The recent by-election in Aba North/South Federal Constituency of Abia State, speaks volumes of the fact that the fortunes of Nigeria’s electoral process is yet to witness any significant break from the past.
There is no doubt that the by-poll was one that cast a harsh light on patterns of violence, corruption and outright criminality that characterize Nigeria’s election.
Politicians and their loyalists, thugs inclusive, and most worrisome, some officials of the state government, had a field day, intimidating electoral officials and perceived opponents. Little wonder the election witnessed a low turnout of voters.
Out of the registered 496,628 voters in the constituency, only 16,335 were accredited, constituting only 3.29 per cent voters’ turnout.
But, who expected a large turnout, when the political environment was tense before and during the election? Even law enforcement agents, who were supposed to ensure the security and safety of voters, appeared helpless as they were unarmed, given the rules of their engagement during elections.
Even at that, there was no way they would have matched the thousands of thugs, who were clearly on rampage.
For instance, a substance suspected to be a bomb exploded at the Umuola Hall, Ward 8, Ogbor Hill, Aba North council on the election day.
Gunmen also abducted a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Mike Ozoemena, while voting was ongoing. Ozoemena, who was also the Campaign Officer of the APC candidate, Mascot Uzor Kalu, was kidnapped at the Industrial Ward 2 area.
Sadly, at the end of the exercise, results were declared and a winner emerged despite clear irregularities.
This, perhaps, explained calls for the outright cancellation of the polls. To most stakeholders, the forthcoming 2023 general elections would be characterized by bloodbath if the outcome of the Aba North/South by-poll is allowed to stand.
The exercise was not only below the standard expected of a free, fair and credible election, but the level of violence perpetrated by some persons working for the ruling party in the state, seriously undermined the poll and made it a farce.
It is against this backdrop that we join other wellmeaning Nigerians and even friends of the nation, who have continued to call for fundamental reforms to the Nigeria’s electoral process in order to address the systemic failure noticed during the election.
But, such reforms, we must emphasize, require political leadership that is dedicated to the rights of Nigerian citizens and an inclusive process of national dialogue, involving state institutions, parties, civil societies and the media.
We reiterate the need for political leadership because more than a decade after the Justice Mohammed Uwaisled Electoral Reform Committee submitted its report and three years after the Senator Ken Nnamani-led Constitution and Electoral Reform Committee submitted its recommendations to the present administration, their respective recommendations are yet to be implemented.
Among the recommendations of the report include the appointment of the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the rest of the board by the National Judicial Council (NJC); that only the Senate should have the power to remove the INEC Chairman or anyone on the board based on the NJC’s recommendation and funding of INEC directly through the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the federation.
Of particular interest was the recommendation for the setting up of an Electoral Offences Commission to ensure prosecution of offenders.
And drawing on the recommendations, the then Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-led Federal Government prepared a white paper that formed the basis for drafting the Constitutional Amendment Bill.
Although some of the recommendations were not passed during the constitution amendment process by the Seventh Senate, there was no doubt that those adopted helped in the appreciable success recorded during the 2015 general election by the Prof, Attahiru Jega-led INEC.
Jega, a former Vice Chancellor of Bayero University, Kano and former National President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), was appointed by Jonathan in 2010, and it is to his credit that the country’s electoral process witnessed remarkable improvement while he held sway.
Through several innovations, including the introduction of Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs) and card readers for accreditation of voters, the electoral umpire restored hope on the country’s electoral process.
This was justified by commendations the Commission received after the 2015 elections from local and foreign election observers.
While we do not recommend resort to self-help, we maintain that it is not enough to advise those who are not satisfied with results of elections like that of Aba North/ South by-election to seek redress in court, hence there is an urgent need for electoral reform to be undertaken to allow time for debate, legislative changes and implementation well in advance of the next elections, so that citizens’ faith in the power and possibility of credible elections and not the power of the guns would be rekindled.
We, therefore, urge the parliament to hit the ground running in terms of electoral reforms by taking advantage of the ongoing amendment to the constitution to consider those issues that require urgent legislative intervention as the process of election is the bedrock of any democracy.