OWURU: Implement Recommendations Of Uwais Committee



The National Chairman and presidential candidate of the Hope Democratic Party, Ambrose Owuru, told KELVIN EBIRI, he wants the present administration to overhaul electoral system by implementing the Justice Mohammed Uwais recommendations, particularly as it concerns the appointment of INEC chairman. He explained that the Uwais report, which is well thought out will help strengthen INEC and make it an institution respected by all Nigerians. 

Should the system where the President appoints INEC chairman be sustained? WE expect that the present government, having been part of agitation for holistic reform and overhaul of the electoral system, will factor in Justice Mohammed Uwais recommendation in the appointment of INEC chairman.

What has happened now is not an appointment at such; it is a temporary acting position of a serving commissioner in the electoral body. I think the substantive appointment will hold in due course. I think I will go with the Justice Uwais recommendation, because it is well thought out. I can add to that, that a body of retired judges, a very neutral body, should be the one to recommend a chairman so as to give the commission the deserved independence.

That is where we should commence from and you will see that we will have an independent electoral commission that is not appointed by the president or with any political coloration at all.

Why should a body of retired judges appoint INEC chairman when some have been accused of corruption? At that point, we go for people of integrity. We know the corrupt ones and we also know not of all them are corrupt. We should give credit to some of them, who have really performed well. With due recommendation, a body like that, can be set up so that we can have a very transparent system or electoral body. That is what Nigeria needs most.

What factors made it impossible for past administrations not to implement the Uwais recommendations? The previous governments had been guided by personal greed. They were concerned about how to manipulate the system. The former were not thinking of Nigeria and building a strong system or institution. Uwais report is geared towards building a strong institution and that is what I stand for. We believe this government has repeatedly mentioned that it will work towards ensuring strong institutions.

They were not too sure of their records and so would want a weak electoral system that they can manipulate to favour them, regrettably, that was of course one of their greatest undoing. When the system showed signs of transparency, they could not stand the heat or measure up. That is why people must work with their people and live up to their electoral promises so that at election time they will have their record to campaign with.

I think the present government would have learnt from it and will not look forward to a system it can manipulate because you never know what happens tomorrow. You will not only fail, but be disgraced out of office. We opposition campaigned on all these issues.

People give APC a lot of credit that they won election, all right they won election but you must know that this is a collective effort of the opposition. And so we will demand as we always do that all we have said and promised our people like electoral reform must be done. .

How do we guarantee the transparency of our electoral process? We must ensure that credible people man the system. People who have ideas and reputation. That was what accounted for what happened last time. People wanted to protect their integrity and that is very important. So we must not allow people who are political affiliates of any political party to assume electoral offices because it won’t augur well for Nigeria.

We need to have people who are independent minded and who have integrity to protect. First of all is to ensure we have good laws and the laws are obeyed and people who flout these laws are punished. That is what the previous government failed to do. We hope we do something about it this time. Once we have those who are given free hand and not those dictated to, we will have an electoral system that will be respected by all and of course we will have a good government in place.

How should INEC be funded to guarantee its independence? There should be a direct funding from the federation account. It is the leadership of INEC that I am worried of. Any credible leadership of INEC will not succumb to blackmail; he is answerable to the nation, in essence as he will work towards presenting his budget and defending it and expects a direct funding.

That is why we look for credible leadership even at the national level that knows its limits, which does not look forward to having an INEC that can be manipulated. This is important. If not, if you allow certain people there, no matter how credible INEC is, they will always want to manipulate the system.

I think the funding itself is not the amount of money, it is the people who are managing the fund and who will not pander to the wishes and caprices of people who would want to manipulate them. I think that INEC must work within its own funds. It has its budget drawn up.

The last time Jega presented his budget, no matter how big it was, most of us defended it. We said give it to him so that we would have no any excuse. And in such cases, Nigerians will ask that they give them what they want so long as they have verifiable budget that will aid transparent election.

I still believe that it all depends on the people who are managing the system. I think money is not all that will influence anybody unless you are looking for personal money. If funds are not given to you people will hear it. Election these days are not only monitored and managed by Nigerians alone.

You must know the European Union contribute funds and other organisations too. Just like we told Jega, election is all about Nigeria, you stand your ground and he stood his ground. Other people came and told him we have invested in this election and this accounted for the success of last election. So, you cannot rely only on the Nigerian government alone for funds.

What are the areas the opposition would like to see changes? There has never been level playing ground. As at today, we are still in ECOWAS court because of the violation of our rights as far as the field was made unequal for all aspirants. So long as the system was operated to deny certain parties the opportunity to present their case and then market themselves to the people.

One of the things that those of us who have been contesting election have been insisting on is that we must have a level playing field; we must have a credible electoral system. It wasn’t basically about us; it was challenging system to do what is right. We are happy today that one of those whom you have accused of being a perennial contestant has become president. We have advocated and campaigned vigorously, not about ourselves but about a system that we think should be transparent, open to all irrespective of party.

And then, a system that respects the electoral laws. If electoral law says N1millon should be expensed by a presidential candidate, it should be respected so that there won’t be issues of buying votes, it would not be issue of outdoing other candidates because you have access to the treasury or public funds. We need an electoral body that enforces these laws. We found out that we had to cajole Jega last time; we took him on many issues.

Some of INEC staff have been accused of partisanship. How do we clean up the system? We all know that this ad hoc staffing they do all the time has its own merits and demerits, where it has been alleged that most of the ad hoc staff were virtually PDP people. You found out that they are the areas we think there will be stringent law to prescribe very stringent punishment for any electoral officer who doctors such list overnight.

I know in other climes, they have what is call volunteers, but we don’t know how neutral most of them here are. But I think there should be a deliberate policy, having seen what has happened to look at the areas where the loopholes are and block them. We cannot have a foolproof system anywhere, but we will continue to strive and ensure that the laws that guide the electoral process are obeyed and people are punished.

That is the most important thing. When people know they cannot get away with anything, they will be forced to obey the laws and play by the rules. I have not seen any electoral officer go to jail in the manner I expect it. I hope this government will take a cue from that.

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