Idayat: Reform of electoral system long overdue

Idayat Hassan

Idayat Hassan

Director, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Idayat Hassan, explains to ADAMU ABUH why reform of the electoral system must be revisited.
What do you make of the resolve by government to review the electoral system?
The decision is a welcome development and is long overdue. In fact, it should have been one of the immediate decisions of the administration on assumption of office, considering the recurrent challenges the country has experienced in the electoral amendment process. In fact, what is democracy without credible elections? Even if it is late in coming, this gesture is welcome, as we cannot afford a democratic reversal. We, however, hope the report of this committee will be implemented and not suffer the fate of the Uwais committee.

Do you think government is keen on its campaign promise to reform the electoral system?
I have mixed feelings in relation to this question. Firstly, if this government appreciates the importance of the electoral system, they would have immediately constituted the board of INEC and not wait for 16 months. Secondly, this belated electoral reform committee would have since been constituted. Even the National Assembly would have gone a long way in this whole electoral and constitutional amendment processes.

The 2019 elections would be conducted based on extant framework. So, the usual last minute amendment, as witnessed in 2010 and, of course, the 2015 amendments to the Electoral Act, signed two days before the elections, impact the planning and eventual execution of the elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission. The fierce urgency of now must always be adopted in matters of national importance as this.

It would actually have been preferable if the government adopted the Uwais committee report for implementation, instead of constituting a new committee with similar mandate, saving cost and time. However, it is a welcome development. We only hope the hard work and resources put into the assignment will be rewarded with implementation.

Don’t you think the controversies that trailed the recent Ondo APC governorship primaries, coupled with the Edo, Bayelsa and Kogi polls, speak volume of the inability of President Buhari to live up to his promise on electoral reform?
No, the President and government can’t be held responsible for internal party squabbles faced by the APC. Lack of internal party democracy is a systemic issue faced by Nigerian political parties. When you have a cartel, association of interest groups, public liability companies or families or ethnic associations masquerading as political parties, what do you expect? Until godmothers and godfathers that control who gets what, to suit their primordial interests, are taken off the scene, democratic consolidation will elude the nation.

It is largely in Nigeria that you have primaries with different lists of delegates, sequestering of delegates, purchasing of delegates as if they are chattels, substitution of candidates after being declared winners of party primaries. In fact, what we have witnessed in all the recently concluded primaries of the APC is shameful, particularly for a political party applauded for holding the most credible primary to elect its presidential flag bearer for the 2015 general elections.

The Nnamani committee must clearly forward a proposal on amending section 31(1) and 87 of the Electoral Act, such that INEC can have the power to disqualify candidates who emerge from faulty party primaries.

Why is the political class unwilling to ensure reform of the electoral system?
It is the flaw in the electoral system that is often exploited by the political class, to consolidate their power base. Tell me what your incentive will be, if you are a politician, to call for a strengthened electoral system or informed electorate, especially in a system where clientism reigns.

What steps need to be taken to ensure reform of the electoral system?
Administrative, institutional and electoral reforms. One is, unbundling INEC itself. I fervently believe that campaign finance monitoring must be immediately taken out of the hands of INEC, considering what we experienced with the Armsgate scandal where the last administration diverted the nation’s resources to fight the 2015 general elections. The egregious vote buying witnessed in the just concluded elections should immediately gear the government to unbundle INEC. The same goes for setting up of the electoral offences commission. These two initiatives will add credibility to the electoral process and steer us away from electoral impunity.

Furthermore, we must work towards more decentralisation of INEC as an institution. And this is a very important reform that must be immediately undertaken. As we often joke, ‘there is INEC Abuja and INEC states’. Within this nomenclature there are huge differences. This is also connected to the decision making process. Abuja makes all the rules and regulations in the management of elections and expects the states to fully implement them. Within all these chains, something will definitely be lost.

The conclusion of election petitions before assumption of office of any winner, establishment of the electoral offenses commission, amendment of the Electoral Act to allow for introduction of smart card readers and possibly electronic voting, a review of the process of appointing the INEC chair and other members of the commission, are very salient reforms to be prioritised.

What role can the citizenry play in achieving the desired goal?
The citizenry have the largest role to play in the electoral process. As much as we will continue to reform the law and strengthen the institutions, until there is an attitudinal change in the citizens, there can’t be any fundamental shift. In previous elections, we chided stomach infrastructure, but in the Edo elections, what we witnessed in terms of blatant vote buying and selling was unprecedented. You may also recollect that most of the electoral malfeasance are perpetrated or supervised by the communities. We have to strengthen civic education.

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Idayat Hassan
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