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INEC, Electoral Reforms and Democratic Development in Nigeria

By Prof. Godswill Iheanyichukwu Nnaji
Having effectively and successfully secured political stability for Nigeria by deft handling of 2007 General Elections which many intimidating forces vigorously opposed, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) under Prof. Maurice Iwu has moved on and has aggressively but meticulously focused on engineering and promoting the much desired development and deepening of democracy in Nigeria.

Emphasizing the primary need for reform in the behaviour of Nigerians as a necessity for any reform in the electoral process to be successful, the Commission has stepped up efforts to vigorously engage all stakeholders towards engendering attitudinal change in the electoral process. This is all in the effort to effect the needed behaviourial transformation necessary to actualize the Electoral Reform Agenda and the bold Vision 20/2020 of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.

If Nigeria must fully play in the Big League of the 20 most industrialized countries of the world by the year 2020, it must have a viable and sustainable political / democratic superstructure to support and propel the vision.  INEC appears determined and demonstrating capability of providing the requisite enabling political environment.

It is important to recall that the 2007 General Election gave Nigeria a huge, quantum leap in political maturity as a democracy.  It tested the indomitable and unflinching resolve of Nigerians to embrace democracy (with all its flaws), as the preferred system of government for the country.

It tested our national will and ability to manage potential political crisis without going over the brink or allowing the situation to escalate to shooting war and consume lives and prosperity; it further tested our collective will to rise above personalities, defy those autocratic democrats and their entrenched unpatriotic interests, by refusing to be drawn into Mass-Action to assuage and satisfy their bloated ego.

Yes, they traveled to the foreign capital cities of Washington and London to advertise the electoral problems in Nigeria, and in the process vilified INEC, the Judiciary and President Yar’Adua’s administration for faulted elections.

However, they forgot that every nation has its own problems and that those who deftly manage them rapidly grow into prosperity, greatness and power just like the United States of America.  Contrarily, those countries that get overwhelmed by the problems simply fail, disintegrate or collapse,  just as the USSR (Union of Socialist Soviet Republics)

So, when on May 29, 2009 we observed 10-years of uninterrupted civil rule and officially refused to dance and celebrate openly and publicly in the streets (King David’s style), in glorification of Almighty God (Allah) for outstanding accomplishment in our national life, we missed a great opportunity to confound and shame our detractors, those who never wish us well.

As Prof. Maurice Iwu, Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) recently answered his critics in various fora with electrifying  speeches, steadfastness and unapologetic control of facts and evidence, we are publicly invited and treated to a putrid feast  of political sleaze, unpatriotic zealotry, horrendous destructive negativism, political perversion and corruptive mindset, and  pathological political paralysis, which characterize our electoral environment.

His detractors who apparently control, own, dominate, or have unfettered access to the media/press (print and electronic), and who have been dishing out the misinformation to discredit INEC must be rethinking their great disservice to the nation.

The urgency of electoral reforms cannot be over-emphasized.  The Electoral Reform Agenda of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua has occupied centre stage of political discussions in Nigeria since President Yar’Adua took office in May 2007.

The campaign for actualizing electoral reforms that will transform our elections from being mere mechanical rituals devoid of credibility has gathered momentum nationally and internationally as the Report of the  Electoral Reform Panel / Committee chaired by Retired Justice Muhammed Uwais,  has become the central document in the National Assembly’s concerted efforts to Amend the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Analysts insist emphatically and unambiguously that the fulfillment of our national purpose, the very basis of our sustained co-existence as a political community, is inextricably intertwined with the institutionalization of electoral reforms which will guarantee free, fair and credible elections.  Thus, they caution that without urgent electoral reforms to confer credibility and legitimacy on the Nigerian State through the enthronement of a process of free and fair elections, we will be hastening the conditions for the fulfillment of the disturbing predictions of imminent state collapse in Nigeria (the Failed State Syndrome)

An apt caption “INEC SPEARHEADS ELECTORAL REFORM IN NIGERIA” in a recent advertisement notice in THISDAY newspaper (Thursday, October 29) and the Seminar Theme: “Targeting the Mindset of Politicians” supposedly sponsored by INEC, succinctly capture the mood, mindset and spirit of the Commission regarding the much heralded electoral reform.  Whilst critics have focused the Electoral Reform on unbundling INEC and hounding Prof. Iwu out of office, the Commission has been championing meaningful, comprehensive and people-centred electoral reform.

They stress the need to strengthen INEC with appropriate legislative powers to sanction and punish electoral offenders and combat various forms of electoral breaches.  The Commission believes that with the 2007 elections having removed the jinx of transition from one elected government to another, “this is the time for consolidation”.

The present efforts to reform the electoral process offers a great opportunity for the nation to look at its political and electoral processes with sobriety and candour, but not with fear or under threat   Hear Prof. Iwu “There is so much that yearns for attention and change in the electoral system “  But “.. there is no basis for fear to be foisted on the nation in the name of promoting electoral reform”

The imminent danger and urgent need for pragmatic application of Internal Democracy in the running of political parties also dominated the attention of INEC and has attracted national discourse and concern as various forms of electoral malfeasance are currently blamed on lack of internal party democracy, a phenomenon that has tended to clog our court system and threatened to destabilize the country.

People wonder how elections can be free, fair, transparent and credible if the parties themselves do not practice the principles of democracy in their internal operations, and if they exhibit gross lack of transparency and disdain for due process and rule of law within the party apparatus and structure?

Harping on the lax internal democracy of political parties, the INEC Chairman recently anguished, in the Better Society Lecture organized by Champion newspaper, that the bogey concept of “African big man …a lord whose word is law, and who single-handedly picks all candidates for elective positions, the autocratic democrats for whom elections must be won at all cost, which  is the dominant political behaviour, posed grave challenges to the development of democracy in Nigeria.”

For solution, he charged the National Assembly to prescribe string of sanctions and punishment for electoral offenders. The Commission even enjoins political parties to obey their own party constitutions, almost as a pre-condition for accessing annual grants from the Commission.

As one former United States President, Mr. Ronald Reagan, was noted as saying, “Facts are stubborn things!”.  They do not go away, bend, waver, vanish or disappear, whatever the degree of pressure, distortion or misinformation.  The facts testify that INEC under Prof. Iwu, is pushing and pulling all the levers to deepen our democracy.  And we surely need a stable, steady hand at the throttle—the helms of affairs of INEC!  In the words of Alhaji Lateef Jakande, former Governor of Lagos State as quoted in the Daily Champion newspaper of Wednesday, November 4, 2009 “Listening to Prof. Iwu, I am relieved that there are people in the country who think in the right direction”

INEC watchers and critics cannot but be overly impressed with the path-breaking activities of the nation’s electoral umpire towards building a virile and truly democratic environment.  While leading the campaign for meaningful Electoral Reform Process and urging the legislature to complete the process early for relevance and application in the 2011 General Elections, they are addressing the urgent need to transform the mindset of politicians to create a positive electoral process and environment and purge the system of the obnoxious “do-or-die” syndrome.   An INEC sponsored Seminar in Enugu on Friday, October 30, 2009,  referred to earlier, had the appropriate and thought-provoking theme: “Targeting the Mindset of Politicians ”  This is a theme for the political class and other elites who are warned to spare a thought for the grave damage being done to the country’s international image by our perennial inability to organize free and fair elections.

The Commission strongly encouraged the registered political parties to implement and enforce the Code of Conduct Agreement they signed in 2007 to sanitize their conduct during elections, address all observed vestiges of electoral malfeasance and adhere to election campaign standards that conform to acceptable international benchmarks for free, fair and credible elections.  In addition, INEC has  re-drawn  the country’s Electoral Map (Delimitation and Delineation of Electoral Constituencies) which the Commission has long sent to the National Assembly for ratification and enactment into law, and has been pressuring political parties to employ democratic norms in the internal affairs if the parties, and perfecting various mechanisms for conduct of elections.

All these above testify that the electoral umpire is relentlessly and assiduously working to deepen and develop democracy in Nigeria.  Facts are stubborn things indeed!


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