OLURODE: we are witnessing gradual ‘reversal of gains in electoral system’



Professor Lai Olurode is of the Sociology Department, University of Lagos. A former Commissioner in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), he spoke to LEO SOBECHI on the imperatives of electoral reforms.

• There Is Need For Electoral Offenses Commission
• Rivers State Should Be Used As Case Study

Is there a need for reforms in the electoral system?

The need for electoral reforms is an imperative, which has to be urgently taken. The former president Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, in fairness to him; was vehemently routinely committed to electoral reforms. And I think it was, because he had witnessed quite a number of elections and he was dissatisfied. As at 2010, the 2007 election was the most fraudulently conducted election in this country.

The fact was revealed too by the members of the international community. It was a blatant robbery, a kind of open violation of all known rules and electoral laws. There was no way those elections could have passed the test of any rigorous scrutiny. As soon as the tenure of the former national chairman of the commission, Prof. Maurice Iwu, came to an end, it was very clear that there was no way Nigerians could carry on the way it was before.

People had utter disregard for Nigeria as a country. Nigeria was unable to do a very simple civil exercise of recruiting leadership through the ballot box. I think Dr. Jonathan was in a very big dilemma as at 2010. There was no way Iwu could have been allowed to continue in office. Jonathan was desperate to improve on the system; he was desperate to put Nigeria on a right path of conducting credible elections and for Nigerians to have a say on how they would have to be governed and not for some people to force themselves on them. That was what happened in 2007.

With that kind of background, it became apparent that he cannot, but go about appointing people into such key offices by allowing people to have a say, have an input on how the members of the electoral body should be appointed. Before then there had been all kinds of reports. Recall that Justice (Mohammed) Uwais panel had recommended that the appointment of the chairman of the foremost election management body in the country should be the same way that justices of the High Court and Court of Appeals are appointed through the National Judicial Council, so as to make it as transparent as possible. With that background, I would not know who and who that Jonathan consulted, but I think he got the best team you can have as far as election management is concerned in the history of this country.

What do I mean; you have among the members, people whose public image cannot be said to have been rubbished. People that were determined to get their country out of the woods and to get the international community to defer and respect Nigeria. You have Prof. Attahiru Jega as chairman; you can see, no other person that has been the chairman of the electoral body had had the kind of scrutiny that he had on the floor of the senate. He spent a whole day trying to spell out how he would go about the job; you can see how the system worked before he got into office.

What am I saying in a nutshell is, look at the team, we had also a retired permanent secretary in the ministry of finance and other ministries, who had seen the civil service in and out, the best of the civil service? We also had an engineer who also was a tested administrator; we had a retired colonel who happened to have retired from the air force. In terms of logistics, in terms of what you need in engineering occupation we had very capable hands. And I can say, we also had in the commission a retired school principal, who was well experienced; you also had Hadjia Amina Zakari. So, the composition, the pedigree and antecedents of the members of the team could not be faulted.

Of course, the commission I served under Jega, we had challenges, but we were committed to change a lot of things, it was like our lives were on the line. Jega, I am not sure he had ever had that kind of onerous assignment in his life. And my humble self that have been the head of department of sociology, professor of sociology and former dean of the faculty, so we were all committed to having nothing order than a clean election.

The kind of reforms we are talking about now needs to be strengthened. It was just as Jonathan stumbled on luck and we also stumbled on luck that we conducted an election that has been viewed as the best ever conducted in Africa. That is number one.
Number two, which I think is key, is the perception of the members of the public about INEC. Committees conduct elections. There is need for reforms regarding the internal workings of the commission in terms of its democratic credentials.

An election body has to constantly reform itself by calling itself to the need for certain imperatives, the need not to do things arbitrarily. The need to reform and also engage the rank and file of the electoral bureaucracy in the key decision making processes so that they would not be alienated. And I can tell you we have some challenges in this respect. I will come to that.

The need for reforms in the commission itself; what I mean is that the commission the way it is, is highly hierarchically organised. In a hierarchical structure in which the key decisions are taken at the headquarters and the state headquarters are just to follow and implement the need to engage them from time to time because the electoral commission requires a lot of decentralisation.

There is kind of reform I will love to see in INEC is the kind of reform where the resident electoral commissioners are part of decisions taken at the headquarters.

And then you communicate these decisions to them and it takes them time to ascertain the rationale behind the decisions they are being asked to implement. Of course, they are human beings as well, you need to involve them in what you are doing so as not to give the impression for them to say, what about us, can’t we take that decisions?

You will see that the commission is the only one that would plan so there is a report of the constitution that set up INEC as an election body. I am not saying there should not be the apex body, there should be, but not in terms of the relationship between the state headquarters and the centre, not the relationship of superiority or inferiority.

In some instances, staff of the headquarters feels they are superior. So, in a way you can have persons undermine the decisions that had been taken at the headquarters through sabotage or because they think some people are making all the money and they are not there.

There is need for more synergy, for more committed action for what I may call the balance relations between the headquarters and the state offices so that they all act on the same coordinate, instead of lopsided relationship. Where a group feels that it was not taken along in the key decision making process things could go wrong.

At the fourth level, is the need for political reforms. Let me give you some examples; search for internal party democracy, for example, INEC could do very little under section 30 and section 32, which concern how candidates should emerge and how the contestants are to emerge through primaries conducted by political parties. The commission is expected to monitor the primaries of political parties, but once a candidate has emerged he would now become aspirant for the election. Even though it should monitor party primaries, the electoral body has no way of saying this candidate is not on the list of candidates that emerged from primary of party A, this not the candidate that emerged from primary of party B, it cannot stop any candidate.

Whatever list submitted by political parties, the commission has to accept the list regardless of the fact that the candidates of the primaries monitored by INEC are on the list submitted by the party. There is a very serious conflict of law, which tends to undermine the power of the body to disqualify candidates whose names have been submitted by or list of aspirants as submitted by political parties. It is one area of the law that calls for resolution through legal reform.

Also, the timing, the registration of political parties, I think the electoral body should see, we have cases and I have listened to the chairman of the commission; he has explained this very well. There are all kinds of forces in the decisions of the Appeal Court regarding the need for electoral reforms as it relates to the use of either the permanent voter card or the card readers for accreditation, which is the machine for electronic accreditation of voters. I think the court must be attuned to the need for the modernization and deployment of technology into the electoral process.

All over the world now the reliance on technology by nations to conduct election is unprecedented. The revolution has come but the justices, their minds are not attuned or are not friendly to the use or deployment of electronic machines for clarification and for voting. It is really going to be difficult to facilitate the imperative of reform in the electoral process.

The other area of reform, I don’t know how objective the mindset of an average Nigerian politician, the mindset is that of extremism, the mindset is that of desperation, the do-or-die mentality and the use of hate speeches. These are very common when preparing for elections, as if you are preparing for war and lack of respect for rights of citizens.

There is no amount of security you put in place, that can overcome it if people refuse or fail to use the logic of the supremacy of the ballot box. They believe they must have their way no matter what, they can use any means to determine the end. INEC will do its best to prepare for the election, but there is no way the body can succeed if the political class is unwilling to reform their lives.

That calls into question the role of security agencies. It is very unfortunate. Under Jega’s leadership, the commission had a robust security machinery, that was put in place, it has never happened in the history of this country.

The Jega commission in fact created a committee; we call it ICCES (Inter-Consultative Committee on Election Security). The workshop we had with a German foundation. In 2010, about the time we came into office, because Jega and others recognised that unless we are able to reorganise the electoral process, we should forget about a clean election in Nigeria. So we knew from day one that our primary task is to put in place election security machinery and we didn’t joke with it.

We did our best to ensure that we put in place a robust election security apparatus and I must say the Inspector General of Police that we worked with, all the service chiefs that we worked with; I think Jonathan must have told them to take instructions from Jega when it comes to elections.

Take instructions from the commission and with all sense of responsibility, all these chiefs of staff, the IGP cooperated with us. We now believe that what we have been seeing in past elections were unexpected. People had to rate Jega’s commission as the foremost electoral umpire. There is no country in Africa or the world that has not learned one lesson or another from us. Is it in the area of electronic registration of voters or the use of permanent voter cards to do accreditation or the card reader machine, in almost everything some people are taking the cue from what we had. Also, we left behind a very robust team in terms of training, in terms of exposure very rich personnel in INEC office in Abuja and the states. They are the same set of people that conducted elections under Iwu, they have conducted election under Jega and I am sure another person, Mohammed, so I think it is really not in the commission, but in the mindset of the politicians.

Election security must be on the front burner of the present government if we would succeed in 2019

With the preambles we are seeing, 2019 is honestly frightening. We are witnessing a gradual reversal of the gains we have made in the past five or so years. And it is so early for us to be witnessing that there is need for a very serious study on how to work on these things that affect these reversals; it is unfortunate that we cannot conduct election in a local government in Rivers State. We shouldn’t allow it to happen and I am very disappointed. It is an urgent task that should be tackled in the area of security. It is so early for us to get back to political decay where we are coming from with all forms of electoral frauds. We shouldn’t allow it to happen.

Why should we witness political assassination because of a civil exercise? A youth corps member was killed, so many people were killed just for an election and nobody has been brought to book. Politicians have not shown they are prepared for a change of attitude. People queue up and cast their vote. But what the court communicated after the 2015 election in Rivers State was not expected. There is need for a rethink of the judicial process.

Electoral officers are human beings; they have their biases, their preferences, but again we are asking them to be professionals in what they do. Their political preferences should not be on the table when they are taking decisions. They are expected to dispense justice without fear or favour to anybody.

We ought to have passed that era and we need to use Rivers State as a case study, to teach people that they cannot get away with murder, whichever party they belong to, whether opposition or ruling party, nobody should be shielded. The full wrath of the law must be made to bear on them.

How can Card reader and PVC be scaled up?

What matters in electoral process is the credibility of the voter register. If the voters register is faulty, if the voter register is in disarray forget about being a free and fair election. I remember that the first thing we did when we came on board was that we conducted a fresh voter registration. We had to jettison the one done by professor Iwu, because it was a fraud; it had all kinds of names, double registration and all manner of things.

Having done the registration in 2010, we knew that the population would increase so; we used the period between 2011 and 2014 to clean up the voter register. We thought that after that, people can use their voter cardS; if you recall we did the 2011 election with what we called temporary voter card (TVC). But by 2015, there were issues of people saying they don’t have the PVC (Permanent Voter Cards), distribution and all manner of things.

We thank God that before we went to the election we had printed not less than 85 percent of the permanent voter cards and most of them had been distributed. By the time Jega appeared before the National Council of States and the postponement of the election, we had been able to distribute about 83 per cent of the cards.

What I am saying is that we knew people, Nigerian political class, are hard nut to crack. We knew what they could do; we said let us use the card reader to ensure that nobody comes to vote with fake or cloned cards. We went to experts and Jonathan was kind and provided the resources that we needed and we purchased the card reader.

Some people can say it is not electronic voting that we did, what we said was, bring your card before accreditation before voting will commence by 12 noon by 12.30pm accreditation stops.

Once you have been cleared, your card has been read by the machine the next thing is for you to be issued with the ballot paper you go and cast your vote. There is no controversy in that, it is very simple. Of course, in some places the card reader may malfunction, after all, it is a machine. Even human beings drop dead during election, so the card can die the card reader can refuse to work. What you need is patience that it could be replaced as quickly as possible. And when the card reader failed on the day of the presidential election, we quickly intervened. We told them you can skip the card reader, there is sanctity of the ballot paper, it is one person one vote, one person one ballot, just ensure we keep out those people that had gone to clone the card. It is just to ensure that the process is fool proof.

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