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Open Letter to Prof Jega: In Search of Strong and Credible INEC

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Present realities on the political terrain have eventuated my writing this open letter to you. In view of the fact that your appointment received resounding endorsement by over 99% of the electorate, we therefore have a stake in the success of your mandate.

Of course, that mandate is that you, Professor Jega, should give Nigeria a free, fair, and credible election in the next general election. Furthermore, it shall be your duty to lay the foundation for a strong and enduring electoral institution in the country, an electoral institution that can compare with the best in the world. Your antecedents show that you have the wherewithal to actualize this agenda; hence we gave a resounding approval of your appointment. In a speech which you delivered to the leaders of the 62 political parties on Monday 21st September, you demanded among other things the shifting of the January 2011 election to April 2011. My own surprise is not the demand but rather that the demand was not made before rolling out the election time table which put January as the date for the 2011 election. Prof, that was a dangerous oversight on you and your team.

  The INEC Chairman -in- Council should have seen the need to ask for extension of time right from the outset. It gives the ugly impression that you do not seem to appreciate the Herculean task ahead of your Commission. To some people, you have not really embarked on an in-depth and exhaustive analysis of the endemic problems that have hampered the effectiveness of the INEC over the years. Yet, to others, Professor JEGA is said to have a penchant for approaching complex issues in a perfunctory and tardy manner. Although these claims remain in the realm of perception, they do not augur well for the INEC of our dreams. Most people were flabbergasted when you rolled out the election calendar which chose January, 2011 as the date for the 2011 election. If you had pursued your job with dedication and thoroughness, you would have realized that the timetable which you presented was bogus and a child born to die. How could a Commission that is beset with such daunting and insuperable challenges not know that actualizing that timetable would have been another wonder of the modern world, more so, since the INEC which you inherited was a shambles, destroyed and rubbished by your predecessor in office. In fact, an effective and creative manager would have given the elongation of time as a condition for accepting the job. Please exercise caution and vigilance in your duties in the future

  You had also exhibited this loss of concentration while putting forward the budget of INEC to the National Assembly recently. You fumbled from about N70bn until you eventually settled for N87bn. Even after the approval by the National Assembly, you still came back with another supplementary budget of about N10bn. Why was the commission prevaricating and equivocating over such a critical issue? What were the constraints of INEC in providing a once and for all budget at the first outing? There is a need to remind you that no other chairman of INEC has enjoyed such extravagant love from Nigerians. What you are enjoying now is akin to an elongated honeymoon. You should make haste and get your act right because very soon Nigerians will get back to the trenches to throw missiles in your direction, especially once the primaries kick off and parties start submitting the names of their candidates. When that time comes, the relationship between INEC and the political class would be like that of Iraq, and United States. Please Prof., strike while the iron is hot.

  Your mandate is not just limited to the 2011 elections. No. I wish to repeat for the umpteenth time that it shall be your duty to set up the necessary building blocks that will strengthen the electoral system of Nigeria. The electoral system in Nigeria straddles the elections in the three tiers of government: Federal, State and Local Government. So, your undue obsession with the 2011 election is risk-laden and myopic. You should look at the big screen because your mandate is holistic and all encompassing. If actually you appreciate the insuperable odds against your Commission, you will desist from shouting the mantra; 'May 29 is sacrosanct'. There is nothing sacrosanct about May 29. It is neither mentioned in the 1999 Constitution nor in the Electoral Act 2006.

  What is of importance to Nigerians is how to cleanse the Augean stable and fix the endemic crises of election malpractices in our country. Nigerians are so passionate about the agenda that they can exercise restraint for as long as it is necessary, if only to get it right this time. Nigerians cannot sacrifice thoroughness on the altar of meeting with a so-called sacrosanct date: 29th May. That date, 29th May, is after all, a creation of the military regime of General Abdulsalami Abubakar. It was the terminal date for that military junta to hand over to a democratically elected government. If any date is sacrosanct, it should be 1ST October- the date of Nigeria's Independence, Chief Obasanjo gave more power to that May 29th date when he christened it 'Democracy Day', perhaps, because it was the day democracy returned to Nigeria after about sixteen years, the last democratic rule having been overthrown on the 31st December, 1983 by Major-General Buhari (retd).Once again,there is a need to emphasize   MAY 29, is neither in the 1999 Constitution nor is it mentioned in the Electoral Act, 2006.            

  There is nothing sacrosanct about the 29th May date because it is not cast in concrete; It can be vitiated by order of the National Assembly by way of constitutional amendment. As long as you allow the bogey of May 29 to oscillate over your head like a Damocles Sword, you will be hamstrung to rise to the demands of your office. Your demand that the election should be postponed by four months and still insist that May 29 is sacrosanct is unacceptable. Any change in the election date must of necessity affect the date of hand over to the next civilian regime. You should not be afraid of making the demand for a hand over date to be shifted to October 1st 2011.The masses of this country are behind you. Your argument that the terminal date of 29th May will not be affected is hogwash; it's neither convincing nor sustainable. One can't eat one's cake and still have it. You should not be held hostage by the saber-rattling of political demagogues and desperados who want the election to be held today so that they can continue their looting binge. Those who issue these threats are yesterday's men who are of nuisance value in the present dispensation.

  Now that we have accepted the April date for election, we must be prepared to shift the terminal date of the present Republic to 1st October, 2011. Some of the advantages of shifting the inauguration of the next Republic to 1st October, 2011 include the fact that it will reinvent a precedent that existed from time immemorial. The former President Alhaji Shehu Shagari took his Oath of Office and Allegiance on 1st October 1979 and 1st October 1983. The same date applied to his predecessors: Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and Alhaji Tafawa Balewa. Another reason is that the ongoing debate on which day, October 1st, June 12, and May 29 should be a Democracy Day in Nigeria will be automatically resolved. It is pertinent to state that certain sections of this country do not accept May 29 as Democracy Day. Such groups accept June 12 as the Democracy Day and it is on that day they celebrate the holidays to commemorate the June 12, 1993 election which Chief M.K.O. Abiola was believed to have won. For inexplicable reasons, that election was annulled by the then President, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (retd). More significant is that 1st October will provide enough time to vacate all the election petitions that are bound to trail the April elections.

Since we have all agreed that election will take place on April, 2011, I move a motion (a private bill) that on 29th May 2010, all the Governors and State legislators should vacate office, having completed their statutory tenure. The President and the National Assembly should be given an elongated tenure which will expire on 30TH September while the next Republic will commence on 1ST OCTOBER, 2011. The period, May 29 - 30th Sept. will be used to handle all outstanding election petitions in Court before 1st October 2011 when the new political leaders will be sworn in. Meanwhile, the National Assembly should legislate on committees which should be set up to run each State from 29th May to 30TH Sept. 2011. The National Assembly will effect legislation to actualize the template adumbrated above; after all, the law is made for man and not man for the law. Any Constitution can be amended to accommodate present realities.

On a different note, it is distressing that politicians whose cases are still being investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission are allowed to run for offices in the next election. You, Professor JEGA, will be disappointing Nigerians if you turn a blind eye to this abnormality. You carry the hopes of over 150 ml Nigerians in particular and the international community in general. In the spirit of Noblesse Oblige-to whom much is given-much is expected, you cannot afford to fail. This is the irreducible minimum we ask from the current INEC. Anything short of this is unacceptable as it tantamount to a monumental betrayal.  

  In 1979, the legal tussle between Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Alhaji Shehu Shagari was resolved in the Supreme Court before Alhaji Shehu Shagari took the Oath of Office/Allegiance. It was the same procedure in the States. You, Professor Jega, must ensure that never again will any person whose case is in the Courts be allowed to be sworn in for any of the various offices. We must no longer tolerate a situation where politicians use allocations meant for developing the States to buy judgment in the Election petition Tribunals. In a country, where judgment is on sale to the highest bidder, INEC and the National Assembly must network to bring this anomaly to a halt. The former Lagos State Commissioner, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav, had on two occasions in the Senate lamented inconsolably because he was shocked that most of those sitting with him in the Senate Chamber were criminals, money launderers and 419 scammers that he arrested while he was in the Police Force. He wondered how such criminals found their way to the Hallowed Senate chamber. In some States of Nigeria today, we have a generation of 419 scammers and money launderers who managed to win elections as governors, or legislators or local council chairmen. Since they receive allocations monthly, they feel no qualms in frittering such State funds in the wild pursuit of Court victories. They will often brag of having won all their cases in the election tribunals. But nobody tells the electorate the opportunity cost of such spurious victories to the balance sheet of such a State. In terms of infrastructural development, such States are in an interminable State of stagnation and inertia. Never again will this malaise be allowed to resonate in the future Republics of Nigeria. Nigerians can wait for as long as it takes to get our act    right. The bottom line is that aside the 2011 general election, Professor Jega and his team must initiate bills for onward presentation to the National Assembly on modalities to strengthen the Electoral System of Nigeria.  

  Furthermore, It is pertinent to state that periodic election is the oxygen that sustains democracy. You must ensure that never again will unelected officials be allowed to run the affairs of the Local Government Councils in Nigeria. You and your commissioners should take a second took at the possibility of entrenching a statutory date for holding elections in any election year. The present system of making the election date a moveable event is no longer sustainable. In the U.S the general election is held on 'Tuesday next after the first Monday in the month of November of the election year.' It was in 1845 that the U.S. Congress enacted legislation providing a uniform date for the election. The same approach should be used by all the State legislatures to enact a statutory date for the holding of the local Government Council Election in the various States. Such dates do not have to be uniform in the country. Each State shall pick a date that is convenient to them. Once this legislation is enacted, no state will ever use Transition Committees to run the States again. As at today, the Local Governments Areas are akin to the personal Non Government Organization (NGO) of the State Governors who use their fronts to run the Local Government Areas in the guise of Transition Committees. Since the TC group is appointed by the governors, the monthly allocations are simply handed over to the governors who launder the allocations to their private pocket after making provisions for staff salaries and allowances. At other times, such amounts are lodged into interest bearing deposits in the banks in order to attract huge interests for the governors and their henchmen. INEC should put an end to this avoidable waste of funds by making it an impeachable offence for any governor to use Transition Committees/unelected officials to run the Local Government tier.In fact the use of Transition Committees to run the Local Governmentsis a barefaced affront on Section 7(1) of the 1999 Constitution which stipulates thus:' The system of local government by democratically elected local government councils is under this Constitution guaranteed….'In spite of the fact that Section 7 of the 1999 Constitution makes it unconstitutional to use unelected officials to run the local government Areas, this aberration persists because the courts have not made any pronouncement on the legality of the use of Transition Committees in running this tier of government. Everywhere in the world, laws remain dormant until the courts give them life through judicial pronouncements. So, Prof as the Chairman of INEC, you should liaise with the Attorney General and the National Assembly to get the interpretation of the Supreme Court on this section of the Constitution in order to put an end to the use of unelected officials to run the LGAs. If such legislation existed, Governor Fayemi of Ekiti State would not have been temerarious enough to sack the elected councilors in Ekiti State. In the same vein, the Electoral Act must stipulate without any equivocation that political parties that wish to hold congresses at any level must apply for licence from the INEC. Any congress held without such authorization from INEC should be nullified and such primaries must have an INEC official as the returning officer.  

  On a related note, INEC should consider as a matter of emergency the scrapping of the State Independent Electoral Commissions.. These commissions are a safe haven for corruption and rigging of elections as they merely carry out the orders of the State Governors. Above all, the LOCAL GOVERNMENT Election Tribunals are Kangaroo outfits which merely carry out the directives of the State Governors. This is why we always hear of the abhorrent situation where a ruling party sweeps the polls in the so-called Local Government elections.. INEC should use their Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) ably aided by retirees and youth corps members to conduct the Local Government elections in the 774 States of Nigeria.  

  During the Chief Agbaso/INEC legal tussle between the governorship candidate of All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) and INEC in IMO State, the Supreme Court, for inexplicable reasons, backed away from making an unequivocal pronouncement on the most contentious aspect of that suit: 'Has INEC the right to cancel an election that has been concluded and results collated at the ward, local government, and the state levels?' While section 27(1) of the Electoral Act 2006 empowers INEC to postpone elections 'If there is a reason to believe that a serious breach of the peace is likely to occur if the election is proceeded with on that date….', we are unable to see any section empowering INEC to annul the result of an election which had been concluded and result about to be released by the Resident Electoral Commissioner. As the INEC Chairman, you must insist that the Supreme Court or the National Assembly should make a non-equivocal statement on this puzzle which may raise its ugly head presently, if not properly resolved now. The true position must be entrenched in the ongoing amendment of the Electoral Act.  

  Section 85 of the Electoral Act 2006 states 'Every registered Political Party shall give the Commission at least 21 days notice of any convention, congress, conference or meeting convened for the purpose of electing members or nominating candidates for any of the elective offices specified under this Act'. Was INEC informed when the various states conducted their Local Government Elections since 2007? Why did INEC not assert her right and declare such kangaroo elections null and void, if it is proved that such elections were conducted in breach of the Electoral Act? INEC must beef up its    supervisory/oversight functions if democracy in Nigeria is to be sustained. This is the only way to reverse the dangerous voter apathy among the electorate.

  On a different note, the security system in Nigeria appears incapable of effectively supervising a credible and free election in a country with a population of about 150 million people and 774 Local Government Areas, more so, with the difficult terrains and far flung rural communities to boot. In order to ensure that the tenuous security infrastructure is not put under intense stress, INEC may borrow a leaf from United States where only about 1/3rd of the Senate Seats and a fraction of the 50 states present candidates in any election year. Elections are not held in all the political offices in the U.S in one fell swoop as it is done in Nigeria. In the last election in U.S which took place on only about 33 of the 100 Senate Seats were contested for. Similarly, only some governorship slots were also contested. However, the entire House of Representatives go for election every two (2) years while a senator has a renewable tenure of six (6) years. The bottom line of this argument is that staggering of elections in the manner it is done in the U.S should be considered for adoption in Nigeria. On a related note, in any election year, elections into all the eligible positions should be conducted on the same day. INEC should set up a think tank to work out modalities on the practicability of holding all the elections in one day as well as on other related matters. I prefer a situation where all the elections are concluded in one day. This will save us a lot of trauma and criminalities which have become associated with electioneering and voting in Nigeria.

  INEC should also take a look at the incessant bad blood between the Deputy Governors and the Governors. A content analysis of the media reports reveals that over eighty percent of the Deputy Governors always end up sidelined, suspended or even impeached. In 2007, only the Deputy Governor of Zamfara State eventually emerged Governor of his State. Why do we have such incessant conflicts? As we speak, Pauline Talline, Deputy Governor of Plateau State, is said to have purchased a form to participate in the Governorship race even while her Governor is still in the race for a second term. In Abia State, the Deputy Governor, Comrade Akomas, was either impeached or he resigned a few weeks ago. In Bayelsa State, the Deputy Governor, Mr P. EBEBI was also impeached under questionable circumstances after being accused of complicity in high crimes. There are several other cases in other States. INEC cannot allow this cat and mouse game to fester. It is a danger to democracy considering our own socio-politico-cultural milieu. Let INEC consider a situation where a governor can remove his deputy by getting 2/3rd votes in the State Legislature. This will engender a sense of decorum and curtail the restiveness of most deputy governors who find it difficult to accept the fact that a deputy governor is a spare tyre which can only be used when the main tyre is bad. It will also defuse tension in the Government Houses where politicians are often split in the middle with a faction rooting for the governor while the other faction embraces the deputy governor..

  On a related note, the Electoral Act must state emphatically that those who participated in governorship/presidential primaries must automatically be disqualified from emerging as deputy governors/vice presidents. Such people do not owe any loyalty to their principals. They are usually very over zealous and sooner than later, they start hatching plans to plot a palace coup against their principals. This might have been the reason the People's Democratic Party (PDP) did not pick any of the over a dozen presidential aspirants to run as vice presidential candidate to the late Head of State, Alhaji Musa Yar'Adua. In order to checkmate possible over exuberance by Yar'Adua's deputy, the PDP chose the quiet and humble Dr. Goodluck Jonathan who was the then Governor of far-flung Bayelsa State. A swashbuckling Vice President would not have tolerated the humiliation meted out to Dr. Jonathan during the period the late President was sick. Such a combative Vice President would have used his incumbency powers to force his emergence as President even while Umaru Musa Yar'Adua was under life support in a hospital in far away Saudi Arabia   One can imagine the anarchy and pandemonium which such a reckless use of power could have unleashed on the nation.  

  The constitution has now set aside every legal encumbrance to defection to another party. This is commendable because the only thing that is permanent is change. But there is no absolute freedom anywhere. In journalism, there is a maxim; 'the freedom of expression is not a freedom to shout 'FIRE' in the market square' because the ensuing pandemonium could culminate in fatalities and catastrophe. I have a sense that whoever desires to defect to a new party should do so within a specified time frame, say, at least, six months before the next election. A situation where a politician defects to a party in the evening and emerges the party's flag bearer in an election the next morning is deplorable and reeks of aiding and abetting criminality and anarchy. Even among criminals, there has always been some honour.

  The bottom line is that INEC should remain focused in solving the myriad of problems confronting her. It should not be derailed by the bogey of the so-called sacrosanct date of May 29.That date is never sacrosanct because, as already stated elsewhere, there is no such date in either the 1999 Constitution or the Electoral Act. The only recipe for a strong and virile Nigeria is a strong electoral system which is not tainted by the electoral virus of 'wuruwuru' or 'magomago'. Nigerians are very passionate about a free, fair, and credible election and we are prepared to wait for as long as it takes INEC to get its act right .INEC should not be stampeded into taking precipitate actions which may have the potentiality of catalyzing mayhem and cataclysm in the next election.

  But why is Madam Ayoka Adebayo still on the staff of INEC? Is she indispensable? If so, she can be made the Head of the Archives section of INEC. It is distressing that after the crime/fraud she perpetrated at the election rerun in 10 wards in EKITI State in the rerun governorship election in 2009, she still performs the work of a Resident Electoral Commissioner.(REC).As long as the like of MRS Ayoka Adebayo are still playing a critical role in   INEC,. the assurances of a credible, free, and fair election in 2011 may not be actualized and this may spark off another round of voter apathy in the 2011 poll. While appointing INEC official recently, President Jonathan said that he would remove any of the officials whose appointment was raised doubts in the polity. So, whose interest is Madam AYOKA ADEBAYO re///presenting in INEC? A special court which is set up for the prosecution of those involved in election malpractice should be entrenched in the Electoral Act. The penalty for those found guilty should be punitive and stringent.  

The call by some prominent Nigerians for the scrapping of the Presidential system of government in preference to the Parliamentary system should be discountenanced. The topic is so critical that it cannot be discussed tangentially. I promise to write another viewpoint on this contentious topic in due course. However, suffice it to say that the imperatives of restructuring the National Assembly in order to make it cost-effective cannot be overstressed. Meanwhile, INEC should make a case for a Senate of 73 members and not a senate of 109 members. This works out at the rate of two senators from each State and one from Abuja. On a related note, membership of the House of Representatives should be reduced by one- half. If Nigeria introduces the parliamentary system of government as is being recommended by the like of the elder statesman, Chief Anthony Enahoro, Nigeria will be made a mockery, a veritable pariah in the comity of civilized and modern nations. One critical advantage of the presidential system is that the incumbent government    must serve out its tenure. The worst that can happen is impeachment or death of the President and even when this happens; it does not affect the tenure of the government as the Vice President is instantly sworn in as President to complete the statutory tenure of the government. This contrasts sharply with a parliamentary structure where a vote of no confidence in the Parliament results in the sacking of the government and the calling of a fresh general election. In view of the interminable recriminations and bickering among the various ethnic groups in Nigeria, a new government can be sacked shortly after its inauguration once the National Assembly passes a vote of no confidence on it and this can turn Nigeria to a banana republic. The political Arithmetic of my argument will be elaborated presently (soon). All in all, the task of making INEC a strong, credible and enduring institution is a task that stares you in the face as the Chairman of INEC. However, suffice it to say that on this agenda, there is no alternative to success as Nigerians will not accept any excuses. In fact, success on this issue is the new face of a DO OR DIE AFFAIR