Decry slow improvement in electoral system
By Gabriel Ewepu and Alice Ekpang – Abuja
Ahead of the 2023 general elections Civil Society Organisations, CSOs, on Tuesday, explained why Nigeria needs constitutional and electoral reforms based on worrisome factors stunting the process, participation, and performance.
This was contained in an address jointly signed by Yetunde Bakare of Yiaga Africa; Ariyo Dare’ Atoye, Centre for Liberty; Eniola Cole, NESSACTION; Banke Ilori Oyeniy; Jude Feranmi, Raising New Voices Initiative; and SeunAwogbenle, Millennials Active Citizenship Advocacy Africa.
The call was made during a press conference held in Abuja, where they said Nigeria’s elections have witnessed inadequate improvements for a growing democracy in the face of electoral fraud, violence, voter inducement, intimidation, bribery and corruption, and the electoral process has become a shadow of itself and inspires very little hope and confidence for the future. The challenges have also undermined the country’s democratic credentials among the comity of nations.
They also asserted that political leadership has been established as the biggest vehicle for social change, wellbeing, and transformation. A major aspect of political leadership is periodic elections, an important process that guarantees citizens right to elect their leaders freely without fear or equivocation, for this reason the electoral process is regarded as the bastion and foundation of every democracy, considering that it speaks to its core essence which is mandate and legitimacy.
They added that elections remain the most fundamental aspect of democracy across the world, its evolution and improvement can only be measured in terms of processes, procedures, technology, and outcome. “We believe these parameters are critical to an improved level of trust and confidence of citizens in the democratic process.”
The statement reads in part, “It is important to note that while elections continue to experience improvement in several other parts of the world, Nigeria’s elections have witnessed inadequate improvements for a growing democracy in the face of electoral fraud, violence, voter inducement, intimidation, bribery and corruption, Nigeria’s electoral process has become a shadow of itself and inspires very little hope and confidence for the future. The challenges have also undermined Nigeria’s democratic credentials among the comity of nations.
“The impact of our flawed elections can only be imagined by its monumental impact particularly because it has impaired our ability to deliver on the promises of democratic dividends and economic prosperity to our greatest population. Electoral manipulation, rigging, and violence have become the unique identity of our political culture.
“The atmosphere always surrounding our electoral process has been that of heightened uncertainty, fear, and distrust laying precedence to all the ills affecting the growth and development of Nigeria.”
According to them in the wake of challenging new realities, such as the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), it has become even more necessary to reflect on the gaps inherent in our current electoral framework, so as to deliberately timely accommodate all required amendments and improved measures in conducting elections, without compromising the general health of citizens.
“Observer reports from the Nasarawa bye-election as well as pre-election reports detailing dangerous rhetoric by contestants/political parties and unwholesome practices in Edo and Ondo states amidst COVID -19 already shows very worrying trends and concerns on the electoral outcome, with regards to the integrity of the election and the health and safety of citizens.
“Principally, the wave of incessant violence and voter suppression, that has lampooned the conduct of our elections over time, thereby becoming a standard practice must be reversed.
“It is therefore noteworthy that electoral reform, amidst these new and disturbing COVID-19 realities, portrays that a new electoral framework is sacrosanct to the health and safety of citizens. We, therefore, implore this 9th National Assembly to rise to the occasion, and it is our hope that history will be kind to them”, they said.
Meanwhile, they acknowledged that the National Assembly has commenced work on the Electoral Amendment Bill, but said the manner the bill has been handled is not impressive.
“While it is noteworthy that the National Assembly has already commenced work on the electoral amendment bill, we have more than enough reason to believe that the process has not been given the urgency, seriousness, and attention that it deserves.
“But in light of recent public commitments made by some National Assembly members and principal officers, including the Honorable Speaker of the House of Representatives, towards ensuring that electoral reform tops its priority list as the National Assembly reconvenes, we are therefore optimistic that indeed, a timely and practical constitutional and electoral reform framework will be laid and achieved by December 2020”, they said.
While commending and appreciating over 11, 000 Nigerians who signed the petition for electoral reforms said NASS should meet up with the December deadline to come up with a new Electoral Act.
“This is necessary so as not to be distracted by heightened politicking ahead of the 2023 general elections. It is also crucial to the Independent National Electoral Commission’s readiness in its efforts to conduct hitch-free elections, going forward.
“These commitments displayed by the National Assembly and its leadership resonates with the deep yearnings of the totality of Nigerian citizens whose interest they represent and swore to protect.
READ ALSO: Zulum: Northern CSOs urge military to sustain onslaught against terrorists in northern Borno
“And if true, the National Assembly is anchored on the fabrics of citizen’s power, then it is, therefore, a matter of obligation on the part of the National Assembly, that upon resumption of plenary on September 29, 2020, they concede to the collective demand of citizens by ensuring that electoral reform is achieved, incorporating all aspects relating to an improved election environment and processes that guarantee free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria.
“We specifically as a coalition demand for an established framework to strengthen the election management body, financial independence for INEC, integration of technology in our electoral process, inclusion of all marginalized groups, transparency in campaign financing and provision of a framework to ensure the enforcement of our electoral laws, amongst others.
“Nigerians deserve a better nation with quality leadership, and we believe that a fundamental bedrock for achieving this is having a free and fair electoral process, which can only occur through this amendment efforts of the 9th National Assembly.
“In assuring the legislature of our commitment to supporting this crucial process which can serve as a watershed moment in the history of this nation, we call on citizens and all relevant stakeholders in the forthcoming election in Ondo State to draw inspiration from the conduct of the Edo State election and improve on the wins recorded, we must not drop the ball.”
They also warned that Nigerians, especially political actors must refrain from any act that tends to undermine the integrity of the elections.
“Young people must not allow themselves to be used as willing tools by politicians to disrupt the process. We encourage registered voters in Ondo State to come out and vote with their PVCs, we urge them to abide by all necessary election and COVID-19 related guidelines and safety protocols throughout the process.
“We implore the INEC to remain impartial and double-up in its efforts to conduct free, fair, and credible elections. We call on relevant security agencies, particularly the Nigerian Police Force, to ensure the safety of citizens and electoral materials.
“Let the wishes of the people prevail”, they added.