How INEC chairman’s disclosure triggers disagreement over calls to scrap commission
As expected, opinions are divided as to whether it is time for Nigeria to replace the current electoral body with a better and well-organised one to manage its electoral processes, where the courts will no longer be the final determinant of the true representatives of the electorate after elections. Some, however, are of the view that efforts should be intensified to improve on the current Electoral Act to address grey areas in the election process.
Yakubu, while addressing members of the Senate Committee on INEC, had said that on the conduct of primaries by political parties alone in 2019 General Elections, the commission was dragged to court over 800 times.
According to him, “We have over 809 cases on pre-election matters and we have 807 cases on post-election litigations. We are looking at over 1,600 cases in court,” further disclosing that there are three fresh cases on the conduct of governorship primaries in the forthcoming Bayelsa and Kogi elections.
Yakubu’s disclosure has, however, attracted comments from a former deputy national chairman of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Olabode George and a former Minister of Works, Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe, who recently crossed over from PDP to All Progressives Congress (APC). The duo is canvasing different opinions on the suggestion that the Federal Government should scrap INEC after the ongoing petition of former Vice President and candidate of PDP in the last presidential election, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, challenging the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) at the Supreme Court.
The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal had on Wednesday, September 11, 2019, dismissed the petition filed by PDP and Atiku against Buhari at the February 23, 2019 poll. The Justice Mohammed Garba-led tribunal unanimously dismissed the case for lacking in merit after resolving all the five issues raised in the case against the petitioners. The petition was quashed on the basis that none of the grounds upon which it was anchored was proved.
While addressing a press conference on the state of the nation in Lagos on Monday, George said it is necessary for Buhari to scrap INEC because the commission has outlived its usefulness and could no longer conduct free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria. He said it was unfortunate that the courts were now the new electoral umpire where a few judges sit to determine elections in which millions of Nigerians voted for the candidates of their choices.
He said INEC’s handling of elections has become very discouraging and disheartening, especially to the youths, who now find it convenient to divert their franchise to Big Brother Niger (#BBNaija), where they vote massively instead of determining who govern them.
George’s observation about election apathy in Nigeria, which he blamed on the incapability of the current INEC to handle election processes tallies with the position of a university don, Professor Lai Olurode, who lamented that the current electoral statistics in Nigeria indicates the existence of political haemorrhage.
Olurode, while presenting a paper during a book presentation on the former governor of Osun State, Chief Bisi Akande, at the University of Lagos recently, said haemorrhage is employed as a metaphor to depict the state of politics in Nigeria as manifested in the following: voter apathy, disinterestedness in the political and electoral process, low voter turnout, vote-buying, protracted legal tussles, stark transactions in freedom, electoral violence, diverse electoral mythologies and malpractices, rapacious money culture, factions within political parties, generalised breakdown in party discipline, oligarchical tendency and absence of consensus-building in the electoral process.
The don, while presenting some graphic expressions of the haemorrhage which has a regional dimension, said, “Between 2015 and 2019, the total votes cast in the Northeast and North Central increased but Southwest suffered a decline. In this year’s general elections, Southwest recorded the highest percentage of rejected and wasted votes; voter turnout was 34 per cent in the region in 2015 whereas it was 50 per cent in Northwest. In 2019, it was 27 per cent in Southwest but 44 per cent in Northwest; Southwest figure was far lower than those of North Central, Northeast and Northwest. Thus vote to bleed is severest in the Southwest. Fringe political parties had a noticeable outing in Southwest.”
But while George propounded the scraping of the present INEC as a solution to the malady, Ogunlewe said the commission is not to blame, but failure to sign a new Electoral Act.
To him, the commission did its best with the new Electoral Act, which President Muhammadu Buhari refused to sign into law.
“I don’t agree that the mess we are in today in terms of elections should be blamed on INEC,” he said. “The moment we do the necessary amendment to the Electoral Act things will be better. If we scrapped INEC and the political class is not ready to change, we will return to square one.”
ALTHOUGH the duo agreed Nigeria needed to be restructured, they differed on the mode. George said there is a need to change the 1999 Constitution, which he described as a unitary type that does not befit a federal system like Nigeria.
According to him, “Our constitution is the cause of our inability to resolve the political and economic challenges confronting us as a nation over the decades. What is happening in the country in terms of governance is a premise on the fact that the 1999 Constitution cannot take us anywhere. We need to return to a roundtable to redesign how Nigeria must work as a true federal state instead of the current system.”
The former Military Administrator of Ondo State said it is imperative of the political class, especially those in power, to reconsider their position on the recommendations proffered by the “2014 National Conference and other recommendations from similar exercises organised in the past.”
The PDP stalwart said his position is not because PDP is no longer in power as some people have accused, saying, “I am not saying my suggestions must be accepted by fiat, but the reality is (that) Nigeria has not been working and there is no guarantee this current system will work.”
On the other hand, Ogunlewe said the country could make a speedy amendment of the constitution instead of the call to completely jettison it for a new one.
He said, “The 1999 Constitution has itself made provisions for amendment and if the National Assembly is serious and determined, all necessary amendments that will bring the desired change can be effected in two weeks or at least two months. Nigeria cannot go forward with the current system, I agree, but the easiest way is through amendment of the constitution.”
The duo, in separate interactions with The Guardian, said the country must tame the escalating rate of unemployment, which they said is a big factor in the high rate of crime in the country.
George also expressed displeasure over the conduct of the judiciary, which he said was below standard, especially in most of its verdicts in various election petition tribunals after the 2019 general elections. He, however, said the country needed to call a national prayer where Nigerians would seek forgiveness from God for the country to heal.
Ogunlewe on Tinubu’s 2023 bid
MEANWHILE, Ogunlewe has denied speaking against the alleged 2023 presidential ambition of national leader of APC, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, as portrayed in some recent publications. The erstwhile PDP member said some mischievous people deliberately quoted him out of context to suit a particular agenda when he was asked recently to comment on Tinubu’s presidential ambition.
He said, “In the first place, the 2023 presidential issue is a political matter that goes beyond the desire of an individual even though the individual has the constitutional right to contest if qualified. What I said was that if the ruling party eventually zoned the presidency to the Southwest in 2023, I will support Tinubu base on his political antecedents, but it is not for me to determine where APC will zone it. I am not a member of the party’s executive nor am I a governor.”
Ogunlewe said his respect for the national leader was due to several of his political achievements and how he was able to produce three successive governors in Lagos State after he left the same office since 2007.
“He also used his political influence to retrieve power from PDP in Ekiti, Osun, Ondo, and Oyo States although the party later lost Oyo in the last general election. He was instrumental to the victories of Buhari in 2015 and his reelection in 2019, just as he played significant roles in the appointment of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo as Buhari’s running mate, the elections of the incumbent Senate President, Ahmed Lawan and the Speaker, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila among others.
“Tinubu has paid his dues in politics. All I said is ‘nobody’ should allow himself to be fooled by the northerners who never take the issue of power with levity with anybody, group or region.”