Special Report

September 9, 2023

Amend constitution, reform Judiciary, INEC — Nigerians

Constitution

By Our Reporters

Nigerians have called for a restructuring of the Judiciary, and the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, after scrutinizing the judgment of the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal, PEPT, delivered on Wednesday. Elder statesmen, leaders, retired judges, lawyers, and activists, who spoke to Saturday Vanguard, this weekend, faulted the judgment, saying that the operators, not necessarily our laws, were the problem of democracy in the country.

They expressed dissatisfaction that the PEPT did not dispense justice on the glaring issues that arose from the last presidential elections tabled before it for determination.

Restructure Nigeria — Emiaso, ex-customary court president

A former President of the Delta State Area Customary Court, Miakpo Emiaso, said: “I have always taken the position that there is nothing wrong with our laws apart from the lopsided federal system that this country operates. Unless there is restructuring of the political system such that each part of the nation is sufficiently autonomous to pursue its own goals according to its needs, this country is going nowhere.

There is a fundamental flaw in the organization of this country, and unless we remove the flaw by restructuring to something similar to what we had in the First Republic, this country is going nowhere. In terms of the electoral system, the problem we need to solve is the people who operate the system. The politicians and electoral umpire must change their attitude and they cannot change their attitude because what propels them is the faulty federal system that we are operating in Nigeria. We have established it without argument that we cannot function together the way we are trying to force ourselves together. I am not advocating the dismemberment of Nigeria; Nigeria must remain Nigeria, but we must give the federating units greater autonomy. There is too much power concentrated at the federal and there is too much power concentrated on the person who becomes President. This country will not move like this.

There is no problem with our electoral system; it is the dramatis personae that we need to talk to, to change their ways because the faulty federal system that we operate foists that attitude on them.

INEC breached electoral laws — Nwoko, SAN

Former Attorney General of Akwa Ibom State and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Uwem Edimo Nwoko, said, “My position built on my experience, over the years, both as a lawyer and participant in the electoral process would be that human beings are the architects of the unfortunate democratic experience we are having.

Why do I say so? The laws we have today, particularly the Electoral Act 2022, can engineer a perfect electoral process, but the problems lie with those executing and implementing the law. For example, globally, the management of the 2023 General Elections, particularly the presidential election, was highly flawed. If you read through the reports of all the observers, both local and international, you see that every observer with integrity and dispassionate evaluation came up with the conclusion that INEC did not follow the Electoral Act, especially in the deployment and use of the BVAS machines.

They did not follow the provision concerning real-time transmission of results from the Polling Unit to the INEC server. People complained that the INEC server suddenly shut down during the presidential election. The irony is that the same machines that transmitted the National Assembly results could not transmit the presidential results at the same time. The INEC Chairman was announcing the results of the Presidential election when collation was still going on. Since he said the machines did not transmit the results, how did he get the figures he was declaring? Until today, INEC has not explained to Nigerians why that happened.

Unless we get people of integrity to supervise our electoral process, we will make no progress, so the problem is not with our laws.”

Reform judiciary — Onuesoke, ex- guber aspirant

Former Delta State governorship aspirant and chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Chief Sunny Onuesoke, said: “The electoral laws are very okay. The major problem we have is the judiciary. What happened on Wednesday was a rape of Nigeria voters’ rights. Nothing is wrong with the Electoral Act.

The judiciary is responsible, for example, there is a constitutional clause that you need to have 25 percent of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT. It is in the laws but they just came out and started reading if Abuja people are better than the people in other states That contradicts the law. We should blame the judiciary, not INEC. The way forward is to reorganize the judiciary.”

Unfashionable to ignore BVAS, IREV – Okah, lawyer 

A legal practitioner in Bayelsa State, Jonah Okah, asserted, “The judgment on the presidential election has exposed certain salient issues in the Electoral Act. The much-celebrated reform provided in the 2022 Electoral Act has teeth, but cannot bite in the face of the judgment that the Tribunal delivered.

“We need to make specific provisions to address the issues of electronic transfer of results, the legal validity of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, BVAS, and IReV, INEC Result Viewing Portal, IReV, as well as curtailing the latitude conferred on the electoral empire, as highlighted by the issues arising from the judgment. It is anachronistic in this Information and Communication Technology, ICT, age when electronic transmission cannot be used as a legal process in the conduct of election as stated in the judgment.” 

We‘re diminishing — Evison, Community leader

National President of the Sagbama Federated Community, Ebi Evinson, said: “From the judgment, we seem to retrogress our electoral system. Introducing BVAS and the electronic transmission of results was a remarkable improvement in our elections. But now that the judgment says that collation and electronic transmission of results by INEC is optional, then the gains we made on our electoral system would have eroded and future elections shall be terrible in terms of credibility.

“We will slide back to our old ways of manual collation with its attendant challenges. I think that the only way we can make progress in our elections and democracy is to ensure that we conclude election cases before swearing in so that there will be minimal influence. The confidence with which President Bola Tinubu jetted out of the country, on the eve of his crucial election case that was due for judgment, when the conference still had a few days ahead to begin, simply shows the effective application of the Nigerian factor in the entire scenario.” 

Hope lost – Clarkson, attorney

A legal practitioner and former spokesperson of the Movement for the Survival of Izon Ethnicity Nationality in the Niger Delta, MOSIEND, Amaebi Clarkson, said: “We are in the ICT age, and expectantly, our electoral process would have been driven by technology, particularly with the introduction of card reader and BVAS. Unfortunately, the 2023 general election has clearly shown that we are not ripe for digitalized elections possibly because of our value placement as a people.

“I am of the firm opinion that we go back to our indigenous Option A4 introduced by Prof Nwosu in the conduct of our elections.”

We need a fearless judiciary, competent INEC – Odi, community leader

A retired Bayelsa senior civil servant and community leader, Chris Odi, suggested, “Strengthening INEC to be able to fund its operations, and equip workforce to function optimally with near-perfect logistics to deliver credible elections, and working with a fair and fearless judiciary to prosecute culprits of electoral offenses. Also, the electoral umpire must work hard to ensure there are no cases of voter suppression (disenfranchisement). The government must adequately equip the police to check electoral violence before, during, and after elections.

“There should be proper orientation and reorientation by the relevant government agency (NOA), and media outlets on the need to shun ethnic and religious politics for Nigeria to have the benefit of the best candidates. They should revisit the problem of voter apathy through voter education. For instance, the 2019 election recorded 34.75 percent voter turnout, while in 2019, only a meager 28.6 million voters cast their votes out of 82 million eligible voters. The above suggestions will go a long way in improving Nigeria’s electoral system.”

Electronic voting, solution toNigeria’selectoral turbulence — Chima Nnaji

On his part, Lagos-based legal practitioner and Rights activist, Chief Chima Nnaji, strongly advocated the evolution of electronic voting as a permanent solution to Nigeria’s hydra-headed electoral system.

He regretted that those who benefit from the current flawed system are reluctant to embrace innovations that could help eliminate fraud in the system. According to him, “Electronic voting is the way to go but the drag by those in power is causing the delay. See how the last ditch effort in the 2022 Electoral Act was messed up at the tribunal on Wednesday. It was consigned to the waste bin, and it looks as if they dumped all the money budgeted for those gadgets in the lagoon. So, the first is to show sincerity of purpose by leadership that must look beyond today. They must look beyond their narrow interest and be statemanly in their perception of realities such that even if they are being selfish, such selfish interest should as far as possible, be situated within the national interest. And the only way to do that is to commit to electronic voting system that will de-personalise human interventions in such a drastic manner that it is done at the whims and caprice of whoever is the National Chairman of INEC. It should be made in a way that it becomes absolutely difficult to game the system. There might be glitches which have to be battled and upgraded as in the banks. Although the electronic system has not prevented fraud, it has reduced it to the barest minimum.

“We need something that is de-personalised, we de- personalise to improve effectiveness. The process has been dragging because of human interest. If you eliminate human interest, the court will be removed from the electoral process. The court is not supposed to be the final arbiter in the electoral process. That’s not the intendment of the philosophers who propounded democracy. We were taught in those days that the ballot boxes were the most painless killers. If you are under- performing as a politician, the people go to the ballot box and kill you silently, and you go home and lick your wounds.

“I’m sure those who philosophised democracy will be turning in their graves the way democracy is murdered in this country. At this stage, we expect that judges should be more circumspect. When you are 60 years and above, you don’t need to be corrupt “.

Comprehensive verdict – Edokpolo, UPAN facilitator

However, the National Facilitator, United Patriots Assembly of Nigeria, UPAN, Ambassador Ayamekhue Edokpolo, told Saturday Vanguard in Edo State, “First, the pronouncement of the judges has further broadened the huge confidence reposed on the judiciary in Nigeria. The reason is that the judgment was comprehensive, and every point was lucid, deliberately explained in detail that an illiterate can assimilate or comprehend the issues. We can strongly improve our electoral system when the judiciary stands its ground to ensure that lawyers do not bring frivolous cases to tribunals hearing such cases.

Another way we can improve our electoral system is what I call the agility of the electorate. If the electorate insists on good governance and capacity and rejects bribes or favors from the candidates or the political parties, they will invest fundamental sacrifices for the strengthening of our electoral system because the greatest threat to our electoral system is monetization. It is highly monetized, which is why those who have the capacity to perform well feel intimidated to step forward. For instance, you will need private jets to run a presidential election in Nigeria. If you want to run for a governorship election, you are going to need bulletproof vehicles. Therefore, if the followers deliberately refuse inducement and are firm on capacity, it will greatly improve our electoral system. We must sensitize institutions like INEC, police, and army that play good roles in the election to maintain greater impartiality and remove their personal interests from the electoral system. 

Electoral laws shouldn’t be incongruous — Benjamin, IYC 

National spokesperson, Ijaw Youth Council, IYC, Bedford Benjamin, stated: “The country’s electoral laws must be definite and devoid of contradictions and contradicting sections of the law, ranging from electronic transmission of results, and management of pieces of evidence of electoral malpractices.” 

Report By: Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South; Sam Oyadongha, Yenagoa; Egufe Yafugborhi, Uyo; Chioma Onuegbu, Uyo; Emem Idio, Yenagoa; Ochuko Akuopha, Asaba; Ozioruva Aliu, Benin-City & Steve Oko, Aba