The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has pointed out an elephant in the room in the quest to fine-tune Nigeria’s electoral processes for delivery of free, fair and credible polls.
It says with the desperation of political actors, no extent of reforming the legal framework would guarantee good elections unless the players change their ways
INEC Chairman Mahmood Yakubu said Nigeria’s electoral challenges derived from the attitude of politicians rather than absence of enabling laws, and so long as politicians persist in cutting corners and sponsoring thuggery during elections, no extent of electoral reforms would yield desired effects.
The electoral chief, who spoke at a town hall meeting organised recently by Channels Television to interrogate problems facing election management in Nigeria amidst ongoing amendments of the electoral laws by the National Assembly (NASS), said another major challenge facing INEC is its inability to effectively prosecute electoral offenders.
According to him, although it is statutorily INEC’s mandate to take offenders to justice, the commission is unable to do this because it lacks capacity for proper investigation.
“One of the conditions necessary to ensure that offenders are prosecuted and convicted is proper investigation, but we do not have the capacity for that,” he said.
Yakubu also lamented that rather than Nigeria consolidating on the gains of previous elections, the country is perpetually experimenting because “once an election cycle ends, politicians would devise means of undermining subsequent elections.
So, instead of consolidating on the gains of one election, we are always experimenting new ideas to ensure that those who have perfected the art of undermining INEC’s efforts do not succeed.”
Former Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu and Board Chairman of Yiaga Africa, Dr. Hussaini Abdu, were among other participants at the event who shared the INEC chair’s concerns.
It has always been argued by the electoral body and other dispassionate stakeholders that it is absence of enlightened self-interest that makes political actors assay to bring down the electoral house in their desperation for public offices through elections.
For one, INEC has powers under our laws to abort the process in the event of unbridled abuses like violence – as it has threatened regarding the imminent Edo State governorship poll.
Besides, the legitimacy of people in political offices derives directly from the credibility of elections that produced them; and when politicians out of desperation run riot with abuses of the electoral system, they invariably undermine their own legitimacy in office and the collective respect Nigerian democracy should earn in the eye of the international community.
It is thus in sheer self-interest of politicians to clean up their acts and play by the rules, towards this country attaining to electoral standards that command global respect.
But also, what should constitute a strong disincentive for electoral malpractices is the efficacy of dealing justice against offenders, and that is patently lacking given the self-confessed incapacity of INEC.
One solution that has long been recognised but yet to materialise is creation of a specialised body – an electoral offences tribunal or commission – which would take the task off INEC and be more hands-on in holding electoral offenders to account.
Besides the Justice Mohammed Uwais-led electoral reforms committee empanelled by the late President Umaru Yar’Adua that proposed such organ, both the Sheik Ahmed Lemu-led panel of the Goodluck Jonathan presidency and Dr. Ken Nnamani-led committee of the Muhammadu Buhari presidency echoed this proposal.
And there’s been manifest motions in government, only without movement, towards birthing the organ. Late in 2018, justice minister and attorney-general of the federation (AGF) Abubakar Malami announced that an Electoral Offences Commission and Tribunal Establishment Bill was among three Executive bills being transmitted to the National Assembly (NASS) for processing.
And presently, there is a bill for an Act to establish the National Electoral Offences Commission sponsored by Senator Abubakar Kyari (Borno State) lying before NASS.