum serves as a feedback mechanism to the electoral body on how best to improve the system and minimize negative outcome. We are also ready to collaborate with INEC in the area of prosecution of election offenders because we have the capacity in terms of human resources.
“We also organize period training for our members on electoral matters so as to equip them with the current trend and controversial issues in election litigations and our doors are always open to offer any form of support to the electoral body.” He assured.
In conclusion, he offered the foregoing advice to INEC on the best ways to improve conduct of election in Nigeria.
“My advice is that INEC must create a platform for continual stakeholder engagement, they must engage the stakeholders. And when I say stakeholders I mean the electorate, civil society organizations, professional bodies, security operatives, the media and several other groups.
“The stakeholders must constantly come together to rub minds and fashion out strategies on how best to improve our elections as well as come up with strategies that will help mitigate manipulation of elections. The Independent National Electoral Commission must intensify effort in voter education because it is very vital.
“It is only through voter education that the electorate will get to understand what is expected of them during the electioneering process and act in accordance with that to guard against lawlessness and violence that sometimes characterize our elections.
“Finally, the umpire also needs to continue to employ the use of technology to improve the efficiency of our electoral system.” He counseled.