Comrade Olufemi Aduwo, President/CEO, at Rights Monitoring Group, and Centre For Convention On Democratic Integrity, Nigeria and United States, speaks to FOLORUNSHO HAMSAT, on the state of Nigeria’s election, the INEC and past efforts at getting it right. Excerpts…
How would you describe the political parties structure in this dispensation and leadership style of INEC since the return of democracy in 1999?
Starting from pre colonial era till date, Nigerian politics has changed in form, from a call to the noble struggle against imperialists to a regional battle for hegemony, now it has become a life and death struggle for the authoritative allocation of values to individual pockets.Today, politics in Nigeria is neither issue-based nor people-driven as recorded in first and second republics. Now, it is about the process by which individual egos and greed are massaged and actualized. ln democracy, political parties are the agencies by which people are aggregated for competition for state power. Parties start off as coalitions of like-minds whose motivation of coming together often varies according to aspiration and interests. When you take a look at APC and PDP as the two major dorminant political parties for example and the manner members are jumping like monkey from one party to the other, it points to one direction; lack of vision among the parties and desperation among political players.
How would you describe the conduct of elections in Nigeria thus far?
Elections should be the means by which pratical effect is given to the definition of democracy as a government of the people. The role of the electoral empire and political environment are the determinant factors on how this materialized. On a sad note, all the elections conducted in Nigeria from 1959 till 2019 recorded elements of manipulation with level of variations. The 1979,1993 and 1999 elections were conducted by the military, but the manipulation frequencies were minimal comparing with the wholesale destruction witnessed in part of the country in 1983 and 2003. Don’t forget that these two elections were conducted by civilian governments. The crisis of 1983 general elections led to the collapse of second republic through intervention of the military, which itself was an abberation. That was the episode Prof. Maurice lwu as lNEC chairman fought against in 2007 and saved the nation from unwarranted military intervention.
Would you want to be explicit about the past elections, especially the 2007 general elections?
You would recall in 2007, two days after the governorship poll had been held across the country and less than five days to the presidential poll, the Supreme Court gave ruling in the case in which Atiku challenged his being declared ineligible to run for the office of the President. Earlier, the Court of Appeal had ruled in the same case that it was within the competence of INEC to vet the credential of aspirants in elections and determine their eligibility. It is pertinent to point out that it was the Attorney General of the Federation, who was the chief law officer of the federation that wrote INEC and stipulated the categories of individuals that were not eligible to contest in the elections. ln less than five days to the presidential poll, after the Supreme Court judgment, INEC within four days printed new ballot papers that had all the presidential candidates’ names including Atiku. To many, it looked like magic because many people believed it could not be possible for lNEC to handle such a huge exercise within that short period. Some notable stakeholders had put pressure on lwu to postpone the election and if that had happened because of the time frame, the outgoing president must have been compelled to hand over to the senate president who would act as acting president of Nigeria and rule for six months before another election is held for the office of the president. However, lwu was determined to break the forty year old electoral jinx where civilian government could not transit from one government to another. It was indeed a big achievement for the nation.
What do you think was President Goodluck Jonathan’s reason for not reappointing Mr Iwu as INEC chairman?
Jonathan was misled. You see, in 2009, INEC had set up an election monitoring board, Monitoring and Observation Board, to conduct the Anambra State governorship election in which Peter Obi emerged as winner. Many people were not aware the election was conducted by the Board on behalf of lNEC. Under section 160 of the constitution as amended, lNEC was allowed to set up such board or authority. l was a member and six members out of nine members in the board were members of NBA and this was at the period NBA was critical of lNEC’s activities. The current lNEC national commissioner, Festus Okoye; the current attorney general of Ekiti State, Hon.Wale Fapohunda; Barr. Mike Ezekhome (SAN); Barr. (Mrs) lrele; Mr. Aslemon; Col Bello Fadile (rtd) all were members, while Barr.Akarawe who was the first NBA national president, and Mallam Umar Faruk were the chairman and secretary respectively. It was a novel initiative lwu introduced. The confidence started building and many thought the lNEC team then should continue and let the structure be rooted like what happened in Ghana. Dr.Kwadwo Afari-Gyan was the chairman of Ghanian electoral commission for twelve years. He organised elections where the ruling and opposition parties won and lost. What should be utmost importance in such appointment is the integrity of the head and commissioners. Unfortunately, President Jonathan was misled and put under pressure and lwu was not reappointed at the end of his tenure. It was lack of continuity, a disaster which cost the nation a huge amount in billions of naira in the first electoral outing of Prof. Jega in 2011. Nigerians were out for the poll only to discover that electoral materials were unavailable. That showed both system and leadership failure. The murder of Kano State lNEC REC along with his aged mother, wife and children tainted the outcome of 2015 polls as well. Many people believed it was an organised murder and not ordinary fire incident.
As an observer, what is your view of the elections which produced some state governors in 2019?
l observed the 2019 general elections and my organisation’s report was submitted to the lNEC chairman. l specifically wrote in that report that the declaration of Mr. Emeka Ihedioha as governor of lmo State was the high level display of impunity and such cannot stand. Ihedioha did not obtain the constitutionally required one-quarter of the votes cast in at least two-thirds of the 27 local government areas of the state, as provided under Section 179 of the constitution. What lNEC could have done was to conduct a run-off in areas where they had challenges. Why should the same lNEC cancel more than 300 polling units votes in the election where ten votes could affect the result? I want to strongly advice against using the lecturers and professors as returning officers for future elections. Many of them are partisan, confused and create more problem for lNEC. I think Jega brought them in to appease them as colleagues in the acedemic. INEC chairman is the chief returning officer of presidential election, likewise the REC is the chief returning officer of the governorship poll.
What is your candid assessment of the nation’s electoral journey so far?
The electoral journey so far, has been a Jericho of fear and anxiety and the promise of Jerusalem of peace and in between, there are hills and valleys, sharp bends and rocks. So, we must beg our eyes as we move toward the 2023 general elections to enable us recognise the failure of past and work towards a better future.