On Monday, Clement Nwankwo, foremost Nigerian constitutional lawyer and Founding Convener of the Civil Society Monitoring Situation Room, was a guest of Prime Time, a current affairs programme on Arise News Television. There, he painted the picture of the stark reality of Nigeria’s parlous electoral system.
Using the outcomes of the offseason elections that took place in Bayelsa, Kogi and Imo States, to assess the situation, the human rights activists, came to the conclusion that the nation’s electoral process has come to a dead-end and therefore could not carry it beyond this stage, not to talk about the general election in 2027. What would result would not be elections, but chaos. Excerpts:
What is your verdict on the offseason elections in Bayelsa, Kogi and Imo?
The Situation Room has issued a statement on these elections. The verdict is unequivocal, which is it was a huge disappointment. We had thought that given the disappointments in the 2023 general elections that there would been some efforts by INEC to do a better job, but apparently, this is a worse job and for some of us it is extremely sad to see elections conducted this way in this country.
It brings to question how this democracy will continue and how this democracy will thrive if we cannot give citizens the option of deciding who rules them. The electoral system in this country has collapsed and we have to go back to the drawing board. Certainly we cannot build anything to what is now. The system has been captured and it is delivering incredibly sad results, not in terms of who wins or who doesn’t win, but in terms of the process, in terms of the abuses of the process, in terms of citizens’ lack of confidence in elections as a way of running a referendum on those who have ruled them or given a chance for people to take over.
The country has lost its electoral system and we certainly can only revive it if citizens ask the right questions and make the demands that should be made. When you look at the elections and look at the facts before the elections, those who were given responsibilities for the running of the elections, have been seen to be people who have been compromised, where partisan political elements have been appointed into the electoral commission, where half of the electoral commission and officials of the electoral commission have basically allocated themselves to serve political interests, then I think where we are today is a very sad one and this country’s democracy cannot go any further with the kind of election administration system that we have in place today.
But what do you think are responsible? Is it about bread and butter, poverty, corruption, violence, what are the specifics at the heart of this election?
Certainly, bread and butter issues relate to who can halt the slide in which the country is descending into. Certainly when you look at people’s condition, you see a worse trend previously and it doesn’t look like there is anything in the horizon that promises a break from the fall. So, I think for people, it is a major issue. But beyond that is that those who are seeking political power are taking advantage of the huge poverty that has descended on the land and now basically taking advantage of the situation – buying elections, paying people off to vote for them – vote-buying is at an unmitigated proportion. So, it’s like people struggle so hard to purchase the election. They struggle so hard to purchase the election. They struggle so hard when they purchase the election, to use the proceeds of being in office to buy the next election.
So, in my view, is that perhaps we’ve come to a dead-end with the present electoral system and we must ask ourselves what lies ahead.
Is it then a question of incumbency powers because the incumbents won in all the states?
The incumbents won in all the three states which is really not unexpected in normal electoral system, but we don’t have evidence that people voted freely. You set up a process, you decide that people go to vote, you decide election results are calculated, are tabulated, collated at the polling units and then escalated to the different levels of collation, you expect that at the immediate primary unit, you have the polling unit, that immediately the results are counted, the result sheets are uploaded and people can see that real-time. But in this election, we saw results being ready before the election.
We are doing analysis of what has been uploaded and there is a huge discrepancy in what has been uploaded to the IReV. The whole idea of the IReV is that the IReV was supposed to be real-life uploading of results. But now, there is a huge question about the efficiency of the IReV. It is now a tool to upload whatever you feel – not real-time, not real results. So, there is a major question of where we are with elections in this country.
It’s amazing when politicians who are supposed to protect the integrity of these elections and the values of this country, have become the ones who have infiltrated this country and have decimated every institution in it, not the least the ones that have to do with elections. Is that an exaggeration or a fair assessment of how things are?
It’s certainly not an exaggeration. You can see that with what has played out in the elections, you can see that in what has played out with the reports of the election observers. The media, thankfully have been very beautiful in putting out these reports in real time. Everything sacred have been desecrated by the politicians and those given responsibility to uphold their sacredness.
That is the point that I make. If all of these institutions, if the politicians have found a way of manipulating it, if so much fund is taken out of the public treasury to buy election results – and that’s why you’ll see an incumbent would win because they have access to unparalleled resources – whether an incumbent from an opposition party, an incumbent from the ruling party, it’s the same trait.
So how can Nigeria get out of this explosion of irregularities, corruption and violence in elections?
I think in 2007 when an incredibly horrible election was conducted in this country, when President Yar’Adua of blessed memory came into office, he came into office and said, I’m really sorry Nigerians, this election result that brought me into office, lack credibility, now let us see how we can pull ourselves from where we were. That was how the election reform committee was set up, headed by Justice Muhammed Lawal Uwais, which had so many members including Prof. Attahiru Jega, who later became the chairman of the electoral commission.
That President understood what went wrong, admitted it and called people to a conversation. So, that was one way and I think that we in the civil society, we are citizens of this country, we must raise our voices to say that these electoral system has collapsed. We can’t trust those you have appointed into office. You have appointed your political acolytes and put them into the management of elections. So, we don’t trust the electoral system anymore. We don’t trust the officials, we don’t trust the commission and we don’t trust that this process will help us save our democracy.
To save this democracy, this administration must come to the realization that citizens have no more confidence.
But do you detect the will in President Bola Tinubu towards cleaning up the electoral process? If he does, can he or anyone fix such an overwhelmingly corrupt system?
There were recent nominations of state Resident Electoral Commissioners. And these were approved within a few minutes by the plenary at the National Assembly. Now, those nominations, several of them should never have been made because of the political taints of some of those who were in that list. For me, that’s a very sad signal.
But whether the administration likes it or not, whether the President likes it or not, I think it is important that he listens to what Nigerians are saying, which is that this system has failed. If this system has failed and you still have a couple of offseason elections, about four or five, leading up to 2027, it is only going to get worse and in 2027, I don’t know whether it can be called elections. It certainly won’t be if this trajectory continues.
At that stage, it will become clear even to the President that this country’s democracy is on its tatters and will drop and collapse, because certainly what we have today, cannot take us to the next general elections.
So, outside the Justice Uwais recommendations, what other steps do you recommend to maintain the sanctity of the elections?
I think there have been several recommendations made. One is with the electoral commission itself. I think what we have today as electoral commission needs to be set aside in a legal way. The National Assembly needs to be brought into this conversation and the President needs to go back to several of the reports and set up a committee that has people, stakeholders who will sit down and decide which aspects of these recommendations need now to be implemented.
The most important is the method of the appointment of the election management team. I think we have to go back to the drawing board to start this process. I do not think that the electoral management team as it exists today can take this country to the next election. By this I mean INEC. We need to have a new system that creates a new electoral commission, that creates a new election management team and follows the process that has been outlined in various recommendations that have been made, especially in the Uwais Committee reports that have indicated how you can appoint the INEC chairman, how you can appoint INEC National Commissioners.
Indeed, we have to back to the question of whether indeed we need Resident Electoral Commissioners, because when governors send names of nominees to be appointed RECs or where political parties send names, what it does is destroy the system. That’s why you have the Resident Electoral Commissioner acting with arbitrariness without responsibility and without accountability.
We have to do this even before the next off-circle elections. Certainly we can’t go on with this king of electoral management body and we can’t go on with this kind of abused electoral process. This democracy will collapse very soon if we don’t check the type of electoral management system we have in this country, because citizens have lost faith totally in elections in this country.
But are those policies in themselves going to be enough or will government have to go back to social policies, because we know that corruption and electoral malpractices thrive when there is poverty?
But you know you cannot solve poverty quite quickly but you can fix the election system quite quickly. When people understand that they can vote without the process being abused, then you begin to see better electoral officials respond to citizens’ demands. But if you blame the abuses entirely on citizens and refuse to do what we need to do in terms of policy changes, in terms of legal changes in terms of constitutional changes, then we would have to pray that this democracy survives.
What optimistic note can you sound from your observation and analysis of this election?
I think it is difficult to be very optimistic about this election. I think what surprised a few people even though there was a low turnout, what surprised quite a lot of people is that the turnout was as much as it was even though it was low, which means that citizens still have some interest. There are still people saying, look, we could still have confidence in elections if we fix it. So, in some ways, people have not totally given up on the electoral system. But it won’t go on for too long. In fact, it won’t go on till 2027. It won’t.
These points that you made, which are very poignant, which are very important and very pointed remarks, were they incorporated in the situation room report in stark terms?
It is incorporated in very stark terms. The Situation Room report today during a press conference addressed by the Convener Yinousa Y’Au, which basically made the point that these elections represent a huge disappointment and this country cannot continue on this trajectory. That’s very clear.
N15billion VP’s residence: Stop whining, you’re a hypocrite, Shettima attacks Obi
“President Tinubu and Vice President Shettima have left no stone unturned since they assumed office in the bid to wriggle the country out of the economic and social morass it had been enmeshed in. Under their watch, within a period of seven months, Nigeria’s foreign policy process and international relations have been reinforced with commendable results.”
These were the exact words, with which Vice President, Kashim Shettima, pushed back against attacks from Nigerians over the N15billion proposed by Nyesom Wike, Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), for the completion of the official residence of the Vice President in Abuja, saying those kicking against the project, were not being sincere.
He particularly lashed out at Peter Obi, former Governor of Anambra State and presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP) in the February 25, 2023 election, accusing him of speaking out of the pains he still felt over his defeat by President Bola Tinubu and himself, who ran on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The VP wondered why the same Obi, who had as governor, ordered the completion of abandoned projects during his tenure in Anambra would rail against the same move by the Tinubu administration, saying it smacked of hypocrisy on his part, as the project in question came about not because he wanted to live in a new house but that the current government at the federal level desired to complete projects abandoned by previous governments.
In a statement signed by Stanley Nkwocha, his spokesman, the VP, admonished Obi to quietly lick his wounds from his defeat rather than whining endlessly over every move of the Tinubu administration, which he said were bold steps being taken in its determination to turn things around for the country.
The full statement, read: “We have taken note of statements credited to presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP) in the 2023 presidential election, Mr. Peter Obi, in which he made yet another frail and futile attempt to paint the President Bola Ahmed Tinubu administration in bad light.
“For good 24 hours, Obi danced naked in the public square, trying to curry the attention of those who care to listen to his falsehood and warped opinions about waste. On Sunday, he accused the current administration of sponsoring over 1,400 delegates to Dubai for COP28.
“The next day, being Monday, the subject of his new found passion – armchair criticism – after his colossal loss at the presidential poll was the proposed N15.5 billion budgeted by the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) to renovate the house of the Vice President, which he claimed would pay the annual salary of 3,000 University Professors.
“Ordinarily, we wouldn’t have bothered to gratify Peter Obi with a response, especially when it is obvious that the Labour Party candidate is an unhealthy subject to post-election trauma.But it has become necessary to put the records straight. In his recent tirade against President Tinubu and his deputy, Vice President Kashim Shettima, Obi started another series of self-aggrandizement aimed at convincing Nigerians that he is the only person who has their interest at heart. But a clear shift of the veil will reveal deeply a man who is still sobbing after his woeful loss in the 2023 presidential election.
“For the records, unlike the “most brilliant, all knowing and Nigeria’s mirific but never-had President,” Mr Peter Obi, both President Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Vice President Kashim Shettima, have never claimed to know it all or exhibit anything close to perfection in their dealings. If anything, they have always submitted to their human nature, leaving perfection to the Almighty God only.
“Giving the reactions and invocations generated by Mr Obi’s comments, however, it is necessary for the sake of history to clarify that the proposed plan for the construction of the Vice President’s official residence, for which budgetary allocation was made in the 2024 budget by the FCT Administration, was awarded by the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan. It was not originated by the present administration. This, Mr Obi, knows but chose to play dumb all in a bid to inflamate a targeted group of Nigerians and, as usual, score cheap political goals, accolades and praises.
“The project, which was reinitiated in 2010 and was funded by the Jonathan administration, was abandoned. Appalled by the sorry state of the uncompleted building that was now overtaken by weeds and reptiles over a decade after construction started about 13 years ago, the current FCT Minister, Nyesom Wike, felt it would be a waste to allow such a project started with public funds to continue to lie fallow; thus, in his wisdom and without the prompting of the Vice President, decided to resuscitate the building.
“We invite more cerebral Nigerians to crosscheck properly which should be considered a waste between Obi’s tantrums because the project has attracted government’s attention, given the decision by the current administration to complete vital abandoned projects. What is more wasteful and reckless than abandoning an edifice to rot and depreciate despite the amount that has been sunk into it over the years?
“We recall that while Obi was governor of Anambra State, he had insisted that contractors should return to site to complete abandoned projects, which he then never considered as a waste. If he did this while deploying ‘entailed wisdom and leadership’ to Ndi Anambra as a governor, the question now is: why should the same action by the Tinubu administration now be termed blue murder?
“Nigerians know that the issue of a befitting residence for the Vice President had been a recurring decimal in the budget of Nigeria since 2007. It did not start today, same for residences of the Senate President and the Speaker. The array of abandoned Federal Government projects littered all over the country is a national embarrassment that the current administration has taken a bold step to save the country from. This is why it has made it a priority that all abandoned projects must be completed before new ones are initiated, save for some on exceptional basis, either because of the need for strategic alignment or economic significance.
“Comparing the amount budgeted for the residence of the VP and salaries paid to Professors is an analogy taken too far. This is the only government that has repeatedly made it clear that the welfare of lecturers is paramount and the need to increase the budget of the educational sector is a gradual process in the face of the daunting security challenges it met on ground.
This same government directed that the backlog of salaries owed both teaching and non-teaching staff of universities be paid immediately despite the ‘no work, no pay’ order, while negotiations for their welfare continue in view of a wage package in 2024. The introduction of a student’s loan scheme is also a masterstroke that is targeted at ensuring that nobody, no matter his/her status, will be denied the right to quality education.
“Taking into cognisance the recent inflation rate, which has become a global phenomenon that Nigeria is not immune to, budgetary provisions are estimates aimed at advancing monies to complete projects that have bearings on the lives of the people. That the amount budgeted for various sectors are deemed to be on the high side is not unconnected with inflationary trends as being witnessed the world over. And since Mr Obi has qualms with this, he may as well explain to Nigerians why despite being a self acclaimed billionaire he and his likes continue importing all manner of junks, including toothpicks to sell to Nigerians all in a bid for his NEXT business empire to flourish at the detriment of our foreign exchange and economy.
“Curiously, it is under the Tinubu administration that Obi has suddenly “become a man,” with a shrill voice in the opposition camp. His claim about Nigerians needing leaders willing to make sacrifices for the nation’s development smacks of hypocrisy of the highest order. It appears the former Anambra State governor has forgotten so soon reports about the plethora of contracts he awarded in the twilight of his administration, including road contracts worth over N30 billion he awarded within a record period of three weeks.
“Nigerians have also not forgotten the investigation by the global International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ)-led Pandora Papers project which linked Obi to a number of secret business deals and relationships that he kept top secret, including businesses he surreptitiously set up and operated overseas. He later admitted that he did not declare these companies and the funds because he wasn’t aware that he was expected to declare assets or companies he jointly owns with his family members or anyone else as provided by the law.
“There is no other context to situate Obi’s sermon about waste other than the fact that he has refused to swallow the bitter pills of reality. It is pitiful that since he was mercilessly defeated by President Tinubu, he and his army of social media cohorts have continued to brazenly unleash a campaign of calumny against the President and now, his administration.
“But despite Obi’s divisive rhetoric, Nigerians have since put a final seal on religious and ethnic politicking so that the country can move forward against the wish of certain persons in the mold of Obi who have continued to fan the embers of division and falsehood just to create tension and spurn vexatious narratives in the polity.
“They have turned themselves into marketers-in-chief to attract direct foreign investments, all in a bid to turn around the nation’s economic fortune for good. But the likes of Obi have not for once applauded these efforts. Still labouring under post-election trauma, the Labour Party candidate and his ilk are bent on pulling down the Tinubu administration at all cost.
“We advise him and his fellow travellers in the opposition to accept defeat honourably, and put the interest of Nigeria and Nigerians first as patriotic citizens they claim to be. Nigerians are not so gullible to be hoodwinked by statements that fly in the face of common sense. Our candid advice for him is that he should join hands with the current administration in nation building instead of all these red herrings he is throwing around.
The Vice President is a very busy man. He has committed himself to serving Nigeria and helping President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to achieving his set goals and objectives. As his work attitude and skills speak to, Senator Kashim Shettima is a very serious-minded leader. He is not into dubious or phony politics of statistics manipulation or mind games. Leadership, to him, is a serious business and not a circus show!”
South East roads: Will Umahi make or mar them?
Kaduna bombing: How I lost 34 family members – witness *After the first, they returned to cause the main havoc
“As we rushed to aid the injured, the jet returned, unleashing a second bomb, this time, many of those who had come to help were among the casualties,” were the exact words with which Idris Dahiru used to paint the gory incident of the massacre of his kinsmen after the bombing of his community by soldiers from the Nigerian Army.
Dahiru, who claimed he lost 34 of his family members in the incident to which Taoreed Lagbaja, Chief of Army Staff (COAS), attributed to mistaken identity as the operatives mistook them for bandits, said there was an initial attack in which the first set of victims were torn to shreds where others escaped death by the whiskers.
Stating that it was when rescuers from the village, who initially dispersed for dear life, returned to help the wounded that the more devastating attack happened as the soldiers returned to drop more bumbs.
Lagbaja, a Lieutenant General, who led other military top brass to commiserate with the community, where he donated N10million to help victims of the attack which occurred on Sunday, had told his hosts, “Having trailed them for sometimes, the decision was taken to conducts a strike based on the observations of tactics usually employed by bandits. Unfortunately, the report we got thereafter revealed that it was innocent civilians in Tudun Biri that the drone carried out the strike on.”
Stating that the reason for the urgent and essential visit to the village was to commiserate with the community on the unfortunate incident, Lagbaja assured them that a thorough investigation had commenced on the matter even before the directive to that effect by President Bola Tinubu.
Dahiru, who spoke with the BBC Hausa, said the bombing, which went off without notice killing many people, disrupted their Maulud celebration, adding: “Unexpected airstrikes shattered our annual Maulud celebration. The first bomb exploded without warning, killing innocent people, including women and children, the blast tore apart some victims.
“My family alone has lost 34 members in this tragedy. We have 66 loved ones receiving medical care at Barau Dikko Hospital.”
December 6, 2023 8:39 pm
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