•Aisha Yesufu: Nothing will change until electoral reforms are made
•Tanko Yakassai: 2019 election violence will remain talking point for years
•PDP: Election reports have vindicated our position
•APC: Reports not true picture of what happened in all areas
By Dirisu Yakubu
Prominent Nigerians have continued to react to the post-2019 election reports submitted last week by polls observer groups of the European Union, EU, National Democratic Institute, NDI and the International Republican Institute, IRI. In their respective presentations in Abuja, the observer groups called for improvement in the nation’s electoral process even as they called to question the credibility of the polls, citing the role of money, insecurity and flawed candidates’ nomination process among others as basic factors that marred the general election in Nigeria.
According to IRI President, Daniel Twinning, “The 2019 general elections fell significantly short of standards set in 2015. Citizens’ confidence in elections was shaken. Election stakeholders should take concrete steps to address the concerns with regards to the polls in order to rekindle their faith in the power and possibility of credible elections.”
His NDI counterpart, Derek Mitchell collaborate this view when he said that “The 2019 elections highlighted for many Nigerians the need for a national convention about the country’s democratization since the 1999 transition to civilian rule.”
24 hours before the American-based NDI and IRI submitted their joint report, Maria Arena, EU Chief Observer had at the headquarters of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, lamented low voter turn-out, violence, preparation to mention a few as some of the areas that robbed the polls of credibility.
Although some appointees of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government were quick to fault these observers’ findings on the premise that they did not reflect a true picture of what transpired across all polling units in the country, some eminent Nigerians told Saturday Vanguard that the 2019 elections as conducted by President Buhari left much to be desired.
Co-convener of the Bring Back Our Girls Campaign and foremost human rights activist, Aisha Yesufu says the report as submitted by the foreign observer mission groups reflect the rot in the entire political system, warning that until the electoral act amendment bill is assented to by the President; not much would change in 2023.
According to her, “everything is wrong with our nation’s electoral process and the last four years have made that pretty clear. There are lot of loopholes here and there, one of which is the issue of card reader. Because it (card reader) is not admissible in court, there is a big vacuum which those who do not mean well for the nation and her electoral process are doing everything possible to explore. We saw this in the last election.
“In 2015, most people did not know that the card reader was not admissible in law and unfortunately when they amended the electoral laws, they left it untouched. This is what our politicians are taking advantage of. With the amendment of the electoral laws, the President refused to assent the bill but we can’t afford not to have that bill unsigned before the conduct of the next general election. Without assent to the electoral act amendment bill, elections in this country will continue to witness increased violence, ballot box snatching and all of that.”
On the role of money in the nation’s political process, the fiery activist counselled Nigerians to look beyond temporarily financial inducement and focus on leaders with the capacity to deliver good governance.
“We have very selfish people in the political arena and all they care about is what they will get and this is because there is too much money in our politics. So, people are willing to get into political positions using whichever means possible. We don’t have patriotic people but hoodlums in power who are ready to take Nigeria down for their selfish interest.
“I do hope that the electorate will be wiser to realize that leadership is not about tribe, religion or gender but about character, competence and capacity. Let’s go with people who will think about the next generation and not the next election,” she added.
Menace of election-related violence
In their findings related to the 2019 polls, IRI/NDI report stated: “Observers reported cases of violence and intimidation in Imo, Adamawa and Akwa Ibom states. In this last state, frustrations rose between party agents and among voters over overt complaining in the polling unit. NDI/IRI observers also reported in Benue that four polling officials were kidnapped as they travelled to the collation centre and that voting had to be rescheduled in at least three locations where violence occurred. The Civil Society Situation Room reported a total of seven deaths by midday, in addition to several kidnappings in Rivers state. These incidents and the fire in Akwa Ibom that destroyed smart card readers and voter registers for one local government on March 8 reinforce the impression of concerted attempts to disrupt the election process in certain localities.”
Speaking exclusively to Saturday Vanguard, elder statesman and former aide to President Shehu Shagari, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai said though President Buhari was declared winner of the poll by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, the violence that characterized the exercise will remain a talking point amongst political discussants for years to come.
His words: “I completely agree with NDI, EU and IRI reports. The level of violence witnessed in the 2019 elections particularly in the North was unprecedented. You can’t talk of elections being credible when people were either afraid to come out and vote or were intimidated not to cast votes according to their conscience. We are part of the civilized society and no one will take us serious if we can’t conduct elections that will make us proud as Nigerians. This shame has to stop,”
Blame politicians, not electoral process – Adeniran
Commenting on the reports, a Professor of Political Science and former Minister of Education, Tunde Adeniran said political players contributed to the mess that marred the 2019 elections. He argued that the electoral process though not perfect, can be improved upon.
“The electoral system is not perfect and should be improved upon. The greatest problem we have, however, is that the politicians have been getting worse from season to season in their desperation for power. They sabotaged the electoral process, institutionalize violence and put democratic governance under undue stress and tension,” he said.
Time for electoral
President Buhari and the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, must prioritize electoral reforms to inject some modicum of sanity in the nation’s political system ahead of the 2023 general elections. This is perhaps the biggest take away from the reports, which in any case are not contextually different from the views held by a vast number of local observers that monitored the elections.
Adding his voice to the discourse, Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC, Auwal Ibrahim Rafsanjani argued that unless reforms are carried out with official eagerness to restore credibility, not much would be achieved in the next general elections.
“The 2019 election reports as released by EU, NDI and IRI, clearly indicate that there were some problems in the credibility of these elections right from the party primaries to the general election itself. If we really want to ensure electoral transparency, we cannot overlook the problems as highlighted by these reports. It is important for Nigerian leaders to take advantage of these reports and recommendations to fashion out ways in which our subsequent elections can be held with more credibility. There is also the need to begin the process of political party reforms because the problems started from the party primaries. Once you have a flawed party primary, there is the tendency to have the election itself steeped in controversy.
“There is the need to restore the confidence of the electorate so that when they participate in an election process, the result will reflect the choice they made. Once you fail to do this, there is no way credible observers will give a favourable report when there are obvious fundamental flaws. The idea of undermining internal democracy because some people have money to influence the process casts doubt about the credibility of the electoral process. This is the only way we can avoid this type of situation these reports have actually captured,” he explained.
The PDP, Nigeria’s biggest opposition party on its part, maintained that the reports have further strengthened its resolve to go the whole hog in its pursuit of justice at the Presidential election petition tribunal, sitting in Abuja. According to the Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the party, Diran Odeyemi, the party is “ready to prove to the world that indeed our candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar won the election fairly.”
Only time would tell if recommendations for reforms and capacity building of the electoral commission as contained in the reports will get the required attention.