Sha: Hold The Elite Culpable For Poll Shift

Pam Sha, a professor of Political Science and Director of Research and Development at the University of Jos, in this interview with ISA ABDULSALAMI AHOVI, examines the history of botched elections in Nigeria, as well as how to sustain democratic rule. 

Why has it been difficult to organise elections without provoking controversies?

THE process has been problematic in Nigeria for quite a long time. In very few occasions, we had relatively peaceful elections; but the processes had generally been marred by controversies. So, why is it difficult for us to conduct a free and transparent election? Why is it that, as a country, we are unable to conduct elections whose outcome all the players are happy with?

    One reason is that the politicians themselves have been unable to observe the rules and regulations in the conduct of elections. Many of them are so interested in getting to office by all means that they use all available resources, all available strategies, at their disposal to ensure they win elections. Although we expect that all strategies must not be put in place by politicians or political parties to win elections, it must be to the detriment of the process. It must not violate the rules and regulations. It must not impinge on democratic process that has been put in place to achieve this goal.

    You may even ask, why are the politicians engaging in this fierce battle? Basically, any person who has access to the state house and has access to the resources that are usually being appropriated by those in government and the use of these resources tells a lot of stories about the ways the elite makes use of the resources. We are very familiar with stories of corruption; we are familiar with stories that are not palatable in the sense that they affect adversely the development of this country. I also think that these politicians find a way of trying to capture the Independent National electoral Commission (INEC).

   The electoral management body in the past had been manned by individuals that were appointed by the President; and the President, being a member of the ruling party, had also tried to bring in people who they can have control over. I think that is one of the basic problems that we have faced in this country. So, if the electoral management body is perceived as being sympathetic to a particular political party, either the ruling or the opposition party that is trying to come into office, then it will definitely create problems for the polity, because the electoral management body in theory and practice is expected to be independent of the executive and the legislature and, of course, of the politicians. 

     But this management body often tries to violate the very nature of the principles or terms that have been put in place for it to be truly independent. And that, in itself, is another big problem.

     And associated with this is the level of performance of the electoral management body. In the past, their level of performance in the conduct of some elections had been very poor. First, registration of voters was done very late, and so you had situations whereby the electoral management body struggled to make things right at the last minute and in such situations, mistakes were made. Names of eligible voters were not found in the registers. Some of the registers were not even seen. 

    In the past also, some registers had different names of people from different locations and quite a number had also been marred with a lot of fraud. There were under-aged registrations. We also had foreigners who were not supposed to register also participating in the registration. So, that has been a very big minus for the electoral management body. 

   We often know that, in terms of the conduct of elections, some pass marks have been given particularly lately, where INEC has stepped up efforts in the conduct of elections. But we still notice some lapses, particularly in the production of electoral materials and the use of these materials. On the whole, I think that we will not blame only INEC, but also the politicians and also those in control of the machinery of government for the kind of problems that we have witnessed. The elite should be held responsible because they are the ones that engage in terrible battles for electoral office. 

   We are hoping that the politicians will reform their attitude, observe the rules and play the game according to rules. And the EBM should be given support; and, whoever is going to be managing that body should be a person with transparent attitude, a person with track records of being a dedicated citizen and a person who has the mind to do the best for this country. And I think that we should provide that support to the EMB to ensure its independence.

How do you think INEC can be wholly independent when its chairman is appointed by the President?

  There are two levels of INEC’s independence. The first level is the appointment of the INEC Chairman and his commissioners, and the second level is the level of financing, the level of funding of the body. 

    The funding of INEC is from the Federal Government, and it comes in from the consolidated revenue account, which I think is a step ahead of the previous arrangement where the funding had to be done like in other ministries. You had to wait and beg before money was released for the conduct of the elections. So, I think it is a step further; but it doesn’t really ensure total independence. We expect that there should be a reform that will look at the financial aspect to enhance that level of autonomy. 

    The most important one that people are always concerned with is the appointment of the chairman of INEC and the commissioners. And since this is done by the President and ratified by the National Assembly, it is seen that once you have a president, of course he is a member of a political party, and you also have a parliament that is dominantly occupied by the dominant party, then you have a smooth sail of this chairman of INEC and his commissioners. 

    Justice Mohammed Uwais report on electoral reforms provides a way out of this. The suggestion in that report is that there is a need for the process to be changed altogether — allow selection and appointment of the person to be done independently. Have a separate body that will handle the interview, the selection and the appointment of the person. The Judiciary should be part of it; civil society organisations should be part of it and quite a number of independent bodies that we can vouch for. We thought that it has some credibility. If someone can look at that recommendation and then probably add or reduce something from there and straighten the process of having a chairman, not appointed by the President, it will be wonderful, because there are some countries that have their electoral management bodies not selected by the presidents. The Presidents may just sign the letters, but the appointment is done outside the executive and the legislature.

What is your reaction to the allegation that the Presidency is plotting to have an Interim government for obvious reasons?

   I am not in the heart of the discussion, so I do not know where this is coming from. But I do not think that the interim government proposal is good for this country. It is likely going to truncate the democratic process because we believe in the regularity of elections.

    Although we have our challenges within the country, we shouldn’t politicise or use these challenges to try to truncate democracy. By all means, let them try to tackle the immediate problems as being pointed out in the Northeast. And within the time frame, President Goodluck Jonathan has said the elections will be conducted and handing over will be done smoothly in May. So, if that is what I hear from the President, then I support that move. 

   But, if there are subterranean moves to extend the period, I do not think that will be nice for this country, and I pray that this proposal does not have a sail in the national polity.

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