Sustaining gains of 2015 general elections: Perspectives of Nigerian Bar Association Election Working Group (3)
Continued from last week
The Employment of More Technology
During his highly publicized visit to the United States of America, President Muhammadu Buhari in his address to President Obama was quoted as saying, “we thank Technology and the United States for the success of the Nigerian general elections.” Haven highlighted the positives of the card readers and permanent voter’s card above there is the need for needed improvements in their usages in conjunction with other technologies.
It is apt to state that there were notable problems in some areas with the card readers failing to properly read the stored data in the PVC’s, on other occasions, they failed to accurately read the thumbprints of voters. The electoral body should work with the manufacturers to increase the quality of these machines while ensuring that voters’ education is a fundamental part of their operations. A lot of Nigerians especially those in rural communities are bereft of the usage and nuance of technology, hence the need for massive enlightenment campaigns using different communications media with the widest reach to get to them.
Punishment of INEC Staff Indicted In Electoral Malpractices
It is common knowledge that some ad hoc and permanent staff of the electoral body have been caught working in connivance with politicians to influence and rig elections in favour of these persons. These staffers should be publicly tried with their trial and eventual conviction given massive publicity so as to serve as a deterrent to other potential criminal-minded staffers and their conniving politicians.
The Justice Uwais Panel had proposed the constitution of an electoral offences tribunal where electoral offenders are quickly tried and convicted. This fundamental recommendation should be sent to the National Assembly for quick passage. The specialty of this tribunal is good for our legal system being that the regular courts are already over-loaded with cases.
Burden of Proof Should Lie with INEC
Finally, although the last general elections was so well conducted that there were fewer complaints by losers, there are still a motley of election petitions presently on-going in the various election petition tribunals criss-crossing the geographical landscape of the country.
It is my recommendation that in order to make the electoral body more driven to conduct free and credible elections they should be made to bear the burden of proof in court to show the elections they conducted were credible, free and fair, while the petitioner would have to disprove that assertion by proving instances and conducts of their officials that negate the credible conduct of the electoral polls. As it stands presently, the Nigerian Evidence Act places the burden of proof on he who asserts – the petitioner.
Conclusively, while the past elections were highly acclaimed as reputable a lot still has to be done to make improvements. And we hope that the government and indeed stakeholders will see to the realization of better elections in 2019.
Politics must be De-Commercialized; Politics in Nigeria seems to be only for the rich people or for people backed by godfathers with big purses. This is because politics has been turned into a big commercial and lucrative industry. Hence the excessive use of money to buy party nominations in all our elections from 2003 to date. This anomaly is likely to continue unabated up to 2019 unless everyone decides to change.
Federal, state and local governments must reduce the cost of governance and make political appointments less attractive and lucrative. Political parties must significantly cut down the price of nomination forms and ban the use of money in party primaries and disqualify any candidate that violates this rule. Law enforcement agencies must arrest politicians who spend more than what the Electoral Act stipulates during electioneering. Above all, citizens must stop worshipping corrupt politicians, stop selling their votes and demand nothing but service and accountability from elected officials1.
Election is a process that starts right from candidate nominations, campaigns, up to settlement of petitions in election tribunals. Since the return to democracy in 1999, there has been no level playing ground for all parties and candidates at different stages of the election process. Parties in power stand to enjoy many privileges and benefits.
All tiers and arms of government must put in place adequate measures to ensure that all candidates irrespective of their parties are treated equally. Nigerian electorates seem not to be well motivated either due to lack of confidence or interest in the electoral process and governance or due to hard voting conditions; hence, we have witnessed huge voter apathy in recent years. Only consistent free and fair elections, leadership accountability and good governance can revive the interest and confidence of Nigerians in government.
The ruling party has a golden opportunity to reform the electoral system. The outgoing Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega, has called on Nigerians to exercise constant vigilance and commitment to sustaining the gains from the 2015 elections. We all must heed this call.
• Akpedeye presented this paper at the 2015 Nigerian Bar Association Annual General Conference in Abuja recently.