Towards More Credible Elections In Nigeria

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With the bill, which seeks to amend the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Act Cap. 15 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004, passing through second reading, last Wednesday, in the House of Representatives, there are positive signals that the much-talked about electoral reforms may come to fruition.

Major changes envisioned in the on-going process, are the unbundling of the INEC and the erection of higher standards for any occupant of the position of the National Umpire of elections in the country, in belief that to enthrone a truly credible leadership after an electoral process, the Chief Electoral officer, must, himself be one of unquestionable integrity and indeed be above board.

Actually, it was in furtherance of this same objective, and to ensure that INEC in the future concerns itself with the nitty-gritty of elections, that the House, Wednesday, passed the bill for an Act to establish a Political Parties Registration and Regulatory Commission, as distinct from INEC.

Curiously, under the present legal framework, INEC alone registers political parties, engages in voters’ education, conducts elections and also attends to other major electoral matters. These limitless responsibilities, in the past, no doubt over-burdened the commission and also raised very disturbing questions on its impartiality and non-partisanship. That mindset also contributed, to a large extent, to the number of post-election litigations since 2007.

House Leader, Hon. Tunde Akagun explained that the INEC Amendment Bill was proposed not merely to accommodate some reforms already undertaken by the Federal government but also to ensure that all obstacles to credible electoral outcome in Nigeria are eliminated.

This, The Tide understands, explains why the bill seeks to institutionalise additional grounds of qualification for any eventual chairman of the Commission. Among such standards, the misnomer whereby; card-carrying members of political parties where appointed electoral umpires will be corrected. For that purpose, the act proposes to have an INEC Chairman that will be non-partisan, have unquestionable integrity and possesses commensurate professional, administrative and academic experience.

Plausible as these efforts may appear, an even more important requirement is that which must seek to ensure, at all times that the people’s vote counts in every election. What is indeed required is a system that produces actual winners in an election and indeed one that enjoys truly independent refereeing as obtains in some other African countries like Ghana and South Africa as witnessed by former President Olusegun Obasanjo in the once apartheid enclave.

No doubt, our National elections in the recent past have continued to fall far short of civilised standards and that has repeatedly exposed the country and her leadership to avoidable ridicule before the watchful eyes of the global community.

Regrettably, only last week, an aide of the United States of America (USA), President, Barack Obama dropped the disturbing hint that Nigeria was left out of the list of countries the planned “Obama tour” of the African continent, would cover on account of the same reasons. This is not merely unacceptable, it is both a national embarrassment and shame, when, viewed from the perspective of Nigeria still priding herself as the giant of Africa.

These are why the political elite and indeed the Yar’Adua Presidency must demonstrate true nationalistic commitment to, and unquestionable patriotism in pushing for the required political reforms, if for nothing else, for national respect and proper re-integration of Nigeria into the global community as one, in which the peoples decide who govern them.

One way of achieving that is for government to appreciate the fact that no good government can achieve much without a formidable opposition, with sound options, just as it is most indispensable for opposition political parties to show purpose rather than merely accuse, as a habit, the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) of countless wrong doing without stopping by to offer workable alternatives.

This indeed is the real political reform that will ginger Nigerians towards positive attitudinal change to elections, erase the now palpable apathy, and take the country to the next level of global reckoning, a state in which elections will not only be peaceful and free but appear to be fair in all ramifications.jul1009opinion8