Tuesday, October 29, 2019 3:22 pm
Participants at a conference organized by Tell Communications, publisher of Tell Magazine to mark 20 years of democracy warned of a regression in the incremental progress the country has been making its electoral process more credible.
After a succession of military rule starting from 1966, with a break from 1979 to 1983 and a brief experiment with diarchy in the early 90S, Nigeria returned to civil, democratic rule in 1999. This year, 2019, is therefore another milestone for Nigerians and Nigeria as it marks two decades of the practice of government of the people, by the people and for the people in the country.
Thus, Nigerians have witnessed and participated in change and installation of government at various levels through the ballot box at various levels since 1999.
But beyond the routine election to retain or kick out office holders, how well have the people of the country imbibed the ethos of democratic rule, especially as it has to do with making the elections free and fair and respect for rule of law, the fundamental core of democratic rule? These were the questions taken up at a conference on twenty years of democracy in Nigeria organised by TELL Communications Ltd, publishers of TELL magazine on Wednesday, October 23, 2019 in Abuja.
With the theme of the conference is ‘Democracy and the Rule of law’, the conference was organized with the objective bringing people together to do an assessment of how the country has fared in the last 20 years, in the practice of democracy and level of observance of the rule of law, according to the company.
Top participants at the event included former chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Professor Attahiru Jega, Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State, Allen Onyema, Chairman of Air peace; Attahiru Jega, the National Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress, Adams Oshiomhole, the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and Comrade Shehu Sani, a former senator and pro-democracy activist.
They were all united that while there have been incremental improvements in Nigeria’s practice of democracy, especially since 2007 when the country conducted what was globally acknowledged as the worst election in its history. But they also warned that recent developments in the electoral system, as witnessed during the 2019 election portends danger for the country’s democracy ahead of the 2023 polls. In a paper he delivered while giving his keynote address at the conference, titled, “Electoral process in Nigeria: Safeguarding the people’s will for democracy to thrive,” Jega noted that the elections conducted in the country between between 2011 and 2019 is better than the ones conducted from 1960 to 2007.
The former INEC Charmain listed the traditional challenges inhibiting the conduct of free and fair elections in the country to include over-bloated voters’ register, lack of a level playing field for parties and contestants, unfair conduct of party primaries as well as fraudulent management of polling units and collation centres, as well as compilation, transmission and announcement of results, among others.
He, however, noted that the introduction of technology, especially, the introduction of biometric capture of voter’s identities, the use of corps members in the conduct of elections as well as use of lecturers of higher institutions of learning contributed to the improvement in the integrity of electoral process and helped to tackle some of the challenges from 2011. “We also thought that instead of using civil servants of lower grades for the elections, we opted for corps members. Many of these corps members indeed played very constructive roles in bringing integrity to the electoral process both in 2011 and 2015. Jega said.
According to him, politicians are getting wiser and in their enlightened self-interest, were reversing the progress made in making the electoral process credible through reckless actions. “From 2011, there were incremental positive changes but the problem is that by 2019, we were beginning to see a reversal, especially in the governorship elections where incumbent governments influenced security agencies to manipulate the outcome of the polls,” said Jega. “But by the time we got to 2019, we began to see a trend where politicians began to put pressure and intimidate the corps members to compromise the process. We have a number of cases and evidence of these intimidations. Many of these young men succumbed to the pressure. This means politicians are beginning to compromise an innovation we thought was adding value to the electoral system,” he added.
He also accused some INEC officials of compromising the integrity of elections in the country. The former INEC Chairman noted that the restoration of the integrity of the electoral process is a safeguard for democracy and for the will of the people for democracy to thrive stressed that elected leaders would only become more responsible if they know that their fate is in the hands of the electorate. He also pointed out that the declining voter turnout since 1999 is perhaps, the clearest evidence of this loss of trust and confidence in the electoral process by Nigerians.
Jega, a former vice-chancellor of Bayero University, Kano who as chairman of INEC conducted the 2011 and 2015 elections therefore warned that “major reversal in terms of the integrity of the electoral process,” may be witnessed in 2023 if appropriate actions are not taken. “The CIA thought that 2015 was the do or die period for Nigeria, that there would not be a Nigeria in the way you know after the 2015 general election – that has come to pass, but I think if we do not take care, a lot of these predictions will come to pass that is why we need to do quite a lot, much more than we have ever done in order to protect the integrity of the electoral process before 2023,” he said.
Jega said a starting point for ensuring the integrity of the next general election and preventing the doomsday scenario of the American intelligence agency is to embark on a reform of the election management body. He also added that ensuring that INEC continue to operate as independent body by ensuring timely release of funds needed for elections and passage of appropriate legislations were key to ensuring the integrity of election management in the country.
He also noted that while in Nigeria, like few other countries in the world, there are systematic security challenges which necessitated deployment of security to secure the electoral environment and make it conducive for voters’ participation, there must be caution to ensure that, “the security that is deployed is impartial, professional and non-partisan in the ways it engages in the electoral process.” In his contribution, the APC national chairman who agreed with assertions of Jega, however, said INEC officials were also major culprits in the compromise of the integrity of elections in Nigeria. The former governor of Edo State narrated to the shocked audience how some INEC officials demanded money from him when he ran for a second term as the governor of Edo State. “I can mention names, but I will not mention. There was one that came to me and said if I wanted ballot papers to be delivered early at my constituency, I should bring an amount of money otherwise it would be delayed,” the APC chairman said while commending Jega for the integrity he brought to bear on elections conducted in Nigeria when he was the chairman of INEC.
The Chairman of Air Peace, in his contributions, noted that the high premium placed by Nigerians on ethnic and religious affiliations constituted dangers to the sustenance of democracy in the country. Onyeama therefore urged Nigerians to see their ethnic diversity in the country as a source of strength and not weakness.
The occasion also featured conferment of awards to individuals that in the opinion of the magazine, had contributed to the growth of Nigeria’s democracy in the past 20 years.