The Electoral Processes and the Imperatives of Electoral Reform in Nigeria

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THE ELECTORAL PROCESSES AND THE IMPERATIVES OF ELECTORAL REFORM IN NIGERIA

Lecture presented by Honourable Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC),Professor Maurice M. Iwu at the Senior Executive Course 31 of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, Wednesday,February 25,2009

There can hardly be a better time than now for the leadership elite of the Nigerian state to undertake a serious and honest discussion on the future of the Nigerian nation. The challenge of administering the electoral process and its composite structures in an evolving democratic system as Nigeria entails dealing with complexities many of which are unforeseen. Our country is far more diverse, complex and fragmented than most people realize.

Over time, Chief Electoral Commissioners of the country and other senior officers of the Electoral Commission have come to terms with this challenge as part of their duty to the nation. Over time however, it has become obvious too that there can be no limit to the complexity and plots of politics in Nigeria. Managing the electoral process in Nigeria is therefore, not only all about administering elections and matters directly pertaining to the process. It entails far more than that.

It is quite obvious that the developmental challenge before Nigeria is gross and multiple. It has been so for a long time. Increasingly, however, the challenges of Nigeria’s national existence are steadily being compounded by the failure or refusal of the leadership elite to squarely address certain elementary issues as every purposeful country does.

The need for an unambiguous and candid definition of the very essence of being of the Nigerian state, as well as a clear outline of the moral and operational principles of conduct within our society has become rather urgent. To a reasonable extent, it can be understood why the predominant concern – real or contrived – of public discourse in recent times is focused on elections and electoral matters. In truth however, much more about the social dynamics and processes within the Nigerian state require profound evaluation and reform. We shall return to that.

I count it an honour to be given an opportunity by the leadership of the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies at this crucial moment to engage an important segment of the leadership elite of our dear nation in such a discourse as this, which we must undertake with candour if we are to realistically expect a better tomorrow. Let me therefore express my profound appreciation to the leadership of this foremost policy and research institute in the country for extending the invitation to me to speak here today. To the participants of the Senior Executive Course No.31 at the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies, I equally extend my respect.

Once again, I make bold to state in a public discourse that there is a limit to the distance our dear country, or indeed any other country can go under such a prevailing situation as we live today, marked essentially by denial of reality and a conspiratorial preoccupation with finger pointing, mob action and unending parochial plots prompted in the main by nothing else but calculations of the interest of a few within the fold of the political elite.

It is more grievous for a society when the primary source of strength and motivation for the minority that wields enormous influence in the affairs of the society is anchored not on any nationalistic zeal or brilliance, but on the fact that they have deep pocket and so have the capacity to buy up almost everything, including not a few otherwise thinking men in the society.

[1]

The elite or better still the elite with means have never hidden their ambition to control the actual power and influence in the society. This reality for instance is at the root of the system of Electoral College in the United States of America, a system which allows the majority to vote for the presidential candidate of their choice, but leaves the actual power of choosing the winner of a presidential race to a minority.

[2] That weighty duty in that bastion of democracy is reserved for a few – the Electoral College. But the law, the Constitution of the United States of America provides for that and the influence is wielded with decorum.

[3].

The need for reform in the Nigerian society is much more comprehensive than is being discussed today. There is for one, a very urgent need for reform of the mentality of the political and leadership elite.

I recognize quite alright that I am invited here to speak on the electoral Processes and the Imperatives of Electoral Reforms. I will keep to that boundary, but without losing sight of the fact that reforms in their most meaningful character are not isolated but compound packages. The electoral process itself is also increasingly exposed to a much greater array of ‘outside’ forces. These outside forces, including economic policies, widening of the national social distance and the growing importance of international structures and agreements that impact on the electoral process are more complex, multi-sourced and multi-dimensional than ever before.

The inextricable link between economics and politics within the modern human society is well known. This nexus leaves us with a glaring reality for instance, that sooner than later what is currently discussed as an economic phenomenon – the global economic problem otherwise known as the economic meltdown – may lead to meltdowns in such other closely related realms as politics and even social life if care is not taken. Even with the present scope of the global economic problem therefore, the nightmare is not so much of what is already at hand but with what may yet lie ahead.

As it turns out, very few societies, if any, have solid economic foundation without a matching stable political foundation and system and vice versa. Understood from this sobering perspective, the enormity of the challenge before Nigeria in the current global economic difficulties and its internal efforts to strengthen its democratic base becomes clearer. Here lies the root of the imperative for Nigeria to address in a very deliberate and definitive sense, basic issues at the foundation of its political and economic processes.

The actual issue of the moment as some continues to cast it is not reform of the electoral process in isolation. Important as that may be, there is an urgent need for a comprehensive reform that will at once encompass the intertwined spheres of politics and economics. The reform that beckons to Nigeria is that which will address among others, the access to money by individuals and the limit to which that can be used in the realm of politics; exposure of the majority within the society to exploitation, abuse and denial of their basic rights by those who cornered their common wealth in the first place; citizenship rights and opportunity available to every citizen to aspire and attain position of prominence whether in politics, the professions or public service, based primarily on talent and ability and not on the size of the pocket; obedience to the rule of law by all citizens and all groups and how best to enforce the pre-eminence of the laws of the land.

[4].

The appreciation of the imperative for a compound re-assessment of the state of the Nigerian nation is obviously the very basis of the simultaneous launching out by the Federal Government with the respective policy thrusts of the Seven Point Agenda and the electoral reform initiative.

In outlining the basic areas of (1) Power and Energy (2) Food Security and Agriculture (3) Wealth Creation and Employment (4) Mass Transportation (5) Land Reform (6) Security and the Niger Delta and (7) Qualitative and functional education as its primary focus under a seven point agenda, the Government of President Umar Musa Yar’Adua aligns itself to a focused pursuit of good governance, the direct expression of which manifests in the provision of the basic necessities of life to the citizenry.

Although the vision or aspiration to develop Nigeria into one of the first 20 economies of the world by 2020 is linked to the seven Point Agenda, in that the achievement of the latter can and will definitely boost the spirit of enterprise by the Nigerian fettered by backward infrastructure and daily struggle to overcome poverty. The two policy pursuits are not of equal importance in the scale of good governance and need of the Nigerian citizen.

seven point Agenda rightly establishes once more the inextricable link between politics and economics. In other words, to get the economic bearing of the nation right and to attain the lofty economic goals of the country in the future, the political bearing just have to be right too. Conversely, to get the politics right – electoral reforms and all that- the dynamics within the economy including the basic discipline in the allocation of resources and use of even private fund must be reined in. That is the way it is in every other society that has succeeded in establishing order and the rule of the law.

The bane of Nigeria’s political and economic development has not been so much of lack of idea – even in the market place – of what needs to be done as a failure of will and commitment to do the right things. As it has been in the economy, so it has been in politics.

[5].

The poignant quote above rings true to various efforts today in the realms of politics and economics, even as it does not in any way vitiate the need and the commitment to lift the processes of our national life to a higher pedestal. The essence of a reform after all, is to ensure consistent enhancement of structures and elements of a chosen sphere of human activities. This is the point that seems to be badly missed by those who seem to understand the present initiative for reform in the electoral process as an event and not a process.

The trajectory of Nigeria’s politics and electoral democracy has not been any different from the track and character of Nigeria’s national life in it’s nearly half a century existence as a sovereign state. On one hand there is a lofty ambition and aspiration to have the best. On the other hand strangely, there is always a proclivity for tendencies that can only yield the opposite of the declared aspiration for lofty ends. The outcome of this contradiction has been a consistent gap between where the country and its people will like to be and where they truly are. And when the reality comes home as it invariably does, the unfortunate and unhelpful recourse seems to be to look for a scape goat and to sink deeper into denial of the truth instead of confronting the challenges.

Even at this, there has been some remarkable progress in both the realm of political development and economic performance in Nigeria especially in the last decade. The challenge is how to manage the progress and also how best to checkmate the ploy of the self-serving elite clique that has no qualms about derailing the progress of the society if they cannot control the trajectory of development.

It is now ten years since Nigeria resumed the path of electoral democracy. This is the longest the country has been on the road of democracy. That in itself is progress. Progress is being on a positive path where one had not attained hitherto.

On this pedestal, the truth about democracy and the electoral process in the country which is solidly standing before the world, but which some people are struggling to deny is that the 2007 elections were a landmark for the country.

Those who insist on celebrating the lapses in the 2007 elections have not been sincere to themselves and they have not been charitable to the nation. The germane questions to ask before searching for lapses to hold up about the elections are; what have been the foundation and the texture of the country’s democratic system or the background to the elections that would support anyone expecting a flawless process? Two, what were the very roles of the respective individuals in the establishment of a conducive setting for the flawless elections they now proclaim a taste for?

The contradictions of Nigeria’s political environment are simply huge and the dishonesty of those who are presently hoodwinking the larger society by turning on the Electoral Commission reflects the enormity of the challenge of political development in the country.

Here is a system in which individuals primitively acquire such enormity of resources that embolden them to challenge the state and become laws unto themselves with their own army and all; a system in which political parties brazenly deny their members who won primaries the ticket they won and allocate same to others for one reason or another; a system in which some individuals solely pick candidates for a political party in an election; a setting in which majority of the political aspirants do not believe there is any benefit in campaigning and convincing the electorate, but that with money and massive arsenal of coercion the electorate will be subdued; an environment in which politicians are perpetually bidding to buy electoral officers, often at sums of money that could transform a whole town; a system in which the very laws guiding elections are not known until few months to the elections – this is the environment of Nigeria’s electoral democracy from whence elections without flaws are expected.

How does the society curb the excesses of individuals and ensure that all citizens are subject to the same law, irrespective of their position or wealth? This should be the beginning of the reform not only of the electoral process in Nigeria, but also of all social engagement therein.

[6] what cannot be in tandem with a society in genuine pursuit of development is a situation in which political warlords thrive, each a controller of as vast a section of the society as his resources and army can control. There is nothing democratic in such a setting and the condition cannot be conducive for a flawless election. Such certainly, is not the environment of election in United States of America. Such is not the setting in Ghana.

It is not difficult to establish against the backdrop of such troubled electoral system as we have that reform is imperative if the country expects to achieve not just the visions captured in Vision 20-2020 and the Seven Point Agenda, but also all other aspirations and targets of social and economic development.

Reforms are healthy and desirable undertakings. There is indeed, nothing esoteric and far away in them, not in an electoral reform as a means to enhancing the electoral process and political development of the society. It is one of those weaknesses or distortions in the appreciation of public policy and governance issues in our society that a necessary matter of electoral reform has been made to acquire the connotation of another political campaign slogan. It is not so.

[7]

Electoral reform, especially in an evolving democracy in a heterogeneous society — marked variously by rampaging primitive accumulation of resources and unrestrained deployment of the resources, pocket nationalism, weak enforcement of the laws of the land, a stubborn persistence of the syndrome of the African big man with its attendant disdain for the laws of the land and sundry manifestations of indiscipline — simply entails taking steps to reinforce the structures of the system and strengthening the capacity of the system to enforce compliance to the guiding rules of engagement in the realm.

[8]. Any understanding of reform or necessity for reform of Nigeria’s electoral process as entailing nothing more but changes within the Election Management Body is, indeed, puerile.

The electoral processes in Nigeria are still tender and evolving. With uninterrupted democratic governance having only thrived for ten years and this coming on the heels of prolonged military rule with its impact on the mentality and values of the society, the structures of electoral democracy in the society are yet to stabilize. The leadership of the Independent National Electoral Commission realized right from the onset that the environment of election in the country is still not only fragile, but is loaded with inadequacies which must be addressed effectively for them not to overwhelm both the elections and the election management body.

[9] These problem issues were isolated under four basic headings; (a) the ever looming danger of violence in elections, (b) the pervasive use and influence of money in elections, (c) gender inequity in politics and (d) the unhealthy mindset of Nigerians on election.

The Commission has always realized the need for reforms in the election management body and its operations. The last three and half years have indeed been marked by profound reforms in the electoral process and management. The numerous changes introduced within the process through these years are seen rightly as means to a better and stronger electoral process in the future and as an adaptive response to problems observed in past elections. There are three fundamental criteria for evaluating an electoral reform: a) technical merit, b) to achieve a true break from the past error or practice that the society will want to correct, and c) legitimacy. Most of the sponsored suggestions in the pages of newspapers and other mass media are not aimed at enhancing the electoral process but actually to undermine it.

One of the major innovations introduced in the 2006 Act is the establishment of the Independent National Electoral Commission Fund (Section 3 of the Electoral Act) and Section 4 of the Act also provides for the establishment of yet a separate fund to defray all expenditure incurred by the Commission except those included under the INEC Fund. Full implementation of the two clauses of the Act will go along way towards ensuring financial autonomy of INEC and the much canvassed independence of the Commission.

reform measure conceived as a coordination mechanism to achieve sustainable capacity development of various cadres of personnel. The basic goals of the Institute are to facilitate capacity building and professionalism in the Commission through training and manpower development of the Commission’s staff; engage in vigorous voter education activities with a view to achieving an increased and effective participation of the electorates in the electoral process; and to carry out electoral research and documentation.

Another major change introduced since 2005 is the direct appointment of the Secretary of the INEC by the Commission itself, a position which hitherto was made by the Federal Government through the secondment of serving permanent secretary. Other changes introduced in the 2006 Electoral Act following submission by the Commission include:

1. The conduct of voter and civil education by INEC;

2. Closure of Registration of Voters and Political Parties at least 120 days and 180 days respectively before elections;

3. Notice of Election given 150 days before date of general election;

4. Submission of lists of candidates not later than 120 days before the date of election;

5. Change/replacement of candidates to be made not later than 90 days before date of election;

6. Determination of maximum election expenses for candidates to various offices to check the negative influence of money in politics; and

7. More stringent punishments for electoral offences as deterrence to violence and perpetration of electoral fraud in elections;

The introduction of the electronic voters register – a dynamic system that has put behind Nigerians the rather strenuous practice of the whole country queuing up for a few weeks just to register to vote in elections stands as one of the key reforms of the electoral process in recent years. Then there was the introduction before the 2007 elections of the Political party Finance Manual, a publication which introduced a certain order and accountability in the management of political party finances.

In the wake of the 2007 elections and the disenchantment with the ad hoc staff recruited literally from the streets to help conduct elections, the Commission has incorporated the members of the National Youth Service Corps as a critical part of election conduct in the country. This has led to a great improvement in the conduct of elections as observed in the re-run elections.

The Commission has also embarked on the delimitation of constituencies in order to correct the imbalance in the present electoral map. A fair and accurate delimitation process is fundamental to the long-term political stability of representative governance. The present districting of the country into 109 Senatorial districts, 360 Federal Constituencies and 990 State Constituencies was carried out 12 years ago by the defunct National Electoral Commission. There are serious deficiencies in the existing electoral map, which should be corrected before the 2011 general elections. INEC has initiated the development of a Delimitation Action Plan, which will provide a technical platform for the more equitable delineation of electoral constituencies in the country. The 1999 Constitution mandates the Commission to undertake periodic review of the division of State and Federal Constituencies at intervals of not less than ten years or after a census. The delimitation exercise will provide the nation the opportunity not only to correct some of the errors and imbalances in the present division but also to establish a technical platform to address the sensitive issue of minority representation. Again, this will reduce potential areas of conflict and violence during elections.

These are crucial reforms of the electoral process initiated on its won by the Election management Body. Reform of the Election Management Body without a matching reform in the surrounding system and the orientation of participants in the general process is however, seriously handicapped.

[10]

So much has been improved upon in Nigeria’s electoral system in the last few years, but so much still requires to be done. The reform of the electoral process must, as of necessity, be consistent, deliberate and extensive. It needs to be emphasized however, that the greatest corrosive damage to the electoral process in the land is wrought more by the self-serving and contemptuous conduct of few members of the political elite – the deep pockets – than any other factor. As these same entities seize the front row of the moment to become prominent chorus leaders and proponents of electoral reform, the danger of distortion to the profound reform the system craves is apparent.

The basis for reform of Nigeria’s electoral processes is clear and unarguable. What is at issue is whether the country will put its hands on the right spot of its needs. For a nation that has over time shown a certain disturbing inclination to ambivalence in matters that should attract very serious attention from it, the fear exits no less about the prospect of the current sing song of electoral reform.

There are actually only four outstanding areas of suggested reform of the electoral process, which will require constitutional amendment. These are:

(i) Mode of Appointment of Chairman and Members of the Commission as well as the Resident Electoral Commissioners;

(ii) Funding of the Commission through the first charge on the Consolidated Revenue Fund;

(iii) Adjudication of post-election disputes before the swearing-in of the declared winners; and

(iv) Introduction of a system of proportional representation.

The 2007 elections broke the jinx of transiting from one democratically elected government that completed two terms in office to another. The 2011 elections will no longer contend with that burden of history. But there will be ample challenges of its own time. What the nation does to progressively enhance the electoral process should be of greater concern and meaning than how much energy is exerted as seem to be the case at the moment with what would have been.

[11] The process of the elections would have been better if various individuals in positions of authority and influence obeyed the laws of the land and did not operate above the law.

Finally, let me again express my delight to be here in this interaction with you in our quest to improve the electoral process in Nigeria. It is also good that we are having this dialogue on the reform of our electoral process in a relatively peaceful atmosphere instead of a crisis situation. I acknowledge the fact that crises offer great opportunities for reform, but strategic reform that happens in tranquil environment brings lasting change. In order words, our first point of discussion is that we are here today because of the successful conduct of the 2007 elections. We have to acknowledge that fact.

The issues I have presented here and more could indeed constitute the template on which the reform of the electoral process could be undertaken for a better electoral system in the days ahead. However, it is obvious from recent media reports that the very same forces who are bent on frustrating our collective hope for a better Nigeria are really not in support of any meaningful reforms of the electoral system but are only interested in having a Commission that will do their bidding.

Thank you and God bless our country.

Kuru, Plateau State,

February 24, 2009

[1] Vidal Gore(2003),Inventing a Nation, Yale University Press, New Haven & London

[2] Ibid,pp.137

[3] Madubuike Ihechukwu(2007), Politics, Leadership and Development in Nigeria, Roots Books and Journals, Abuja

[4] Government of the Future. OECD Publication. Paris. 2000

[5] Agbese Dan (2000); Fellow Nigerians. Turning Points in the political History of Nigeria, Umbrella Books

[6] Chinoy Ely (1967), Society, Random House, New York

[7] Hamisu Adamu, New Fixation with Iwu bashing, p.14 Daily Trust, February 23, 2009.

[8] The Official Report of the 2007 General Elections(2007) INEC. Abuja .Page 4

[9] Iwu Maurice M(2007);Sustaining Democracy in Nigeria: now that the jinx of civilian to civilian transition

is broken, what next?,INEC,Abuja

[10] Ibid. Page 2

[11] The Official Report on the 2007 General Elections(2007).INEC,Abuja

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