April 14, 2017

Electoral law amendment bill and Mr. President

Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies -Friedrich Nietzsche.

POLITICIANS generally start planning for the next elections from the day they are sworn into an office. They seek out individuals, who will help them make their dreams come true, and when they become convinced about their common interests, political party differences disappear in order to remain in power and office at all costs.

A typical Nigerian politician or public office holder never resigns when party affiliations that brought him to power crumbles, except Chief Mrs. Janet Akirinade, who resigned as a  Federal Minister in 1982 when the accord between her party the NPP, and the ruling NPN crashed. She was subsequently appointed a Commissioner by Solomon Lar in Plateau State. Such rare and honourable characters are neither remembered nor celebrated by our new breed politicians.

Today, such an appointee will swing into the ruling party, and that will be it.

Our politicians never quit campaigning for more terms in office even when all odds including health and medical conditions suggest otherwise. We read of politicians who unfortunately became paralyzed from accidents struggling to remain in office, causing so much furors just to get medical treatments at the cost of the people.

They rise to power through one party, dump their source and start fighting to kill the very party they used to get into power like it’s happening in Imo State.

Some of them make it through an incumbent but once they are sworn in, they devote quality time to fight and denigrate their benefactors, like we have  seen in Abia and Anambra States.

Politicians will stop at nothing to perfect plans of their perpetuation in power, hence the need to look more closely at the new amendments to the Electoral Act 2010 by our Senate. As reported in the print and electronic media, the amendments touch six main areas; First, The Senate approved electronic voting.The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has been empowered to use electronic voting for conduct and transmission of results in future elections, and can use other voting methods if it is impracticable to use e-voting in any election.

Second, they approved the use of smart card readers introduced by INEC in the 2015 general elections as a means of voter accreditation.

We all saw the shameful failure of smart card readers in 2015, where they could not help to accredit President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GEJ, as he then was,  an issue the amendment should consider adequately, regarding the character component of those who will order, keep, and maintain and handle these card readers.

E-Voting, and Use of Card Readers were introduced by INEC by simple policy, any law  following it therefore, should deal with the human aspects involved. The question should be what can be done to ensure that the will of the people is not subverted in any election.

The proposed amendment should dig deeper below the surface, and deal with a situation like we have now, where the composition of INEC is a source of genuine worry and concern to citizens, as anything short of this will be mere window dressing!

Third, the Bill gives statutory backing to INEC’s newly unveiled electronic result and transmission system which will enable the electoral commission transmit the result of elections electronically in an encrypted and secured manner to prevent hacking. The aim is to eliminate manual collation of results in the electoral process, and since computer matters involve “ garbage in, garbage out”, does the amendment deal with falsification of transmitted results, with necessary checks and balances?

Fourth, in the case of death of a governorship candidate in the course of the election, INEC can suspend exercise for 21 days and the political party that suffers loss of candidate will be allowed to conduct a fresh primary to replace the deceased. Any new candidate from the fresh primary is to inherit the votes already garnered by the deceased on behalf of the party. This is to avoid situations such as that experienced in Kogi State with Abubakar Audu’s death in November 2015.

Fifth, a limit has been placed at what political parties can charge their members for nomination forms for different political offices. The sale of forms for the presidency has been capped at N10 million.

Sixth, any INEC official found to be member of a political party will be punished. The punishment is a five year jail term or N5, 000,000.00 fine or both. What happens then, where an INEC official has direct blood relationship to an office seeker, or to a nominated candidate?

To help Nigeria, the Senate should deal rigorously with ethnic, filial or blood relationship balancing in the proposed Bill. Failure to do this will amount to much rigmarole with no issue at the end of the day.

Many expected that any amendments to the electoral law at this time should deal with the key issues of the independence of the appointment of Key officers of INEC, and Carpet-crossing by politicians with dubious intentions.

It is of concern, that these key areas were either over sighted or skipped by the Upper Chamber.

Our distinguished law makers should in this amendment prescribe a detailed procedure and process for the appointment of key officers of INEC, to completely remove or erase the possibilities of abuse by any over bearing President or Governor, and ensure or guarantee the independence of INEC. Interests like ethnic, religious, and blood relationships must be eliminated through a well thought out process.

The complete lack of political ideologies by the parties in our nation today, has created a dangerous situation where players change from one party to the other even to procure protection from being investigated for corrupt practices. Political carpet-crossing is a major bane of our development and the Senate should deal with this matter in particular by criminalizing it in this Bill.

My prayer here, is for our law makers to look well into the future, beyond their immediate conditions and predicaments, and give Nigeria what she needs to conduct fair and credible elections that will ensure the will of the voting citizenry.

By Clement Udegbe