Continued from Monday
Without doubts the 2007 elections were confronted with sundry loopholes and rather confusing legal interpretations of the laws guiding the conduct of the elections. One of the outstanding cases over which critics of the Commission have been most uncharitable’ concerned the initial exclusion of some aspirants, including the then Vice President Atiku Abubakar from contesting in the election. The Commission does not, of course, operate outside the laws of the country. The extant law as of the time of preparation for the 2007 election was that any person indicted by an administrative inquiry by the government automatically did not qualify to contest for election. The Federal Government had come out with a White Paper containing those that its administrative panels indicted for sundry offences which disqualified them for contesting in the elections. Subsequently, the Attorney General of the Federation communicated the Commission on the provisions of the law on the matter. It remains a puzzle that some still argue that the Commission should have ignored the provisions of the law and the information from the attorney general on the matter.
As if this was not enough, when some of those who were excluded at that material time went to the court to seek relief, the court up to the Appeal Court reaffirmed the law as was communicated to the Commission. The reversal of the ruling of the Appeal Court by the Supreme Court on June 16,2007, barely five days to the presidential election could not have made the Commission lawless in actions that had had the full backing of the law till then.
The lack of financial autonomy by the election management body presented another critical challenge in the preparation for the 2007 elections. The delay, seemingly willful by relevant arms organs of the government to release funds already appropriated for the elections meant that the Commission wasted so much time and energy in chasing after the funds to execute vital aspects of programmes for the elections.
Perhaps nothing reflects the poor planning of the state for elections than the practice of releasing the bulk of the money for the preparation for elections few months to the polls. This practice which still persists denies the election management body the opportunity of planning ahead and procuring needed materials for elections in measured pace. During the preparation for the 2007 election, the costly import of this practice was poignantly driven home when the order for the Direct Data Capture equipment for registration of voters could not be fully secured as of the date the registration exercise was billed to commence. It took the intervention of a patriot to rescue the nation and the Commission in that instane. But the emergency could not have arisen if the fund for the equipment had been available much earlier and the order made much earlier.
But by far the greatest threat to the preparations for the 2007 elections and indeed the political stability of the nation about the time was the crisis in the ruling party which escalated into the unprecedented split in the Presidency. The crisis did not only increase the political temperature of the nation, it rendered the work of the electoral commission more difficult as every decision the commission took was challenged and suspected by the warring parties in the ruling party. As it turned out, there was ample reason to believe that many within the political class both from the government and the so-called opposition did not want the election to hold for different reasons. The Commission found itself swimming against the tide. Worse still, the tide came from more than one direction. A situation could not be worse for preparation for a general election.
Many of those who today criticise the conduct of the 2007 election and w1shed that it had been as smooth as that in some of the countries they point to conveniently forget very circumstances in which the 2007 electlons were conducted. For all the challenges and impediments, the Commission was resolute that the election must be held. And 1t was held. Had that not been done, the country would have once more succumbed to the jinx of not managing to transit from one government that had completed its full term to another. ThankGod that jinx was broken. Today we can talk. of the shortcomings of the 2007 elections, but there is can never be an issue again of the country struggling to overcome a transition election.
For obvious reasons the crisis in the ruling Peoples Democratic Party presented a bigger problem for the country and preparations for the 2007 elections. But many of the other political parties were not in any better condition. Propelled by a desire to broaden the political space and reduce tension inherent in the struggle for tickets and foothold in few parties, the Commission had granted registration to more parties preparatory to the elections. As at the commencement of the 2007 elections therefore, there were fifty political parties. Unfortunately, many of the parties had factions and splinters within them. There were no way most of the parties could meaningfully contest for electoral success. Indeed, there were some of them with no known foothold anywhere.
Caught in internal wrangling as many of the parties were, they could hardly carry out such duties as voter education and public enlightenment which political parties are expected to do. The situation left the electorate worse off, with the Commission now saddled also with voter education and enlightenment programmes including basic information dissemination on the names and logos of the political parties.
At the same as they were mired in internal struggles or perhaps because of that, virtually all the political parties showed no respect for internal democracy. In many of the parties there was no democratic selection of candidates. In some others, the primaries were conducted but the results were thrown overboard as the party leaders whimsically picked those they liked as candidates whether they won the primaries or not. The law had excluded the omission from having any control over such affairs of the political parties. They were termed internal party affairs. In the fullness of time, the internal party affairs led to no little grief from some of its products. Strangely enough, the Commission found itself been criticised by some for some of the decisions and actions of the parties which derived from their exclusive internal affairs.
Any reform of the electoral system which does not find a way to strengthen the political parties and also ensure strict compliance by their executives and members to the rules guiding them will have missed a very critical aspect of the problem of Nigeria’s political process.
Indeed there are three key stakeholders in the electoral process; the political parties/political class, the election management body and “the electorate. These exist under the overarching laws that guide conduct within the system. Any reform that does not extend to all of these stakeholders will be incomplete.
The Commission, mindful of its own lapses and needs has indeed been reforming itself and its operations in the last four years. In the wake of the 2007 elections and its experiences, the Commission moved swiftly to make some fundamental changes. It promptly dropped the use of ad hoc staff drawn from the open society for the conduct of elections. Since the Commission cannot raise enough personnel to conduct general election across the country from its staff strength, the use of support personnel from outside specially drawn for the conduct of elections has always been there. With a number of the ad hoc staff proving to be agents of politicians, the Commission has abolished their use and their place taken in National Youth Service Corp members. Encouragingly; these have shown great promise in the by-elections that have been part of since after the 2007 elections.
I am here to present to you a proposal for you to participate actively in the strengthening of electoral democracy in Nigeria. Because of the large number of staff required for general elections, in addition to the NYSC members, I propose that members of the NSCU should partner with INEC to provide the additional staff needed from members of the Union. This means that the elections will be manned by INEC staff, youth corps personnel and members of the NSCU. In the proposed partnership, the Commission could begin from the 3rd quarter of 2009 to train arid retrain the needed additional personnel for the 2011 elections. The Electoral Institute, which was established in 2005 as our main capacity building organ will undertake the training of both the NYSC personnel and members of your Union in electoral studies. If this proposal is acceptable to you, the Commission will work out the modalities of the arrangement with your leadership as soon as possible.
The Commission has recommended and is pursuing the idea of staggering the elections. The immediate benefit of this arrangement is that it will afford the Commission better logistics management and more efficient deployment of manpower for the conduct of elections.
The 2007 general elections were a great challenge to the Commission and the nation. There were lapses, no doubt, as is often the case with human endeavours, but the accomplishment of the elections outweighs the shortcomings by the 2007 General Elections, “Elections the world over are not mere events; they are processes planned over a period of time Planning as experience has shown yields positive results”. The Commission has learnt its lesions and the quality of re-run elections it has conducted after the 2007 elections testify to continued enhancement of the electoral process in the country.
But the Independent National Electoral Commission is not the owner of Nigeria’s democracy. It is only the facilitating institution of the electoral process. Such resort by a tribe of uncritical critics to outright denial of the incremental progress of the country in its quest for political development either because of a temporary failure of one or few individuals to as a result of a personal disappointment that the system has not yet delivered on a desired expectation is neither helpful to the system nor to the individual.
Even as we hold firmly and candidly that attaining ten years of uninterrupted democracy is a milestone for Nigeria or that the success of transiting from one elected government that completed its full terms to another is historic or that representative governance at its worse is still better than a dictatorship, the truth also remains that the political system in the country could do better both in structural efficiency and in delivery of t he dividends of democracy.
By organising such a forum as this to gain insight into the real problems of the electoral process and then proceed there from to seek an enduring solutions to the problems that drag back the system, the Nigerian Civil Service Union is boldly making a claim that all well meaning Nigerians should make; that indeed this is our democracy and setting it on the path to sustainability is the duty of all of us.