…Protect your democracy, UK urges Nigeria
By Anayo Okoli, Peter Duru, Davies Iheamnachor & Dirisu Yakubu
THE United Kingdom, UK, has urged Nigeria to ensure quick passage and enactment of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill currently pending before the National Assembly.
UK’s Minister for Africa, James Duddridge, who gave the advice in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria, in Abuja, said that passing the amendment bill would build more confidence in the country’s electoral process.
Duddridge’s counsel attracted plaudits from the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP; Ohanaeze Ndigbo; Middle Belt Forum, MBF; and Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, who said Nigerians want credible polls and laws that would ensure them. According to the UK minister, confidence in election results plays a very important role in democratic governance.
“It is very important. I will meet the senate and I will be asking when the Electoral Act Amendment Bill is going to be passed. You Know, democracy is not a static thing. It has to evolve; you have to make elections increasingly secure.
“So, I think it is really important to make an Act that will give the Nigerian people and the international community greater confidence that the elections are free, fair, and a reflection of what the people voted. “If you have not got that in actuality or perception, democracy starts to crumble and we see where that leads.
“Democracy is the main pillar alongside a capitalist free market that drives social progress and allows us to function,” he said. Noting that one of the components that build confidence in the electoral process is the electronic transmission of results such that the final results declared correspond with each of the local results, he said that though the UK was interested in seeing Nigeria’s democracy become stronger, it could only play an advisory role and not dictate to Nigeria what it should do.
“We can offer practical advice on election processes working with Non-Governmental Organisations and youth groups to make sure that young people are not only more likely to be registered for elections but also that their voices are heard. “In the UK parliament, we have got members of parliament in their 20s and it is the richer for it.”
UK’s counsel, a welcome devt- PDP
Welcoming the advice, the PDP called on the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government to heed the UK counsel.
National Publicity Secretary of the party, Kola Ologbondiyan, in a chat with Vanguard, described the counsel as a welcome development, lamenting however that the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, has not demonstrated official eagerness to strengthen the country’s democracy since it assumed office in 2015.
He said: “This is what the PDP has been saying all these years. The position of the United Kingdom government is a validation of the stand of our party and it is a welcome development.
“It is clear to Nigerians that President Buhari and the APC are not prepared to enact an amended electoral bill into law and this is most unfortunate. “For 2023 elections to be credible, we must improve on our electioneering process and this is only achievable if we review the current processes, procedures and guidelines on how elections are conducted.”
We must end democratic dictatorship— Ohanaeze
Also speaking, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, in a statement by its spokesman, Alex Ogbonnia welcomed the UK counsel, saying: “What obtains in Nigeria is best described as democratic dictatorship, that is dictatorship wearing the garb of democracy. This is a situation where the President of Nigeria appoints the electoral officers at both the state and national levels. “The security officers that monitor the elections at all levels are controlled by the President. The courts that take up the electoral disputes as they arise are also under the President. This is a major source of Nigerian problems. There is a fundamental difference between the State and the Government.
“Government is the agency of the State; but where the government exercises arbitrary powers beyond its limits, totalitarianism is implied. There are some institutions that should remain sacrosanct and not under the whims and caprices of the government.
“The most vital institutions that must remain independent include the Courts or the Judiciary and the Electoral Commission. “At the states, the governors also appoint the state electoral commission for the purpose of local government elections. And what do you expect? All these anomalies cannot usher in a sustainable democracy.”
It’s a wise counsel— MBF
On its part, the Middle Belt Forum hailed the UK counsel as a wise one.
National President of MBF, Dr Bitrus Pogu told Vanguard in Makurdi that the advice had been one of the important agitations by well-meaning Nigerians.
His words: “That is what we have been fighting for. We have been fighting for a change. We have been fighting to ensure that we have an electoral law that will ensure that votes count, not what the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, does cancelling elections here and there. That is where they usually steal, change and manipulate results. There should be electronic transfer of results because we want votes to count.
“So what the UK government has said is perfect, that is what the Nigerian Government needs to do. And that is one of the reasons we said unless there is a re-visitation of the 1999 constitution we will not participate in any election in 2023, that is if we get there. Because the whole thing is flawed, the whole thing is corrupt, the whole thing is unjust.’’
Buhari should make amended electoral act a parting gift to Nigerians — PANDEF
Indeed, the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, urged President Buhari to make assent to the amended electoral act as a parting gift to Nigerians.
PANDEF National Publicity Secretary, Hon. Ken Robinson, said: “That (UK advice) has been one of PANDEF’s calls. The call by the Government of United Kingdom is in order. It will deepen democracy and of course strengthen the credibility of our electoral process so that votes can truly count. “One of our greatest problems is the process and manner in which people are elected or people emerge in elections; that is, where all manner of things happen. The whole system needs to be corrected. “I think the National Assembly has done that, the president should assent to the amended act before the 2023 elections not only to deepen democracy, but to also strengthen the electoral process and for more credible elections, so that the votes of the people can truly count and the elected officials will know that if you don’t perform well you could be voted out.
“One of the problems we have today is that people behave as if they are the gods of the people. It is not so. Power truly belongs to the people. Until the electoral process is right democracy may just be what it has been in the past 20 years or there about.
“Recall that the electoral act was amended in 2018 and the president withheld assent to it on the grounds that it was too close to the election. After the 2019 Elections, one would have expected that the process would have been fast tracked and by now we should have had an amended electoral act.
“President Buhari should rise above those primordial interests. That should be his parting gift to Nigerians, that is, the amended electoral act to strengthen and deepen democracy in the country.”