Running News on Electoral Reform

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Champion News

September 15, 2004

Catholic Bishops demand electoral reforms


PRESIDENT of Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) and Archbishop of Abuja, Dr. John Onaiyekan, yesterday thumbed down the country’s electoral system as constricted and called for immediate reforms.

He made the appeal at the opening of the Bishops’ Conference in Makurdi, the Benue State capital.

President Olusegun Obasanjo, who also spoke on the occasion, said the problem facing his administration’s anti-corruption drive was immunity being enjoyed by some culpable public office holders.

The constitution, he said, is being amended to ensure that thieves of public funds are appropriately punished.

Archbishop Onaiyekan urged the nation’s political leadership to resist the temptation of denying the populace the opportunity to express their political choices.

He noted that for any meaningful change in the polity, the political leadership must change the current electoral practices and pave way for free and fair elections.

According to him, the basic tenet of democratic governance revolves around the opportunity for people to “assess and reshuffle their rulers.” But he lamented that such had not been nurtured by government.

Reminding the political leadership of the need to avoid planlessness and shabby conduct of elections, the Bishop noted that previous elections were held in haphazard manner.

He emphasised that “those who are now ruling us must resist the temptation to deny the people this regular opportunity for a real choice.

“This opportunity comes at election and all that leads to free and fair election. We must not wait till election year to start running around. This is the time to begin to lay a good foundation for better performance than we have seen in the past,” he counselled.

Bishop Onaiyekan said the conference is held twice yearly so that bishops would besides brainstorming on matters relating to the church, reflect and pray for the nation.

He called on Catholics in the political arena to strive to change the current political attitudes which he contended were based on fraud and sincerity.

“Meeting here in Makurdi, we are not unconscious of the fact that by the grace of God, many Catholics are in positions of responsibility in the public service.

“We urge them never to forget that they are the church that everyone see in the political arena,” he stressed.

President Olusegun Obasanjo, through his Special Adviser on Ethics and Good Governance, Mr. Kanu Agabi (SAN), in his address, said though the administration is being seen in some quarters to be corrupt they have taken appropriate measures against such practices.

He said the major problem faced by government in tackling corruption were being hampered by those who enjoy immunity.

He hinted that measures have been put in place at amending the constitution so that those who steal public funds and stash them abroad, would be appropriately punished.

Benue State Governor, George Akume, on his part, commended the bishops for holding a consistent views on the nation and for offering appropriate advice as well as praying for the nation.

He said apart from helping his administration to increase up social amenities, the Catholic Church had provided innumerable relief materials for displaced persons from Nassarawa and Taraba States and assisted in averting other communal clashes



Champion Newspaper

August 4, 2004

Onu, ex-gov, warns of one-party state

•Wabara pleads for INEC, others

NDIDI OKAFOR, Abuja and EMMA OGU, Owerri

FORMER civilian governor of Abia State, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, has urged Nigerians to resist what he calls one-party rule and looming dictatorship in the country.

Dr. Onu, a former presidential candidate of the defunct All Peoples Party (now All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP)) in the 1999 election, made the call even as he canvassed electoral reforms with emphasis on ensuring the true independence of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and sanctity of the ballot box.

Similar sentiment on INEC was echoed by Senate President Adolphus Wabara at a workshop in Owerri, Imo State, where he said financial independence for the commission would guarantee free and fair polls.

Chairman of INEC, Dr. Abel Guobadia, who also spoke at the workshop, regretted that soldiers and police had to be involved in election matters due to repeated electoral violence.

Dr. Onu who read from an 88-page work at a lecture organised by the joint caucus of the ANPP at the National Assembly Complex, Abuja, said “Nigerians should not allow one party rule,” noted that the nation was gradually drifting towards a one-party state.

He accused the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-led Federal Government of deliberately stiffling and intimidating the opposition.

He alleged that the party has hatched a comprehensive plan to perpetuate itself in power for at least the next 30 years and enjoined Nigerians to resist it as ultimate sovereignty lies with the people.

He pointed to what he called the “unprecedented majority” the PDP “allocated to itself” as a way of perpetuating itself in power through the legislature.

He feared that given the dominant hold of the PDP-led government in the National Assembly, the constitution can be amended to suit the whims and caprices of the executive irrespective of the “feelings of Nigerians and public interest.”

The ANPP stalwart said the dictatorship perpetrated by President Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo and Omar Bongo of Gabon may finally take root in Nigeria.

Prescribing the way out of the seeming emerging one-party state, Dr. Onu said electoral reforms through amendments of the Constitution and the Electoral Act 2002 to guarantee the independence of INEC, was crucial.

“Political reforms involve strengthening INEC, making it as independent as is possible. It also involves reducing the intimidating effect of using armed security agencies for election purposes.

“The political reform will in some cases, involve constitutional amendments and in others, involve the amendment of the Electoral Act 2002,” he said.

Dr. Onu proposed that a retired Supreme Court justice appointed by the National Judicial Council (NJC) and ratified by the National Assembly, should head INEC.

The lecture was attended by the Chairman, Board of Trustees of ANPP, Admiral Augustus Aikhomu, and the National Chairman of the party, Chief Don Etiebet.

Chairman of the ANPP caucus in the National Assembly, Senator Usman Al-Bashir, in his speech, said the lecture was organised to critically examine the impact of democracy on Nigeria in the past five years.

Wabara, who spoke at Imo Concorde Hotel, Owerri, yesterday while opening a two-day workshop organised for stakeholders by INEC, said a truly independent electoral body is the starting point for building confidence in the electoral system.

The workshop has the theme: “Building Confidence in Nigeria’s Electoral System.”

Making a case for financial autonomy of the bodies, Wabara stated that it is important for both INEC members and those of State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIEC) to draw their salaries and operational funds from the Consolidated Revenue Fund.

This, he said, would free the bodies from being beholden to the incumbent political leaders and insulate them from charges of manipulation as well as guarantee their real independence.

The Senate President also said INEC presently only draws funds for part of its operations from the Consolidated Revenue Fund, insisting that all money needed should come from the Fund.

Wabara said for INEC and state electoral bodies to inspire confidence, they must be ready to assert their independence before, during and after elections.

The bodies must be ready to conduct decent, free and fair polls and declare results that reflect the wishes of the electorate, he noted.

“They must do everything to prevent rigging and other forms of electoral manipulations. They must do everything within their powers to protect the integrity of the electoral process. This is what inspires confidence from all the stakeholders and this is what inspires confidence in the system”, he added.

Wabara charged the electorate and political actors to have confidence in the electoral system for democracy to have a “fighting chance at all”.

He stressed that voters must be sure that their votes count and the losers must be sure that they were not rigged out.

“This is where confidence in the system comes from thin air. It is a product of performance. It is a product of history”, he noted.

The Senate President congratulated INEC on holding the workshop, saying it showed that the body is alive to its responsibilities, ready to improve on its operations and determined to contribute its quota to the consolidation of the nascent democracy.

In his address, INEC chairman, Dr. Guobadia said Nigerians must return to the traditional values of integrity and honesty if they must consolidate and build on the democratic foundations.

Guobadia said it was regrettable that soldiers had to be called out to patrol the streets during elections to ensure safety of lives and property or that there should be policemen in all polling stations to ensure peace and orderliness and to ensure that ballot boxes are not snatched or polling materials destroyed and electoral officials kidnapped.

According to him, even with these measures, these things still happen, quite unlike in some other emerging democracies, even in Africa, where members of the electoral commission have had the privilege to observe elections.

Praising the theme of the workshop, the INEC boss observed that where there is no confidence in the electoral system, confusion is likely to hold sway, thus undermines the credibility of the outcome of any election regardless of how free or fair or well conducted it was.

Confidence, he explained, implied trust, faith and a firm belief that things will be done right and in accordance with the pre-determined rules, pointing out that contextually, it is expected that there will be a level playing field for political rivals and the rules of the game will be respected and obeyed by all.

According to him, the electoral commission and security agents are expected to be independent, non-partisan, impartial and competent while the parties and their candidates as well as agents are expected to obey all laws and regulations and should not engage in electoral malpractices, including corruption and the use of threats, intimidation or violence.

“They are expected to respect the rights of other parties and candidates. Traditional and community leaders as well as the civil society are expected to assist in sensitising, mobilising and educating voters as to their rights and responsibilities and should be impartial. The voters should be responsible and not demand or expect gratification before casting their votes one way or another. If any of these components fails or is called to questions, confidence is eroded,” he said.

Also speaking, Gov. Achike Udenwa of Imo State charged INEC to evolve new electoral strategies that will make the 2007 elections a substantial improvement from those of 1999 and 2003, saying that such is the only way democracy could be solidly entrenched and Nigeria will be better for it.

Udenwa, who was represented by his deputy, Chief Ebere Udeagu, said the workshop is to educate the electorate and the larger society that the job of INEC does not stop at counting elections only, noting that it is healthy that INEC could through such means, bring together all stake holders in partisan politics as well as governance to learn and meet minds.

The workshop featured lectures and responses from participants.



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