ADETOLA-KASEEM: For Electoral Transparency, There Must Be Trust, Integrity

PVCMr. Gani Adetola-Kaseem is a lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). He told KAMAL TAYO OROPO that the watchword should be integrity on issues pertaining to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). 

Judging from the nature of appointment of acting chairman of the INEC, the question has been thrown up again on the autonomy of the commission; do you share the fear that the body might not be as autonomous as desired? IT is a constitutional matter.

Right now, the Constitution has vested in the President, the power to appoint the INEC chairman; pending the confirmation by the National Assembly. Right now, there is nothing that can be done about that, until the constitution is amended.

In any case, the appointment of Amina Zakari is in acting capacity, because there must be no vacuum. What I gathered is that the Presidency is yet to make its mind on whom to appoint and my feeling is that the President just decided to go with the most senior commissioner in the INEC to feel the vacuum created by Prof Attahiru Jega’s exit.

So, I’m sure that the president would be looking around for those to be appointed substantively soon, which is the power vested in him by the constitution But that is the point actually.

No matter how a good a man maybe, once you are partisan there is every likelihood of bias; even if there is no bias in action, there would always be perception of such. It is dangerous and it is better avoided. Whoever that has been known to have serious political leanings, should not be allowed to come near headship of the commission, at whatever level, if he truly wants the body to be independent.

That the President wields the power to appoint whoever he chooses. Will you call for an amendment of the constitution or total adoption of the Justice Uwais recommendation? Yes, I understand people’s apprehension that why should the President, who is a political office holder and a likely candidate, be the one appointing the umpire.

It might not augur well for fair play. But the problem with the country is sincerity. Whoever that would emerge must still have to be recommended by somebody. We need to have a separate body that is in charge of recommendation. But whoever that has to be in charge of the recommendation must not be involved in politics, have any interest in who emerges and someone with integrity.

Even if the Council of State is in charge of the appointment, somebody would still have to do the recommendation and the President is also a member of the council. The Council of State also consists of past presidents, past deputies, the governors of the states and so on. So, issue of integrity still crops up.

Generally, in our society, there is serious lack of trust and lack of integrity. On the other hand, we must learn to trust people to do the right thing. There is no way in running from the fact that even in the Council of State, past leaders like General Ibrahim Babangida, General Olusegun Obasanjo; and we know where some of these people stand in terms of electoral transparency.

It is a very tricky situation. We have very little choice than to expect whoever is doing the appointment to put first the interest of the nation. What kind of reform are you looking at regarding sustaining and surpassing the gains of Jega-led era? Apart from the leaders that are going to manage the system, we also want to look at the system itself, and maybe, from the electoral reform we have attempted alongside the amendment to the current state of legislature and to make it more dynamic.

There were lots of disagreements as to whether the introduction of card reader is a reliable solution to electoral malfeasance or not. We need a step forward. We really need a system that is more reliable and more predictable. How much can you rely on power (electricity) to get things done in the country? We have to face up to the reality of peculiarity. It is a lot of issue.

But I think Jega administration has taken a step forward; the rest is to build on that legacy. The worst form of fraud that can be committed by a people is electoral fraud. When people who are not genuinely elected sit at the helm of affairs, what do you get? And they don’t owe any body allegiance.

So, we have to look at everything very critically, while hoping that the rule of law, will also governs conduct of fairly acceptable electoral exercise.

If politicians, at all levels, realise that the power eventually lies in the electorates, they would think twice and the work of the electoral umpire would be less cumbersome. But most of the governors and the legislators get there, despite the electorates.

In this case, it is in their interest to perpetuate a weak electoral system where the best cheater emerges. There is nothing wrong in borrowing from the success stories of other countries of the world. But taking a stepping forward now, you will realise that over a long period, it looks like the academia has sort of dominated the headship of the electoral bodies, why should it be an exclusive reserve of the members of academia; is there no other institution or sector of the society that could perform the same role reasonably well? I think it is a question of getting the best level of people with integrity as much as possible.

And the academics seem to be the best institution where such level of integrity could be obtained. I really don’t think there is anything wrong in the sector dominating the commission. it just happens to be the nature of the institution. Not that the academia does not have its own issues, especially, against the backdrop of the performance of people like Prof. Maurice Iwu, but relatively the institution can still be trusted.

At least, the effort of Jega cannot go undocumented and it is now incumbent on the nation to make progress. If the headship is thrown to the larger populace, most people have one partisan political interest or the other. I don’t have partisan political sympathy, but we may be very few in number.

Yes, even in the academia, everyone has political interest, however, when you are known to be particularly partisan, it would difficult and dangerous to consider you as possible unbiased umpire of the electoral commission. You have no business being the chairman of electoral commission if you express partisanship.

No matter how a good a man maybe, once you are partisan there is every likelihood of bias; even if there is no bias in action, there would always be perception of such. It is dangerous and it is better avoided. Whoever that has been known to have serious political leanings, should not be allowed to come near headship of the commission, at whatever level, if he truly wants the body to be independent.

Most of our problems are not in law, but in its application and willingness by the people to abide in what is lawful. All these we are saying are already captured in our existing laws.

As we go on, let us see the impact the present government will make in taking the country closer to what is desired. You just don’t appoint people for appointment sake, once you hire the wrong people, especially, in certain sensitive sectors like the INEC; of course, you have to forget about every other thing.

Once you cannot have a reliable electoral system, every other thing would suffer. Like I said, there is no fraud more destructive than electoral fraud; it is the worst kind of fraud. You cannot expect good governance from people who have not been elected by the people and who merely fraudulently got themselves into power.

In looking for a successor to Jega, what should be the watchword, particularly to the President? The President must consult widely. You cannot just rely on your own knowledge alone.

It is not a political party matter and as such the consultation must be as wide as possible; embracing all shades of opinion. It is a national issue, which public opinion must play a very critical role in the final decision.

Even where you have a particular candidate in mind, you must have up to two or three candidates and gauge the public opinion on each and every one of them. That may lead to selecting at least a seemingly credible candidate.

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