INEC should stop using professors as returning officers –Aduwo

Mr. Olufemi Aduwo is the Executive Director of Centre for Convention on Democratic Integrity (CCDI). In this interview, he speaks on the state of the nation, the electoral process and the forthcoming governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states. WALE ELEGBEDE reports

How would you capture the structures of the various political parties in the present dispensation and the leadership style of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) since the advent of the Fourth Republic in 1999?
From the pre-colonial era to date, politics in Nigeria has changed in character and cast. We’ve had a call from the noble struggle against imperialists to a regional battle for hegemony. Presently, it has become a life and death struggle for the authoritative allocation of values to individual pockets. Today, politics in Nigeria is neither issue-based nor people-driven as experienced in the First and Second Republics, now it is about the process by which individual egos and greed are massaged and actualised. In a democracy, political parties are the agencies by which people are aggregated for competition for state power.
Political parties start-off as a coalition of the likeminded whose motivation of coming together often varies according to aspiration and interests. For example, when you take a look at the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as the two dominant political parties and the manner members are jumping like a monkey from one party to the other, it points to one direction, lack of vision among the parties and desperation among the political players.
Elections should be the means through which practical effect is given to the definition of democracy as a government of the people, the role of the electoral empire and political environment are the determinant factors on how this materialises. On a sad note, all the elections conducted in Nigeria since1959 till 2019 recorded elements of manipulation with level of variations. The 1979, 1993 and 1999 elections were conducted by the military government; the manipulation frequencies were minimal compared to the wholesale destruction witnessed in some parts of the country in 1983 and 2003. Don’t forget that these two elections were conducted by the civilian governments.

But it is believed that the crisis that trailed the 1983 general election is still part and parcel of the challenges the country’s electoral system is facing. What is your take on that?
The crisis of 1983 general election led to the collapsed of Second Republic through the intervention of the military, which itself was a curse. That was the episode Prof. Maurice lwu as lNEC chairman fought against in 2007 and saved the nation from unwarranted military intervention. You would recall in 2007, two days after the governorship poll had been held across the country and less than five days to the presidential poll, the Supreme Court gave a ruling in the case in which Alhaji Abubakar Atiku challenged his being declared ineligible to run for the office of the president.

Earlier, the Court of Appeal had ruled in the same case that it was within the competence of INEC to vet the credential of aspirants in elections and determine their eligibility. It is pertinent to point out that it was the Attorney General of the Federation who was the chief law officer of the federation that wrote INEC stipulating the categories of individuals who were not eligible to contest in the elections. In less than five days to the presidential poll after the Supreme Court judgement, INEC under Iwu, within four days printed new ballot papers containing names of all the presidential candidates, including Atiku.

To many, it looked like magic. Many people think it may not be possible for lNEC to handle such a huge operation within a short period. Some notable stakeholders put pressure on lwu to postpone the poll. If that had happened because of time frame, the outgoing president would have handed over to the Senate President as an acting president, who will rule for six months before another election is held. lwu was determined to break the 40-year electoral jinx, where a civilian government could not transit from one government to another and it was a big achievement for the nation at the time.

ln 2009, INEC set up an Election Monitoring Board Monitoring and Observation Board to conduct Anambra State governorship election which ex-Governor Peter Obi emerged as a winner. Many people were not aware the election was conducted by the Board on behalf of lNEC. Under section 160 of the Constitution (as amended), lNEC is allowed to set up such board or authority, l was a member and six out of nine members of the board were members of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) and this was a period NBA was critical of lNEC.
They include current lNEC National Commissioner, Festus Okoye; the current Attorney General of Ekiti State, Hon. Wale Fapohunda, Barr. Mike Ezekhome (SAN), Barr. (Mrs) lrele and Mr. Aslemon, among others. Unfortunately, President Jonathan was misled and put under pressure and lwu was not reappointed at the end of his tenure, lack of continuity cost the nation a huge amount in billions of naira in the first electoral outing of Prof Attahiru Jega in 2011, which was a disaster.

What do you make of the current composition of INEC?
I observed the 2019 general election and in the report my organisation submitted to the lNEC chairman, l specifically wrote that the declaration of the sacked governor of Imo State, Emeka lhedioha, was high display of impunity and as such, cannot stand. I reckoned then that Ihedioha did not obtain the constitutionally required one-quarter of the votes cast in at least two-thirds of the 27 local government areas of the state according to the provision of Section 179 of the Constitution. What lNEC should have done was to conduct a run-off in areas where there were challenges. Why should the same lNEC cancel votes in more than 300 polling units when 10 votes can affect the result?

What are some of the changes you think INEC should address going forward?
There are many things to fix and we may not be able to fully exhaust them. But I want to strongly urge INEC to desist from the usage of lecturers and professors as Returning Officers of future elections. Many of them are partisan, confused and they create more problems for lNEC. I think Jega brought them into the system to appease them as colleagues. As stipulated, INEC chairman is the Chief Returning Officer of the presidential election, likewise, the Resident Electoral Commissioner of a state is the Chief Returning officer of the governorship poll. The electoral journey has been filled with fear and anxiety; there are hills and valleys, but I think we need to be focused and organised.

What is your take on the governorship elections coming up in Edo and Ondo states, where the two leading parties, APC and PDP are presenting the same candidates that contested in 2016?
As a stakeholder in Ondo State, I can tell you that the good people of the Sunshine State are politically sophisticated and they expect INEC to conduct a free and fair election in which the votes of the electorate would count and be counted. The people of Ondo State have a history of how to protect their votes and tame the manipulators. Adequate security is needed for many reasons. For example, the people of Ondo South Senatorial District are not happy that none of the candidates from APC or PDP is from the district, but the votes of the district will determine the outcome of the election. That is a fact.

The PDP by senatorial strength has more majority than APC; don’t forget the PDP won two senatorial seats under the APC government in the last generation election. In 2016, former Governor Olusegun Mimiko could not win the senatorial election because of past errors, and that was regardless of his achievements during his tenure.

What is your take on issues surrounding recent revelations in the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and allegations of sleaze leveled against its now suspended acting chairman, Ibrahim Magu?
There are corrupt practices that preceded the stealing of public funds. These corrupt practices include nepotism, sectionalism, cronyism, influence-peddling and they lead to conflict of interest and in some cases, appropriation of government business for personal gains as well as outright abuse of office and undermining the rule of law. The position now is that corruption is so entrenched that anyone hoping to do any kind of business with the Nigerian bureaucracy must take it into account. Indeed, the situation is now so bad that even some government officials are alleged to bribe each other for public jobs to be done.

Elected leaders in the last 20 years have made a sing-song of fighting corruption; it does not appear that any serious effort has been made to address the real causes of corruption. Magu has been alleged of corruption practices by the Attorney-General of the Federation; in a democratic space where the rule of law and institutions are recognised, Magu ought not to be in office for more than a month. The DSS report indicted him but Mr. President ignored the report.

Since the bulk stops on Mr. President’s table, he should also take the blame now that the corruption sewage is widely opened. Look at the kinds of corruption odour oozing out of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Labour Ministry, and others. We should not be talking of fighting corruption, rather, we should see corruption as a symptom of something that is intrinsically wrong with our society. I may sound like a bearer of bad news, a cynic or one who does not support Buhari’s war against graft but the opposite is actually the case.

Last year, l wrote to Mr. President and I copied the Office of National Security Adviser. l made it clear why l am against this administration. Regardless of the noise from Magu’s friends, the AGF, Abubakar Malami did what was expected. We are waiting for when Magu’s trial will commence and the revelations that would follow. It is sad to note that government agencies saddled with the responsibility of promoting transparency in government are now the ones masterminding fraudulent practices. Besides the negative perception of the government, corruption has threatened our democratic institutions and values and the government tends to be losing the fight.


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