2023 general elections and a fractionalised electroral process  (Part 5)

Mike Ozekhome, SAN
Mike Ozekhome, SAN

 By Mike Ozekhome, SAN

INTRODUCTION

As the nation races towards 2023 general elections, this write-up x-rays the volume and strength with which we have in the past two decades raised strong voices against uncivil antics particularly the thorny transparency-challenge that characterized concluded elections in Nigeria and the organized resentment they brought to the nation at the global stage and which exposed the nation to the pangs of sociopolitical challenges that prevent her from enthroning true democracy that ensuring a corruption-free society. We must admit and adopt both structural and mental changes, approaches that impose more discipline than is conventional. We shall therefore on this note draw the curtain on this vexed issue, with recommendations and the way forward, which we started last week.

RECOMMENDATIONS/ THE WAY FORWARD

(Continues)

There is also the need for political elite to imbibe democratic political culture and conduct their campaigns for public offices at all levels on issues that affect the life of the people, rather than engaging in calumny and self-aggrandizing pursuit. Effort must be made to strengthen voters’ education, such that the electorate can cultivate the right attitude and be more participative in the democratic process.

Political parties must develop a mass-based approach. Politics is the struggle for power; and power in democracy belongs to the people. There has to be unity of command in the party leadership. Disciplinary actions must be taken in consonance with party laws. The leadership of the party must be involved in policy articulation, policy-making and implementation in order to keep its government at various levels with the objectives of the party.

Members of political parties must learn to develop the spirit of sportsmanship in politics. The game of politics should not be regarded as “do-or-die” battle. A vigilant, articulate, vibrant and well mobilized public should be established. Democracy is nowhere won on a platter of gold. It must be fought for and sometimes won at enormous cost. But in the final analysis, the freedom and liberty of the people gain by determining who governs them could be more precious than the price paid. The people must stand up for their rights and say no to the deceit of the power elite in Africa.

There should be institutional synergy. The ‘trinity’ of the civil society, security agents and electoral bodies working for common purpose of public good can ensure that elections are free, fair and credible and accord legitimacy to the government of the day. Candidates for office must submit asset declaration forms which will be checked by national and international forensic accountants, with expertise in tracing assets.

The judiciary, policy and other institutions must be ruthlessly purged of corrupt officials, and then be given independence from the political class to perform the technical functions for which they were employed. What Nigeria needs at this critical period of her development is really a new culture of governance, sustained by transparency and accountability.

On electoral bodies

(a)    The INEC should be empowered to live up to its name by being truly independent. This can be achieved by proper funding, early release of funds and amendment to the mode of appointment of the chairman and its national commissioners.

(b)    The policy of sending horde of civil servants to compromise the integrity of that commission needs re-examination. INEC must distance itself from all political parties, in order to avoid undue influences; it must set the rules by which all politicians must play the game while it ensures compliance. It should not be seen as a collaborator with the executive of an incumbent government.

(c)     INEC must specify the rules prior to an election including modalities for vote count; it must ensure that there is an update of voters register and that its own representatives are available at polling booths. Nigerians should be properly educated on these rules, regulations and procedures.

(d)    There should be improvement on the current technology being employed by INEC and adoption of new technological strategies including electronic voting and transmission of election results.

There is also the need for attitudinal change by Nigerians. No matter what beautiful laws are put in place, if the people are not willing to obey them, INEC will still fail in the future. The stakeholders in the Nigeria project: politicians and their agents, INEC, security agents, the civil society and the general electorate must decide to be honest and do what is right during elections and report those planning to perpetrate fraud; otherwise, the achievement of a free and fair election in Nigeria may be a mirage.

The country should ensure access to justice for all as we are in a democratic dispensation. Judiciary should be granted full and actual financial autonomy. The letter and spirit of section 162(9) of the Constitution and by virtue of the Fourth Amendment which came into effect on 7th May, 2018, section 121(3) should be given effect to grant autonomy to the judiciary and the House of Assembly of the State.

Minimizing electoral violence is a major way forward. Electoral violence persists partly because the prosecution of suspects is hardly completed. Electoral violence may be attenuated on the basis of adoption of the following policies, among others:

(a) Decentralization of the policing system such that there is not only state controlled police but also local government controlled police on the condition that the police institution is subjected to a system of democratic control by community based security committees comprising representatives of communities, representatives of sectional groups in each community such as student unions, trade unions, central labor organizations and relevant professional bodies such as the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA). There should be full exercise of trade union rights by members of the Nigeria Police Force, so that trade union pressure may be brought to bear on definition of lawful orders that may be carried out.

(b) There should be a change in the mode of appointing the Inspector-General of Police (IGP). Election of the police bosses such as the I.G.P. and the Commissioners by the rank and file of the police has been suggested. A method of appointment which makes the IGP to be independent of too much control by the appointor or his agents is also another suggestion.

(c) Insistence on prosecution of violent-prone behavior/individuals in order to show in practice that there are no sacred cows and that every person is equal before the law.

Economic empowerment of ordinary people and judicial officers should be carried out relentlessly. Judges who handle elections petitions should be well remunerated. Use of Rate of Remuneration payable to political office holders and lack of access to contract awards as disincentives for electoral fraud and violence should be enshrined in the electoral laws. A policy ought to be developed to ensure that preparedness for selfless service rather than the likelihood of material benefit is the primary motivation for contesting elections. The remuneration of elected public officials should therefore be within the salary structure for public sector workers. Similarly, legislation should be made banning office holders, their friends, relations and agents, from taking government contracts.

These measures are similar to what obtains in Germany where as Walecki points out, German cabinet members are prohibited from earning anything other than their salaries. Walecki also shows what happened to cabinet members who violated similar policy in Japan: Kimitaka Kuze, head of Japanese Financial Reconstruction Commission, was forced to step down in July 2000 following revelations that he had received nearly US$21m from Mitsubishi Trust and Banking corporation between 1989 and 1994. Even in Africa, Nyerere’s TANU adopted similar policies in Tanzania.

Adopting and enforcing similar measures as stated above in Nigeria would go a long way in reducing, not only electoral violence and fraud, but also the tendency for corruption in public office. Mode of composition of INEC commissioners should be reformed. Under Section 154(1) of the 1999 Constitution, the President, subject to confirmation by the Senate, appoints the Chairman and members of Federal Executive Bodies, which include 1NEC Chairman and the other 12 Commissioners. However, the President appoints the Resident Electoral Commissioners for each of the states of the Federation without recourse to any arm of the National Assembly. The Secretary to INEC was usually formerly transferred from the office of the Presidency, but the present one has been a core staff of the Commission. This policy should be sustained.

The existing Constitutional provisions for appointing umpires for elections cannot guarantee free and fair elections. Rather, representatives of all political parties and nationally recognized mass organizations, such as trade unions, student unions and professional bodies should compose the electoral commission.

Alternatively, a system of electing such bodies should be worked out, in order to ensure the independence of INEC in both name and practice. The existing mode of appointing INEC Commissioners has made it possible for the emergence of characters who lack a track record of independent- mindedness and standing for principles.

Political parties should be sanctioned and continue to be sanctioned for failure to meet constitutional and legislative provisions as well as INEC guidelines, for example, failure to field any candidate during general elections; failure to win at least 5% of votes at any general elections; failure to maintain and operate at least an office in the Capital Territory (FCT) and that there should be a time limit ‘within which Registration of Political Parties can be commenced and concluded’ contrary to constitutional provision which places no time limit. Deregistration of parties should be the sanction for the above listed ‘failures’ of parties.

Systematic and continuous update of voters’ register should be undertaken. The sampling frame for elections is the voter’s register. Without a credible voters register, there can be no credible elections. This is why the Constitution in the Third Schedule, Part 1, Item 15(e) empowers INEC to ‘arrange and conduct the registration of persons qualified to vote and prepare, maintain and revise the register of voters for the purpose of any election under this Constitution’. But this Constitutional mandate is never carried out regularly. INEC itself had once admitted the disenfranchisement of millions of persons eligible to vote simply because it lacked the funds to carry out the voters’ registration exercise comprehensively.

In this age of Internet, voters list should be made widely available on the net in order to remove possibilities of manipulations at different levels. Without public access to the voters register, elections could be liable to being manipulated.

Candidate at an election whose victory is being challenged in court should not be sworn-in until the court determines the case. Such a provision will minimize pressure on the judiciary by a President-elect or Governor-elect and their political parties; once they are allowed to settle down and stabilize, it becomes much more difficult. Such a judge or panel of judges who declares the election of a sitting Governor or President invalid may in turn be declared state security risk. (The End).

AND THIS

CRACK YOUR RIBS

“Sometimes marriage is like jamb,

You admire unilag or uncial,

But ends up in amadioha Polytechnic” – Anonymous.

                                                                 THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK

“Nothing is more unreliable than the populace, nothing more obscure than human intentions, nothing more deceptive than the whole electoral system.” (Marcus Tullius Cicero)

LAST LINE

God bless my numerous global readers for always keeping faith with the Sunday Sermon on the Mount of the Nigerian Project, by humble me, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, OFR, FCIArb., LL.M, Ph.D, LL.D. kindly, ride with me to next week’s exciting conversation.

C.E