INEC ’s independence will be eroded

INEC ’s independence will be eroded when NCC decides electronic transmission of results – Olurode, ex-National Commissioner

Prof. Lai Olurode

Well, let’s start from the recruitment of candidates. How candidates are recruited and fielded for participation in the electoral process are very important. The guidelines for holding primaries in virtually all the political parties, on the surface appear to be credible and transparent, because all the stakeholders are given roles to play. Like the media, they monitor the process; INEC will also be present and candidates that are aggrieved, if they feel unfairly treated, can challenge the process in court. But the major obstacle is the audacity of Nigerian politicians to disobey laws and to have disregard for members of their political parties. To the extent that the money culture runs through the primaries, delegates are bought up; they may in fact ask some delegates to be absent on the day if it’s by indirect process. If it’s direct, it’s a free rein for money; so the money culture is so rampant and it dictates who will emerge as candidates in virtually all the political parties.

You will recall that President Muhammadu Buhari on the three occasions he had contested to be President had the credentials that could make him emerge as a presidential candidate and he did and that was why his own party, the CPC, didn’t have many money bags in its fold, but he was unable to make it and that is because he didn’t have the resources to go through the cycle of the political process. The laws for me are okay to hold credible primaries, because that is the best, where candidates are recruited through political parties.

At the same time, as the candidates are emerging, because they know the audacity of the political leaders in this country, and will not make the candidates that can represent the interest of the people win, so they will disrupt the process and just write names that will emerge as successful candidates during primary elections and they get letters written for those who emerge that they have withdrawn from the process for personal reasons and the letters will be backdated. The political elites will conspire to conclude the process and then people will stand disqualified, because they have been disqualified ab initio.

So, after the process, you begin to see all kinds of names. You can hardly be a gentleman and go through the process, because you are going to face a lot of rigmarole and intimidating challenges that will make you ask yourself if it is worth dying for. So, going to the primaries is like all combinations of juju and other things that they use, including going to shrines and swearing. You will recall that someone was even taken to the Okija shrine and there are memberships of all forms of associations for you to really emerge; and if you emerge and you are not the choice of political elites, you stand a risk.

The primaries can be very turbulent and violent that only strong men can withstand them and not boys. The legal process is also there. If you don’t have the resources, they could challenge your emergence in court. Even if you emerge successfully and then you cannot recruit very brilliant lawyers, you might not be able to make it at all. So, the laws are okay but the extrajudicial or extra legal means, which political elites deploy, many times, make primary elections to be difficult, but that is the best; that is the platform through which you can emerge, because independent candidature is still not allowed in our political process.

With this very gloomy picture, what will you suggest as a way out?

Well, if gentlemen who have the finance can still behave honourably and respect the rules, even the constitution of this country, and the constitutions of political parties designed to throw up the best even as flawed as they may be, I still believe that if we give the same constitution to non-Nigerians to operate, I can assure you that we’ll get the best result. We will get it right.

I have this good example that I tell people; Balarabe Musa in Kaduna State between 1979 and 1983; he was impeached and all he wanted to do was to give good governance to the people of Kaduna State. Alhaji Lateef Jakande did excellently well for several years using the same flawed Constitution. Bisi Akande between 1999 and 2003 in Osun did his best. He never owed anybody. So, you just need doggedness and determination. I think what we may do is re-socialisation of political leaders. Look at the parties in preparation for 2023 and see what they are doing to themselves, they are changing the rules.

They find it very difficult to get consensus; if it were to be a country where elite consensus is possible, we wouldn’t be going through the security challenges; and as you and I know, some people are behind these security challenges. I think the first thing we might do is a win-win situation, not like a zero-sum game. Every political party that fields candidates in election should have legislative representation to the extent of their victory in the electoral process. With that, if the PDP scored 10 per cent of the legislative posts, like in the National Assembly today, I think the PDP has more than 40 per cent, but in the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, it is the winner takes it all.

If you lose the election by one vote, you will never be able to be represented; but if you create a scheme called proportional representation, then that will afford you an opportunity to work for the survival of the political parties that form a government. You will not want its downfall at all cost. You don’t have to bother about waiting for another four years because you lost the election by a very little margin and therefore you should have a say in government; but in our own case, you lose all; that is a zero-sum game and it produces this kind of backlash, the ‘bring them down syndrome’ and creates chaos everywhere.

If care is not taken, surviving these challenges will be herculean in nature. But in a situation where everybody is a winner, it won’t happen; then, you also want to see the survival of the country. In a proportional representative system, you might have lost in the contest of becoming a king, but you are not going to lose it all. The reigning king will have means to make sure you are incorporated into the system.

Because there are no differences between many political parties in Nigeria, if any party forms a government, except for a very radical party like the PRP, which is not strong as of now, but the quality in government that you are likely to see may not be fundamentally different. Look at all the indicators of development, you can score Buhari high in road construction, transportation and even above average in security, but in the fight against corruption, you may not be able to score him so much; but in terms of the people that have been convicted, we can say Buhari has tried so much. So, what I am saying in essence is that we will gain more by allowing parties that lose an election to also nominate candidates for ministerial posts and chairmanship of boards; then, you are building what you can call elite consensus; you are saying the country belongs to us and not to political parties.

Why is the electoral system that INEC is operating not throwing up the right calibre of persons?

It is not INEC. INEC will monitor primaries; there was an occasion I could recall under Jega where a primary election was monitored by INEC and at the end of the day, the names of the candidates that emerged were not forwarded to INEC. A different set of candidates were forwarded to INEC. The candidates went to court and we told them to request that we be summoned to appear in court and we would be there because you have a good case. At the end of the day, we heard that the party had settled the matter, because it was a party affair. So, what can you do?

There is no boldness because politics is more of a commercial transaction. They will calculate how much you spend in the election process, multiply it by five and pay you off. So, what are you going to fight for? You don’t have the resources, even if you want to pursue it in court. Some of your friends who monitored and have facts about the process will refuse to come out to testify in court.

Nigerians must be willing to pursue democracy and willing to confront the monsters of electoral manipulation; the media also must be ready not to report the highest bidder. We should not be celebrating electoral fraud and that is what is being done. I think in my heart that Buhari never knew that this is the kind of system that we run; I am sure that he himself will be full of regrets that he can be so stretched. He has tried his best but nobody can think that being a President can be a frustrating experience because the political elites are not there to connect with the people. I don’t have a fact, but we all know his (Buhari’s) dogged determination to change the template of political participation and that was why in all the elections that the APC lost because the right candidates were not fielded, he was not ready to fight for anybody. It’s difficult for anyone who really wants to do anything meaningful to emerge, looking at the amount of money we throw up in elections.

What then can be done to improve the country’s electoral climate and check acts of impunity you just highlighted?

One, regular engagements and workshops for judicial officers and political office holders on little concerns with technical justice, rather than substantive issues in elections. Secondly, we should have a strong commitment to electoral justice and ethics in private and public life to promote nation building. Also, the proposed establishment of the Electoral Offences Commission should provide a loud support of government and other election stakeholders to low tolerance threshold for electoral looting and election banditry.

The finality of power of returning officers in making returns should be subjected to review by INEC. Certainly, some returning officers behave with reckless abandon and unbelievable impunity when making returns. Also, security agents involved in elections should come under INEC during the conduct of elections, especially, with regards to their welfare, sanction and career progression. This is the practice in India and I think this may be helpful to us. India is a much larger democracy.  No efforts must be spared in fighting the money culture in the electoral process as well as in the rising level of hunger and poverty in the land.

Government at levels shouldn’t relent in their fight against acts of terrorism, which are multiplying incidents of out-of-school children and other indicators of poverty. Nigeria needs to forgo subtle ethno-religious divisions and explicitly demonstrate readiness to build a country based on equitable relationships and justice for all.

The National Assembly, in passing the Electoral Act, said it and the NCC must okay e-transmission of results. Is this not an erosion of INEC’s independence?

The original amendment was that INEC should be allowed to transmit election results electronically; they now amended it. I would have preferred the first amendment except that they can say when INEC deems it fit to transmit results electronically, whenever it is ready it needs not go to the National Assembly again to get endorsement before transmitting results electronically, but the amendment now is like saying the NCC is making INEC to be subjected to its dictate. The NCC is a government parastatal that will now tell INEC that an area is ready for results to be transmitted electronically. The independence of INEC is eroded that way, whereas if it said that INEC is hereby allowed to transmit results electronically whenever it deems fit, INEC will be the one to judge through its contacts; it doesn’t need the endorsement of the NCC before transmitting results electronically. Perhaps if in an area, INEC says it is ready to transmit results and the NCC says no, it has already defeated the independence of INEC, so the word independence should not be there again.

Some lawmakers raised the fear over possible hacking of results, is that concern misplaced?

Look, you and I do online banking transactions. Because you do not automatically eliminate the manual transmission of results, you only want to seal it up; it doesn’t mean you are not going to do it immediately. You can even say the result is subject to review and amendment depending on the results that are brought physically; you can also do it by wiring, so it does not eliminate the earlier method of transmitting results, it doesn’t trash it out. You can use the manual method to check the authenticity of the result you have transmitted electronically.

With benefits of hindsight, what part of Nigeria’s electoral process will you say is prone to rigging?

If you look at it, when we say electoral process, then if you extend it, you have an expanded view. I will say you can also include registration of voters and that one is prone to manipulation. You read views that say registration of voters is where you prepare for rigging. So, they register underage to favour a particular candidate. So, if you regard registration as part of the electoral or political process and we now make sure that the election register is rid of underage registration, people that have moved from one part of the country to others should also be removed from the register, then, we will have a good foundation to build on. We have to do continuous fumigation of the election register, because that is what powers the entire election. So, any fault at that level should immediately be eliminated, otherwise you have taken down rigging into the election.

Can the electoral system be divorced from the influence of the ruling party?

Honestly, both under Buhari and Goodluck Jonathan, I cannot recall, especially during Jonathan. I believe that under Buhari, we have seen him maintaining a distance from interfering with election petitions. I also think Nigeria has made a lot of improvement in terms of its elections and political process. The ruling party has lost some elections and also in 2015, a ruling party lost at the federal level. Governors have been sacked by the court wherever the court detected that there had been previous manipulations. When you look at the electoral process, it has become so robust. When you look at election indicators, we have frequency of elections; since 1999 we have never missed any election.

Look at the role of the court; it is such that elections do not take place simultaneously everywhere in the country again. It has even made INEC’s work to be less cumbersome; we have almost nine states out of the regular election cycle. So, we are making progress, even though we can do better, so let’s continue to raise the standard of election and give kudos when need be.