During a Democracy Day lecture delivered in Abuja yesterday, a former chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega, raised the alarm on the 2019 general elections.
He pointedly accused federal lawmakers (Senators and House of Reps members) of asking for and taking bribes in the course of their official duty.
He identified the delay in the passage of the electoral legal framework for the elections as a critical challenge, adding that the Electoral Act has many contradictory provisions that should be urgently amended.
Jega said: “The first thing to consider is electoral violence and there is no better way to address this than what happened in recent party congresses and its potential danger.
“If political parties cannot organise their internal elections peacefully, how can they engage the other parties with civilities in the general elections.
“It is very important that this is addressed because if there is crisis in the elections, some of these issues outside the scope of electoral commission but in the end it is the electoral commission that gets blamed.
“So, it is very important that we improve our systemic mechanisms of addressing violence and conflicts related to elections and, in particular, improving the score of internal democracy within political parties. We may be running out of time, we must try harder and do everything possible within the shortest time.
“The second thing that needs to be addressed is the recent spate of hate speeches by political actors, religious leaders, it is this unbridled utterances by opinion leaders, religious leaders, political leaders that facilitated electoral violence in general elections. So these have to be tamed.”
The ex-electoral umpire-in-chief said: “Again, we must take serious measures to see that the rule of law is complied with. Effective prosecution is very important to militate against this challenge.
“So more and more patriotic, democratic, well-meaning Nigerians need to speak against hate speeches while government puts its mechanisms in place identifying, prosecuting those who constitute nuisance.
“Thirdly, a big challenge I see is the delay is passing the electoral amendment act, from what happened recently in the House of representatives it seems some progress is being made, but it is very important that they have a good and a much better electoral legal framework in place for the 2019 general elections than we had in the 2015 general elections.
“I kept giving examples of some aspects of existing legal framework which could have created constitutional crisis if not for God’s intervention in 2015. For example, a constitutional provision that requires the electoral commission to conduct a run-off election within seven days, it is impossible in this country but that is what the constitution says. Why is it impossible?
“By the time the electoral commission announces the results, it would have been two days and then if you take out those two days, you will be left with five days to prepare for the run-off election. Meanwhile, after elections, INEC normally demobilises staff, security personnel etc and you cannot demobilise them and get them back in the polling unit within five days.
“So, in 2015, we had very serious apprehension in the electoral commission because of that constitutional provision, because of a runoff because necessary we cannot do it within the constitutional provision.
“Of course, there are many other aspects of the Electoral Act, which are contradictory to party democracy. You have a provision 87 that says that party primaries should be conducted democratically and Section 31 says whatever name the party submits to the Electoral Commission cannot be rejected for any reason whatsoever.”
“INEC is supposed to observe party congress, so INEC has a list of those candidates that emerge at party primaries. But political parties have a penchant of hiding under Section 31 to send to INEC people who have not even participated in party primaries and I saw this happen in 2015.
“We wanted to reject that but we were advised by lawyers that if we did that, the electoral commission will now be interpreted to be partisan and in Nigeria people are often ready to drag electoral commission into politics and once that is done, the entire integrity of the commission is undermined,” he said
Jega faulted the non removal from office of those who cross-carpet.
He said: “Last example I will give is the issue of conducting by-elections in the case of death or in the case of cross carpeting. INEC, by law, has to be notified even if it reads it in the newspapers, even if it knows that has happened, unless the National Assembly has written to it to declare a vacancy, INEC will not conduct a by-election.
“And there were many cases that we knew before the 2015 general elections, people who had cross carpeted, who should have lost their seats by virtue of cross carpeting but the leadership of the National Assembly, advertently, vehemently refused to write to INEC.
“I appeared before the Ethics Committee, provided evidence that a senator had actually cross carpeted and, by the provisions of the law, should have lost his seat and that we wanted to be written so that we could conduct by-election to replace him; that letter never came until I left office.
“That provision is still there and if we don’t address it, we will continue to carry the baggage of laws that can undermine the integrity of an election.”
“So it is very important to accelerate this process of having a new improved legal framework for INEC to be able to do its job because right now they are operating under serious pressure.”
He went on: “Last point I want to make is that security agencies need to display professionalism, neutrality and impartiality.
“This is very important. In fact, in all fairness, the relative success that we had in the 2015 general elections was because of the active engagement of what we call the inter-agency consultative committee and the commitment of the security agencies to do their best under very difficult circumstances.
“I’m not saying there were no breaches, in fact with benefit of hindsight there were many breaches but their professionalism and neutrality in the 2015 general elections.
“But the most important thing is that when you compare the work of the security agencies in 2015 elections to what happened in 2007 elections, it was marginally much better.”
Jega urged relevant security agencies to beam anti-corruption searchlight on the National Assembly committee chairmen who ask for bribe to pass budgets of Ministries Departments and Agencies and when they go on oversight functions.
Said Jega: “And I wonder here what is happening with intelligence and investigative responsibilities of security agencies in policing our National Assembly.
“Some chairmen of the committees in National Assembly have become notorious on this issue of demanding for bribe with impunity…”