Electoral reform: How far will Buhari go?

Electoral reform: How far will Buhari go?

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President Muhammadu Buhari has been under pressure to revisit the Uwais panel report on electoral reforms, following a series of inconclusive elections. The result is the setting up of the Nnamani Electoral Reform Committee to review the situation and chart the way forward. Deputy Political Editor RAYMOND MORDI examines the priority areas that can help the administration to build on the successes of the immediate past administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan in that regard. 

ONE of the greatest legacies bequeathed to Nigeria by the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan were the credible elections of 2011 and 2015. Nevertheless, the right to vote and be voted for in Nigeria remains beset with a number of problems. The setting up of the Electoral Reform Committee headed by former Senate President, Ken Nnamani is President Muhammadu Buhari’s response to the challenges. According to Attorney General, Abubakar Malami, the committee is expected to review electoral environment, laws and experiences from recent elections and make recommendations to strengthen and achieve the conduct of free and fair elections.

The Chairman of the National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof Mahmood Yakubu, said the commission was greatly constrained by the resurgence of violence that had attended elections in recent times. According to Yakubu, INEC could do little or nothing to stop the spectre violence during elections, since it does not have control over security agencies.

Past experiences suggest that the obstacles to genuine electoral reforms are deeply ingrained in Nigeria’s political culture. These, according to experts, are embedded in the winner-takes-it-all attitude of Nigerian politicians, which is informed by the prevalent culture of using public office as an avenue to amass wealth.

According to the former United States Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Thomas Pickering, the struggle to achieve credible elections in Nigeria is two-sided: “First is how to design and ensure an efficient, effective, and politically non-partisan election management body; and second is on how to re-orient the country’s political culture, so that the political elite and general public will show a genuine commitment to the rules and regulations governing the electoral process in Nigeria, in order to ensure free, fair, credible, and competitive elections.” Thus, a ruling party championing electoral reform is expected to purge itself of bias, if it wants to pursue national interest.

Against this background, President Muhammadu Buhari can only make a difference in this regard if he could look beyond the short term gains of exploiting the incumbency factor and break with the tradition of partisanship that has been the major obstacle in the past. As already indicated, some of the key areas for reforms revolve round the independence and capacity of INEC to conduct free and fair elections without being encumbered. Among other things, this relates to appointment of officials and budget autonomy. Other areas due for reforms include: campaign funding regulations, electronic voting, Diaspora voting, punishment for electoral offenders and guidelines to endorse internal democracy within political parties.

Observers say the Justice Mohammed Uwais panel report remains the benchmark for further reforms in the electoral act. A coalition of human rights organisations, under the umbrella of Consensus Peoples Rights Foundation (CPRF), recently called on President Buhari to revisit the recommendations of the Uwais panel as a basis to create a new election management body in the country.

The Convener of the foundation, Mr. Ayo Opadokun, at the group’s maiden colloquium in Lagos to mark the 23rd anniversary of the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential election, said the recommendations are sufficiently intellectual and technically credible and positive enough to help Nigeria conduct elections that can meet with international best practices, if enacted into law.

Opadokun, who is also the Convener of Coalition of Democrats for Electoral Reform (CODER), a body formed to campaign vigorously for the enactment and adoption of the Uwais recommendations, said the call was imperative because, “since Professor Attahiru Jega, the immediate past chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) left office after the 2015 general elections, all that we hear now is inconclusive elections.”

He added: “This unfortunate development is because the Nigerian state has rejected the highly credible and comprehensive recommendations of the Justice Muhammed Uwais electoral reform panel.”

The Uwais panel had recommended, among other things, that the head of the electoral commission be appointed by the judiciary, rather than the President. It had recommended that the appointment of the INEC Chairman be advertised and coordinated by the National Judicial Commission (NJC), which was expected to forward the name of the nominee to the Senate for ratification.

But, that recommendation was rejected by the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, who raised another panel to review the Uwais committee’s recommendations. The commission, which submitted its report to the late Yar’Adua on December 11, 2008, had also recommended the establishment of an electoral offences commission to prosecute electoral offenders, but this was equally rejected.

When Yar’Adua forwarded a modified version of the Uwais report to the National Assembly in 2009, it drew considerable criticism, because many observers felt that previous elections had been deeply flawed and that far-reaching reforms were required. In March 2010, the then Acting President Jonathan forwarded an unedited version of the report to the National Assembly for approval, by implication saying that the recommendations should be implemented in their entirety before the 2011 general elections. Perhaps, the most controversial recommendation was the power to appoint INEC chairman. Before Jonathan resubmitted the report, the Senate Committee on Constitutional Review had rejected the recommendation to transfer this power to the judiciary, arguing that letting the judiciary appoint the INEC chairman violated the principle of separation of powers, since the judiciary was responsible for hearing the cases arising from elections.

How far will President Buhari go with the current attempt to reform the electoral process? Civil society activist and President of Nigeria Voters Assembly, Comrade Mashood Erubami, is of the view that setting up a new electoral reform panel, as the Buhari administration has just done, may not be the best idea; because the recommendations in the Uwais panel report remains the way forward for any reform in this regard.

He said: “A full implementation of the Uwais report is the best step that can be taken, as against setting up a new reform committee. That will save the huge resources spent on the Uwais electoral reforms committee and the concerns and interest generated by the outcome and the recommendations of the committee will not end as a waste.”

Nevertheless, he believes electoral reforms alone may not be the magic wand that will correct the mistakes of the past. He said the country should focus on the implementation of strategies that would conform to international best practices. He added: “We do not want another reform effort that will be jettisoned by the National Assembly, as we witnessed in the case of the Mohammed Uwais Electoral Reforms Committee. What we need in Nigeria now is to develop a new system of norms and institution for conducting credible elections, by creating an environment that would discourage rigging and violence.

“Governments in the past have not been sincere to allow INEC to enjoy full freedom. This is the context under which INEC organised previous elections. Most governments in the past did not submit to free elections which could make them to handover to their opponents; they will rather do all in their power, including disregarding the laws, to subvert the electoral process.

“From our experience as professional Election Observers, it has become obvious that electoral reform is not sufficient to bring about credible, free, fair and non-violent elections, unless the stakeholders play their roles in accordance with the Electoral Act and the guidelines provided by the INEC. Series of legal and institutional reforms that were arrived at through summits, colloquiums, workshops, conferences and seminars, have not changed anything; instead we continue to record failed elections up to this present era of inconclusive elections.”

The civil society activist said the series of inconclusive elections witnessed in recent times is not because the past reforms were inadequate. He said: “It is because the implementation of such reforms was flawed. Evidence has shown that security agencies do not live up to expectations during elections. This is why we often witness incidents of violence, ballot box snatching and stuffing of ballot boxes.

“The youths, for instance, are not usually vigilant at registration and polling centres and due to their apathy, indifference and ambivalence, double registration, wholesale rigging, during election and multiple registrations have been allowed unchecked. The performance of media professionals depend on the side of the divide they find themselves. In fact, the slant of their reports would depend on the ownership character and where their owners or founders belong.”

Former presidential candidate and Chairman of the United Progressive Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie, said one important provision that the new electoral reform panel ought to consider is electronic voting system. He said: “As it is, the Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC) is electronic; the voters’ register is electronically generated, so not much work would be needed in that regard. We don’t need a new legislation; all we need to do is to expunge Section 52 (2) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), which specifically states that the use of electronic voting machine for the time being is prohibited.”

Okorie said the system could be configured in such a way that Nigerians can use their mobile phones to vote for the candidate(s) of their choice and that only illiterates who may not be able to use their mobile phones in the manner that would be prescribed by INEC that would need to go to the polling centre to do it manually. As a result, he said there would be no need to restrict movement, ground the economy to a halt and deploy security personnel all over the country.

He added: “It will reduce all the violence associated with our elections. It will also lead to increased participation in our elections. From experience, turnout for elections in Nigeria do not exceed 50 per cent of registered voters. But, with electronic voting, we can record as high as 80 per cent participation; that is when you can say that the people have spoken.”

On the chances of introducing such innovation at this point in time, Okorie said it was the former ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that did not have the political will to do it, because it was afraid of opposition. He said given President Buhari’s experience in the two previous presidential elections he contested, before the 2015 contest, that he would be favourably disposed to the idea. He said INEC could use the Anambra governorship election late next year to test-run the system before the 2019 general elections.

Erubami agrees with Okorie that INEC should in furtherance of its adoption electronic processes in its elections halt all manual voting in 2019 and conduct future elections with modern technology, to make the process more transparent and ensure that the votes of the people count.

The corollary to the above, according to experts, is that Diaspora voting is feasible under the current dispensation. Diaspora voting was not considered feasible in the past, because there was no political will to introduce such innovation.

On independent candidacy, the civil society activist believes the country is ripe for candidates to contest elections in their names, to break the monopoly of political parties as the only platform for sponsoring candidates.

He said INEC should also be re-shaped and reconstituted by authentic representatives of organised private sector, faith-based groups, civil society, professionals, political parties, youth, women and persons with disabilities, as a more transparent, credible and an open system of appointment of the chairman of the electoral commission.


Source : Thenationonline

Thenationonline

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