Former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega, recently called on the relevant authorities to address the dangers that may work against the success of the 2019 elections. He warned that failure to do this might cast a huge doubt on the integrity of the elections.
In his lecture titled: “Peace Building and Good Governance for Sustainable Development in Nigeria,” to mark the 2018 Democracy Day in Abuja, Jega, who conducted the 2011 and 2015 general elections, noted that INEC is currently confronted with enormous challenges, which if not addressed, may affect a peaceful and transparent election. The threats, he identified, include electoral violence, lack of internal democracy among the political parties and unbridled hate speeches by political actors, opinion and religious leaders. Others are the delay in the passage of the amendment of the Electoral Act and other aspects of election framework for the forthcoming elections and the timeframe needed to resolve election disputes, especially the presidential poll. He, also, cautioned that “we may be running out of time and, therefore, must try harder and do everything possible within the shortest time” ahead of the 2019 polls. In fact, Jega’s worry is also the concern of most Nigerians and the international community.
Current political events in the country are pointers that the threats are real and must not be ignored. For instance, lack of internal democracy among the parties, especially in the recently concluded congresses of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) are foreboding signs of the danger ahead. As Jega observed, “if political parties cannot organise their internal elections peacefully, how can they engage other parties with civility in the general elections?”
Beyond this, the integrity and neutrality of both the security agencies and the electoral umpire during the election is paramount. Their impartiality will enhance the integrity and transparency of our elections.
We share Jega’s concern that these agencies, especially INEC, must acquit itself beyond any doubt that it is truly independent and will take no orders from any quarters that may compromise the outcome of any election or the timetable for the elections. INEC must put its house in order and must deploy officials with unquestionable integrity to conduct the elections. So far, the integrity of some INEC officials in some states during the 2015 polls came short of expectation. But none has been convicted or sentenced to jail to serve as a deterrent. INEC should bear in mind that the biggest challenge to a credible and transparent election resides with it.
Government and its agencies should also heed Jega’s advice to ensure that the rule of law is complied with. It is important to heed this advice because already there are creeping worries that impunity is beginning to rear its ugly head. The report that some of our law enforcement agents and electoral officials compromised in previous election is scandalous and should not be allowed to happen again, beginning with the forthcoming governorship poll in Ekiti State.
All hands must be on deck to deliver a free, credible and transparent election. The National Assembly should pass the necessary electoral framework for the coming elections. It is not encouraging that two bills to punish electoral offenders are still with the two chambers of the legislature. The one before the Senate titled, “A Bill for an Act to Establish the National Electoral Offences Commission charged with the Responsibility of Prohibition and Prosecution of Electoral Offences,” has passed a second reading and suddenly got stalled for inexplicable reasons.
Also, the House of Representatives has since been working on a similar legislative bill titled: “A Bill for an Act to establish the National Electoral Offences Commission.” Although its Committee on Electoral Matters has already made far-reaching recommendations on the proposed legislation and laid them before the House for final consideration and approval, the bill has suffered the same fate as the one in the Senate. The House report was first scheduled for consideration on January 16, 2018, it remained stonewalled since then.
While we welcome Jega’s advice on the 2019 polls, we believe that some of the ways to clear the danger ahead will include the removal of some of the things that make political office in the country so attractive. Doing so will make our politics less of a “do or die” affair. Nevertheless, the worst enemies of our democratic values are lack of internal democracy, thuggery and manipulation of election results. INEC must put its foot down to improve the integrity of our elections.