ABC of Lagos Electoral Reform Committee

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ABC of Lagos Electoral Reform Committee

This Day (Lagos)

NEWS
18 December 2007
Posted to the web 19 December 2007

By Philip Ogunmade
Lagos

Professor Adebayo Williams, a professor of Literary Theory, who had lived and taught in Birmingham, the United Kingdom and who also has a stint in progressive politics, critically addressed the perceived greatest woes bedeviling Nigeria’s electoral system, last Wednesday in Lagos, when he advocated the need to urgently nip the monster called electoral malpractices in the bud or witness the breakdown of an entire country described as the most populous black nation of the world.

Apparently speaking with passion and nostalgic feelings for the fading glory of a country blessed with both human and natural endowments, but which has continued to wallow in the pool of electoral malpractices, Williams did not mince words to submit that Nigeria’s electoral system has developed a strange ailment, which he said if not promptly tackled, would sooner than later put the country on its leeway to Golgotha.

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However, eight months after the 2007 general election had been concluded, wounds incurred from the election labeled as the worst so far in the history of electoral system in Nigeria and even the world over, have continued to fester. The entire Nigerian populace, including many who benefited from the election commonly regarded as nothing but a charade, have not forgiven the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Maurice Iwu. A number of people have continued to castigate the professor of Chemistry for allegedly desecrating the country’s electoral system, more so that the INEC boss has remained unrepentant on his position on the election.

It is against this background that Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola, recently initiated the idea of a committee, known as Lagos State Electoral Reform Committee with the mandate to spell out recommendations aimed at making subsequent elections much more credible. At the opening of a three-day public hearing by the committee at Regency Hall, Alausa, Ikeja last week, Williams, who is the committee chairman, explained the rationale behind the development, saying if prompt measures are not put in place to check the culture of electoral malpractices in the country, the Nigerian state may sooner than later be a shadow of itself.

“If you look at the way the electoral problem is going, it will get to a point where you just have to address a disease or it will just kill you. That is the level we are now. In 1999, people went home with minor complaints. In 2003, it was the same thing. But in 2007, people were no longer ready to bear the situation again. We cannot continue the way things are going. Otherwise, somebody will organise an election in the future that has no legitimacy and the country will breakdown.”

Those were the passionate words of the literary professor who has finally returned to Nigeria, at the opening session of the public hearing last Wednesday.

Williams, in his bid to underscore the degree of electoral failure in the country, lamented that the electorate who ought to be the determining factor in the electoral equation of the country, have technically been abolished.

Explaining why an occasion of that magnitude was inevitable, Williams said the need for electoral reforms had become compelling, in view of the failure of Nigeria’s “political mainstream.” He insisted that the only panacea for the current electoral impasse is to swiftly device an alternative to the situation, which he said his committee sets out to achieve. “The political mainstream has failed the nation. We are looking for an alternative. 2007 election did not meet the expectations of a lot of people. We have been trying to look at what went wrong,” Williams said.

While expressing optimism that the proposed electoral reform will guarantee improved electoral system in the future, Williams said his optimism was predicated on the prevalent pessimism of the moment. “My optimism is based on the pessimism of the country,” he reasoned.

He insisted that the electoral malpractices which characterized the 2007 general election had generated much anger in the polity, which he said called for administrative attention, because in his words, the electorate which should ordinarily constitute the political hub of the country have been reduced to ashes.” There is deep seated anger. There is abolition of the Nigerian electorate and if there is no electorate, there will be no nation,” he stated.

Williams said the responses that his committee has received so far, have been so encouraging to such an extent that by the time it will conclude its assignment, the panel would have come up with valuable options aimed at re-inventing the system. Although, the three-day public hearing was sparsely attended, the poor attendance did not in any way diminish the quality of presentations at the event. Various presentations at the public hearing dwelt mainly on the panacea to electoral problems in the country.

Making a presentation at the event, Professor Jadesola Akande, former Vice Chancellor of the Lagos State University (LASU) canvassed the need to severely punish persons who violate the provisions of the Electoral Law. That in her own opinion, will go a long way to deter others from perpetrating such acts in the future. She regretted that despite the volume of damage done to the country by election fraudsters during the April election, no single individual has been punished.

While noting that electoral malpractices imply a sheer violation of the Electoral Act, Akande argued that violations of the Electoral Act is a criminal offence which should promptly warrant the prosecution of anyone found culpable in such an unwholesome act. Specifically, the former vice chancellor stated that election riggers ought to be prosecuted for defiling the provisions of the Electoral Act.

Other acts which she considered as crimes and which she argued should be accompanied by acute punishment include snatching and stuffing of ballot boxes which were prevalent at the last election, the collusion of members of the Nigeria Police with politicians to rig the election as well as the intimidation meted out to the opponents by politicians, using the police.

Akande, who also advocated the existence of not more than five political parties in the country, was swift to add that, anybody who does not fit into any of the five parties should opt to contest election as an independent candidate.

She also canvassed a broad-based participation in the electoral process, which according to her should involve deep consultation among stakeholders before important steps are taken in the electoral process. According to her, the broad based-consultation should cover the appointment of members of the electoral commission adding that before final selection is eventually done, there ought to be “selective selection” which can enhance capacity building. She also reiterated the need to educate party members on every act that constitutes violations of the Electoral Act.

Also speaking at the forum, Ebit Ndok who represented Women Solidarity Forum, canvassed the need to inculcate electoral behaviour into the electorate, which according to her, is the panacea for the electoral crisis pervading the country. Ndok hit the nail on the head, when she reasoned that the most important players in an election are the electorate and not the politicians or the electoral officers.

Elucidating on the idea of electoral behaviour, Ndok said Nigerians need to change their mindsets and allow fresh revival and re-awakening in their perceptions about electoral process. She also stressed the need for periodic review of the electoral behaviour adding that situations where voters are denied of their rights to vote, make mockery of the electoral process.

While expressing the need to accord women greater recognition in the electoral process, Ndok also canvassed the reason both the government and INEC should educate the masses on the meaning of electoral process, the importance of their participation in the process, what parties stand for as well as what electoral reforms actually mean.

She added that a situation where voters are denied of their rights to vote or an atmosphere where rigging is prevalent, implies a violation of the rights of the voters. She also emphasized the need to educate Nigerians on the power behind their votes, insisting that there have continued to be flaws in the process because a number of people are not passionate about the Nigerian state.

In his own presentation, Mr. Ayodele Adewale, National Co-coordinator of the Centre for the Defence of Democracy (CFTDD), lamented that the Nigerian youth have been absolutely sidetracked in the current civil rule.

While arguing that the youth of the generations past made substantial impact which resulted in immense breakthroughs and progress for the country, Adewale said: “You would recall that the Nigerian youth not only had contributed to the socio-economic and political development of pre-colonial Nigeria, but also during the trenchant battle for the nation’s independence from British imperialism.

“The Nigerian youth organized as student activists, labour unionists and in organizations such as the Zikist Movement, Nigeria Youth Movement, among others were in the vanguard to liberty. The likes of Raji Abdallah, Mokwugo Okoye, Anthony Enahoro, Tunji Otegbeye and Mbonu Ojike of the ‘boycott of the boycottables’ fame and several other youth of their generation contributed immensely to the nationalist struggles,” he said.

He also noted that persons who championed the nationalist struggle that led to Nigeria’s independence such as the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Mallam Aminu Kano, Samuel Ladoke. Akintola, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Michael Okpara, Bode Thomas among others were not more than 30 years of age at the time they carried the torch for the liberation of Nigeria from imperialism. Why are the youth of these days so confined into irrelevance in the current system? Adewale wondered.

Arguing that the Nigerian youth are prepared to stamp out corruption from the system, Adewale said a situation where the youth are being mobilized to vote, but prevented from being voted for, is no longer tolerable.

Also presenting a paper on behalf of Campaign for the Restoration of Nigeria on the third day of the conference, Ndok emphasized the need to employ a holistic approach towards election reforms. According to her, for electoral reform to be effective, a number of factors must be taken into consideration. Such factors, according to her, include: the voter himself, the electoral system, election, stakeholders, the government, available facilities, political parties, political campaigns, electoral performance and the like.

Speaking further, Ndok added that there must be a thorough evaluation of the past elections as the prerequisites for looking into future elections. She argued that the electoral reform being carried out today must be so retrospective to such an extent that it must review the different elections which had held in the country from 1963 – 2007. By reviewing these previous elections, Ndok reasoned that the flaws will be rightly examined and hence, form the basis for changes in the future elections.

More importantly, she also reiterated the need to assess the roles of stakeholders at the election. For instance, she stated unequivocally that contributions of such stakeholders, including the government, towards the success or failures of such elections must be thoroughly looked into.

She was of the view that the environment for the conduct of the election must be conducive and voter friendly. Other factors she advised the panel to take into consideration, are the preparation of political parties towards the election, how political campaigns are conducted and the need for a re-orientation and education of the people, with particular reference to the flaws in the electoral system.

In his presentation, Sulaiman Jelili, who spoke on behalf of Olori Youth Forum, canvassed the need to detach the appointment of the chairman of the electoral commission from the list of other functions being performed by the President. This he said would bring solution to ‘he who plays the piper, dictates the tunes’ syndrome. He therefore suggested that members of the electoral commission should be given the opportunity to appoint their chairman among themselves. The forum also suggested the stoppage of the use of electronic registration system, saying Nigeria has not attained that level of technological advancement and hence, the system needs be saved from the woes it experienced at the last registration exercise.

Also presenting a paper on behalf of Muslim Students Society (MSS), Idris Hammed suggested that both the presidential and governorship election should hold same day and earlier than other elections. He also submitted that no member of either the State or National Assembly should be allowed to spend more than three terms in the parliament. This he said would curtail arrogance of power that a long stay in the parliament may lead to.

Before leaving the platform, Hammed who laid emphasis on the power of education in the workability of a political system, also added that anyone who holds a qualification below a university degree must not be allowed to seek political power.

In a nutshell, the advent of the committee, going by the submissions at the event, could be said to be a right step in the right direction. But whether the outcome of the entire assignment of the committee will make any meaningful impact is another factor. This is bearing in mind that Nigeria has never lacked good ideas, but implementation of good ideas has always been the bane of progress in the country. Although the Williams-committee said it had received no fewer than 200 memoranda, all hands are on deck to see what change it can effect on the flawed electoral system in Nigeria.

 

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