Professionals such as legal practitioners, electoral experts, electoral observers, civil society and the media have critically dissected challenges bedevilling the electoral system and conduct in Nigeria and West Africa as a whole.
The experts came together during a seminar organized by Nigeria’s foremost civil society organization, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC/Transparency International.
The seminar tagged: ‘National Seminar on Targeted Electoral Reforms and Enhanced Judicial Integrity in Post-election Litigation’ was held in Lagos last week.
During the seminar, some technical reflections took place as well as presentations from various speakers, such as Prof. Jibrin Ibrahim, Senior Fellow at the Centre for Democracy and Development; Prof. Mohammed Kuna, Special Adviser to INEC Chairman; Dr. Sam Amadi, Former Chairman, Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC; Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN; and Nurudeen Ogbara, Former Secretary General NADL.
Other speakers are Prof. Hassan Saliu, President, Nigerians Political Science Association, NPSA; Prof. Sam Egwu, REC, Benue State; Omoyele Sowore, Human Rights Activist and Pro-democracy Campaigner; Comfort Idika-Ogunye, Female Leadership Forum; and Attorney Carol Ajie;
Engr Y.Z Ya’u, the Executive Convener Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room; Barr. Frank Agbedo Esq; Uche Onyeagocha; Olajumoke Anifowoshe, Former Attorney-General, Ondo State; and Prof Farooq Kperogi of the Kennesaw State University Georgia, USA, also spoke at the seminar.
After brainstorming exhaustively on various thematic sessions, a communique was issued by the CISLAC Executive Director, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani.
In the communique, the experts observed that in recent times, Nigeria’s electoral integrity has been compromised, considering the fast-eroding independence and professional ethics by judicial institutions through tribunal judgments.
The experts lamented that despite various legal reforms preceding the 2023 general and off-cycle elections, the conduct and outcomes of the elections have questioned the direction of Nigeria’s democracy.
“The growing military coup and political instability across West Africa are not unconnected to the effect of electoral fraud, vote rigging, vote-trading as well as judicial distrust.
“Money politics coupled with unattended party nomination fees and over-commercialisation of electoral process has deprived many decent Nigerians the opportunity to compete favourably in primary elections across political parties, threatening credibility in electoral process.
“Electoral misconducts are enabled by partisanship supported by the over-centralised appointment of INEC Chairman and RECs; non-transparent nomination process; lack of political will to implement relevant reforms’ recommendations.
“The emerging judicial corruption through the post-election litigations like the ongoing tribunal activities on Kano governorship with scandalous and contradictory double standard court papers has called for adequate reform in Nigeria’s judicial system to make it more transparent, independent and efficient in the delivery of impartial justice through which the citizens’ choices prevail.
“The Law Courts have become the graveyards of electoral mandates with judges not only descending to being common purchasable judicial rogues, but also as juridical coup plotters,” the communique noted.
The experts, therefore, recommended a number of actions to be taken by the government at all levels in order to reform our electoral system and salvage the judiciary from imminent collapse.
The experts urged the government as well as civil society organizations to refocus attention on the broader context of reform like public acceptability, political candidates’ integrity, good governance that reinforce elections as critical elements of democracy.
“Revisit the basis for the appointment of RECs through proper scrutiny to discourage intrusion of card carry members of political parties, to prevent conflict of interest in electoral process and outcomes,” the communique noted.
While believing that independent oversight of bureaucracy within the INEC could address over-centralisation of electoral logistics and structures, the experts also agreed that enhancing transparency and inclusion in the contest of Primary Elections will promote acceptable outcomes that mitigate pre- and post-election petitions.
“Encouraging state involvement in political party financing to promote transparency and accountability, while reducing the incidence of money politics and hijacking,” the stakeholders stressed
The communique recommended the strengthening of internal reform process and procedures within the electoral institution for improvement to efficiently deliver on electoral integrity, while discouraging reported sabotage and process manipulation by electoral practitioners.
The experts also agreed that there is a need to revive the Office of the Special Adviser to the President on Inter-party Relations to maintain regular consultation and harmony between the ruling and opposition parties.
“Strengthen the INEC legal power to prove and declare credibility of electoral outcome to minimize judicial interference; and appoint RECs to preserve their operational integrity and standards in the conduct of elections,” the experts noted
Speaking on the urgent need for legal reform in order to strengthen democratic process.
Some of the reforms, according to the experts, included The immediate amendments to Sections 41, 47 and 60 of the Electoral Act in order to provide adequate legal backing to whistle-blower and public interest litigations before, during and after the elections.
The communique also noted that there was the need to strengthen the capacity of electoral body to adequate deploy technology in electoral process through amendment to relevant provisions of the Electoral Act.
“Immediate amendment to the Electoral Act for enabling provisions that render pre-election matters not litigable after announcement of the winner of an election, while limiting post-election litigations to the conduct of the elections.
“Enshrine in the electoral act, a provision that divests courts of the powers to declare winners and losers of electoral contests.
“Constitutionalise the imperative to finalize the adjudication of all election petitions before the inauguration of elected officials into their offices, to prevent overriding of judicial process,” the experts noted.
The experts called for harmonisation of various judicial rulings on electoral outcome across the country, “to boost advocacy position to exhaustively engage the National Assembly for immediate amendment of the Electoral Act”.
“Reduce the layers of Court involvement with clear power separation to handle pre- and post-election matters to reduce electoral litigations burden on the judiciary,” the communique noted.
The experts called on the governments at all levels to continue to support the Civil Society in order to protect and defend democracy, rule of law and electoral governance in Nigeria.
“Sustained and strategic advocacy by Civil Society through massive social mobilisation for common demands in electoral reform, while ensuring that citizens’ expectations resonate with the demands.
“Massive public awareness and education to harvest citizens’ support for judicial reform through targeted engagements,” the communique noted.
The experts also called for gender-inclusive reform in the electoral process for equal participation and level playing field in electoral conduct and process.
The communique noted that full implementation of gender-quota in party constitutions will promote equal participation of women in political leadership.
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