The Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Uche Secondus, says Nigeria’s democracy is sitting on a keg of gunpowder over what he describes as the rigging of elections in the country.
Secondus said this on Tuesday during a PDP mega rally which held in Benin City, just four days to the Edo State governorship election where Governor Godwin Obaseki is seeking re-election under the party’s platform.
The PDP Chairman who was visibly angry explained that the United States government in its efforts to discourage people from participating in rigging had imposed restrictions on some politicians.
He also called on the European Union, as well as the United Kingdom, to follow the US example to avoid the possibility of rigging the polls in the country.
“Nigeria’s democracy is on the keg of gunpowder because of rigging. Rigging must stop here in Edo. If not, it will be difficult to carry on with elections in Nigeria. Rigging must stop,” he stressed.
The President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, on Wednesday advocated stiff penalties for electoral offences such as rigging and ballot snatching.
Lawan made this known in his concluding remarks after the Senate considered a bill that seeks to establish the Electoral Offences Commission.
According to the Senate President, the move to establish the Commission was in line with the legislative agenda of the Ninth National Assembly in sanitising Nigeria’s electoral process.
He said, “It is in pursuit of our legislative agenda at ensuring that we sanitise the electoral environment in the right direction.
“So, this bill is one of many that requires we amend the Electoral Act. Even Constitutional amendments and alterations will be made to that effect to ensure that the electoral processes and procedures are very well protected, that we stop people from abusing the process because they are in power, or because they have money.”
“I agree that the penalties must be punitive enough to make people not to indulge in electoral offenses,” Lawan added.
Earlier, sponsor of the Electoral Offences Commission Bill, Senator Abubakar Shaib Kyari (APC–Borno North), in his lead debate, expressed concern that “Electoral crimes lead to low quality, corrupt and violent political leadership.
“Electoral crimes help election riggers and offenders take control of governments against the democratic will of the electorates.”
According to the lawmaker, electoral offences give birth to political apathy that forces the electorates to shun political processes.
Kyari warned, “Political violence precipitates vicious cycles of political instability and national insecurity.
“Election corruption leads to avoidable waste of public resources and threaten National development in social-political and economic contexts.”
“Civil disturbances and violence resulting from manipulated elections strain otherwise harmonious communal relationships with adverse effects on national cohesion, peace and security; because rigged elections throw up political schemes that are not conducive for businesses, the national economy decays from declining Foreign Direct Investments (FDI), declining Gross Domestic Product (GDP), increasing unemployment, and General fall in the volumes of both local and global commerce,” he added.
Lending his voice to the debate, Senator Rochas Okorocha (APC – Imo West) advocated stiffer penalties and sanctions to serve as checks against electoral offenses such as rigging by officials of the electoral body.
Another lawmaker, Smart Adeyemi (APC– Kogi West) called for the establishment of a special court for electoral offences, saying, “I think we must look at the possibility of having a special court for electoral offences.”
Senator George Thompson Sekibo (PDP – Rivers East) said the establishment of an Electoral Offences Commission was long overdue.
According to the lawmaker, the 2023 General Elections will be marred with electoral violence like never witnessed before, should the National Assembly fail to pass the bill into law.
He, therefore, threw his weight behind the establishment of a tribunal alongside the proposed Commission.
“This request is long overdue. If we achieve this, we will be able to deepen our democracy. If we don’t achieve this, then 2023 will be worse.
“Electoral Act has many of these provisions, but the problem is who will implement it?
“We need the Commission, we also need the tribunal. Let it be surplus than having none.
“When it is passed, it should be assented to. If they don’t assent to it, then 2023 will be more than war,” Sekibo warned.
Senator Matthew Urhoghide (PDP – Edo South) said, “There is no amount of amendment to our electoral act devoid of the establishment of an institution for the purpose of punishing electoral offenses that will achieve any result.
“Anybody who commits, including political parties who commits electoral corruption, must be dealt with ruthlessly.”
Senator Francis Fadahunsi (PDP – Osun East), in his contribution, said the responsibility of realizing a credible electoral system is one that begins with politicians.
He said unless politicians agree to have a sanitized electoral process in Nigeria, no amount of commission established will change the frequency of electoral offenses in the country.
Senator Adamu Bulkachuwa (APC – Bauchi North), while speaking in support of the establishment of the commission, said there is need to establish a special court so as to reduce congestion that may arise as a result of the number of petitions and electoral offenses that would go before the commission.
Senator Uche Ekwunife (PDP – Anambra Central) said, “For this act to work, it behoves on us the politicians.
“We are still the people that will make the environment conducive. If we follow the way we are doing elections in this country, there will be no democracy.”
The Electoral Offences Commission Bill, which scaled second reading debate on the floor, was referred by the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, to the Committee on Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for further legislative work.
The Committee which is Chaired by Senator Kabiru Gaya (APC – Kano South) is expected to submit its report on the bill in four weeks.
A former Chairman of the now defunct National Electoral Commission, Professor Humphrey Nwosu, who presided over the conduct of the annulled 1993 Presidential election, says Nigeria has failed to build on “strong foundations” laid in the past.
In an exclusive interview with Channels Television, Professor Nwosu shares his thoughts about Nigeria’s multiparty system, ballot snatching, whether the military should participate in elections and more. Excerpts.
Thoughts on Nigeria’s multiparty system
I should not advocate for 93 or 91 (parties), it doesn’t make sense to me. Effectively, I feel these two (major) parties sponsor some of the parties and some of them withdraw because of lack of funds. Some of them don’t have structures. Can they have structures in 36 states of the federation? Can they have structures in 774 local government areas? Can they have structures in 6,927 wards? Will they be able to monitor elections that take place in 120,000 polling stations all over Nigeria? And that is why I thought we are not building on strong foundations we laid in the past.
In order to remove money bags, in order to make sure that these parties serve the national interest, there were co-founders and co-owners, they had grassroots support, they were even funded by the government and driven by ideology – a little bit to the left and a little bit to the right, according to how you feel and not according to ethnicity and not according to religion; according to how you feel. We laid this foundation and that is a credit to former President (Ibrahim Badamosi) Babangida. We must give that credit. Why should we go back to 91 parties, 93 parties when we know they don’t have the fund? They will resort to money bags and they are resorting to money bags. They are godfathers now; godfathers my commission (defunct National Electoral Commission) try to do away with between 1989 and 1993. Godfathers! Are they not there now? They are there determining, ‘Do this’, ‘Don’t do this’. Are we having institutional memory building on what we left behind?
What should be done to ballot snatchers
I would condemn anyone who has any intention of snatching (ballot boxes), using violence to mar this election. I will condemn it, but I will identify myself with what the law says, which the INEC chairman had said. Such people, if they are identified, should be dealt with according to the law, which says (they should get) up to 10 years imprisonment (or pay) N500,000 fine or both, because (of) life, the sanctity of life. We should begin to attach great premium on sanctity of life.
Thoughts On Election Rigging
If people engage in ballot-snatching, it can be ended how we ended it. Do accreditation in a given period – two to three hours – because the number of people who have registered in a polling station may be 500 or 600, in my own time not more than 500 for easy accreditation and voting… You see how they rig elections now? In my time, to avoid rigging, you do accreditation between 8am and 11am – three hours, you can even extend it to 12pm; election days on Saturday are often national holidays.
The people accredited may not be up to the number registered. Out of the number registered – 500 or 600 in a polling station, only 200 may be accredited. The presiding officer will announce, ‘In this polling station, only 200 have been accredited, not 500 as registered’. And it will be 200 that will be issued voting cards and they will vote, and the counting is done in the open; the polling agents of the parties take records and in this era of modern technology and easy communication, you can know from all the wards, all the collation centres, who really had won. Now, they modified it. You accredit, you go and vote and when they wait and no more people are coming, they use the register, look at the number of people that registered, and stamp them and vote for them. That is why you sometimes have outrageous numbers returned. But we had passed that era. Babangida’s administration eliminated it. But it is still now in vogue.
Distribution of sensitive materials to states
I hope materials have been moved to their destinations. Today is Thursday. Sensitive materials will be at ward level headquarters by tomorrow for easy dispatch, first thing, by 5am, on Saturday morning to various polling stations within the wards. And the wards have been codified so that everyone, every party, every candidate knows the number of polling stations within a given ward within a local government.
There should be hitch-free movement of human beings that will conduct this election because INEC conducts elections with ad hoc staff. These people must have been trained on what to do; not to compromise with any political party in voting for people who are not there – absent voters. Having voted, another thing is to secure the vote. Count it before everyone… This question of ballot snatching shouldn’t arise. It shouldn’t… I believe the two main contestants are APC and PDP and they have enough personnel to cover all the polling centres all over Nigeria.
Soldiers are not part of the process. It is the police. People may see soldiers and they feel intimidated. This is a point; my humble opinion. Throughout the elections that we conducted – December 8, 1990, or December 14 for governorship election in 1991, (and) July 4 1992 National Assembly election, we used the police. And in the presidential election of 1993, soldiers didn’t appear anywhere. Soldiers are for external defence. So, this is something we are doing for ourselves.
In a split in loyalty within the governors of the 36 states of the Federation over the just concluded Nigerian Governors’ Forum election, where the incumbent chairman of the Forum; Rivers State Governor; Chibuike Amaechi was re-elected with 19 votes and Plateau State Governor; Jonah Jang who is claiming that the election was rigged as he had 16 votes, are both laying claims to the position of the Chairman of NGF, the Kwara State Governor, Dr Abdulfatah Ahmed has asked that a peaceful path of reconciliation be engaged so as not to lose sight of the peer review for development which motivated the forum’s emergence in the first place.
In a press statement released by the Chief Press Secretary to the State Governor, Governor Ahmed called on other State governors to shun divisive political tendencies and bury the hatchet while focussing on using the NGF as a platform for driving the intended development for the benefit of the people.
Governor Ahmed emphasized that a peaceful path should be taken to resolve any rancour within the State governors rather encourage discord amongst themselves.
“If there are issues as regards the election of the Forum’s chairman, we should use the same platform to resolve them rather than fanning the embers of discord in the media. Our choking security challenges should not be compounded with political conundrum,”
Governor Ahmed therefore called on the leadership of South-South Governor’s Forum, the Northern State Governors’ Forum, the South East Governors’ Forum and their colleagues from the South West to utilise their various platforms to strengthen the Forum and complement the leadership at the Federal level.
According to him, as a peer-review platform for good governance, the NGF should offer critical development advice to first term governors such as himself so that democracy can be made more meaningful for the people, stressing that deliberate efforts should be made to ensure that the system is not overheated.