Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja
The Head, National Peace Committee (NPC) for the 2019 General Election Secretariat, Rev. Fr. Atta Barkindo, has said that Nigerians should not expect miracles from the committee as far as the Edo and Ondo states gubernatorial elections are concerned.
The Director, Kukah Centre, who spoke with Sunday Sun in Abuja, however, said the committee will deploy its moral voice to speak with all actors concerned to sue for peace.
Amongst other issues, Barkindo called on the government to take steps to follow through with the amendment and the signing of the amended Electoral Act into law, saying that the move by the government will deepen and strengthen the electoral system in the country. Excerpts:
Nigerians have been waiting endlessly for a general overview or final assessment of the 2019 general election. When will the National Peace Committee (NPC) for the 2019 General Election make the report available?
First of all, it is important to point out that the National Peace Committee Report on the 2019 general elections is not intended to indict or disparage any politician, political party or agency. If anything, the report is a contribution of this group of eminent Nigerians who, having served the country at the highest levels, to highlight their views and perspectives of the elections and make available recommendations for a more credible electoral process in the future. For this reason, the committee does not intend to rush the report, especially considering that other elections such as the Ondo and Edo governorship elections are coming up shortly and both are considered as being conducted within the 2019 election circle. So, when the NPC 2019 Election Report is ready, it will be made available to everyone.
Going by the observations of the National Peace Committee, is Nigeria making progress towards having a free, fair and transparent elections?
Many countries around the world still have problems with conducting credible elections. Nigeria is not an exception. However, lots of expectations were placed on the current administration to deliver on its promises of change in every aspect of the country, including the way elections are conducted. Some analysts expected a major security challenge, predicting that the country could snowball into a civil way. Nothing of this sort was experienced. Yet, Nigeria could do better given all the resources at the country’s disposal. So, in terms of awareness of citizens’ rights and their responsibility to participate in the elections, we could say Nigeria is progressing. However, there is a lot more to be done in terms of conducting free, fair and non-violent elections.
What ways can the electoral system in Nigeria be improved upon?
Following the interventions of the NPC in the different phases of the 2019 general elections, various steps can be taken to improve the electoral system in the country. Just to mention a few. First, the government should take steps to follow through with the amendment and the signing of the Electoral Act into law. This would curb public perception that the government is uninterested in political reforms because it wants to coordinate an electoral process that favours the incumbent. Secondly, it would fast-track the need for electronic voting and eradicates the malpractices that are perceived to be linked to a manual process. Above all, it will make the processes easier, less cumbersome, more transparent and acceptable. Furthermore, INEC as an agency empowered by law to conduct Nigeria’s general elections is overstretched and overburdened. The agency is in-charge of registration of political parties, coordination, logistics, award of contracts, supply of materials, etc. In some instances, INEC is also overburdened with legal issues. There is a need to amend the laws that created INEC, to break the agency into independent, but collaborative agencies to make it more effective and functional. Furthermore, the massive deployment and the exploitation of security services to guard and protect security before, during and after elections should be reconsidered. Over the years, it appears security personnel have become compromised and are part of the problem. The military, trained in the art of war, should be taken off any political and democratic process. The police should be empowered, trained and instructed to provide adequate security during elections, and be able to rise up to the challenges of modern democratic processes. The deployed security services should be at the command of INEC, the agency empowered by law to conduct the elections, not the security authorities. Finally, I think the criteria for establishing political parties should be made more stringent. Despite the freedom of association guaranteed by the Nigerian constitution, Nigeria’s political parties are many, some lacking in ideology, direction and work-frame. Many of the parties have no national appeal, and appear to be set up to disrupt other stronger opposition, muddling the entire electoral process. While retaining the constitutional right to establish political parties, INEC should set up new and strict criteria for setting up new parties to make them more effective.
Many were taken aback that the National Peace Committee was silent on the outcome of the Kogi and Bayelsa gubernatorial elections. What accounted for that?
First of all, it is wrong to assume that the NPC was silent in the Kogi and Bayelsa elections. Many Nigerians do not seem to understand the work of the NPC and what its mandate stipulates. The NPC does not engage in shouting matches and the rush to meet the headlines. Most of the engagements of the NPC are private and moral in nature. Besides, the NPC report on the elections is not yet out as I mentioned earlier. We still have elections in Ondo and Edo. Once these two are over and we complete our report, you will have an idea of what the assessment of the NPC is about the different elections held since 2019.
What is the candid assessment of the National Peace Committee on both elections, particularly in Kogi where a female politician was killed?
I think like most Nigerians, the NPC was expecting that these two elections were going to be a departure from the immediate past elections. The NPC was concerned about the manner in which the elections were conducted, particularly looking at the level of violence and insecurity. Nigeria needs to organise itself for more credible future elections.
Edo and Ondo elections are around the corner. What will the National Peace Committee do to ensure credible polls in both states?
Do not expect the NPC to perform miracles. However, the group will deploy its moral voice to speak with all actors concerned to sue for peace. As in the past, it will work with the relevant institutions to facilitate a peaceful electoral process.
Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, has said the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Adams Oshiomhole, is an interested party in the forthcoming election. How will the National Peace Committee ensure that the state is not plunged into violence during the primary election and its aftermath?
There is nothing the NPC can do beyond talking to the key actors. It will call on all stakeholders to put the interest of the country above party and individual interest.
Women’s participation in politics, does this worry the National Peace Committee considering that politics in Nigeria is largely an all-men affair?
One component of the NPC’s future roadmap is the need to engage communities, and strengthen citizen’s participation in the electoral process. Consequently, the NPC plans to engage women and youths from across the country before the 2023 elections. The engagement will be in the area of awareness and sensitization on electoral rights and participation. This also includes peacebuilding workshops, training youths to be agents and ambassadors of peace during elections and providing them with skills that will detract them from violence during elections.
Some are of the opinion that the international community should give Nigeria’s elections a breathing space by allowing Nigerians to take their destiny into their hands. Do you agree with this notion?
Let us be honest for once. Elections in many countries, particularly in Nigeria, are very transactional. The political space is difficult to navigate as you try to deal with various forms of personal, economic and diplomatic interests. Nigeria has all the human and material resources to manage a credible election, however, the strategy for managing this credible election is not yet in place. Besides, we live in a global community constructed on the pillar of inter-dependence. I think the international community provides technical and logistics support, but as to a direct interference to determine the outcome of the election, I do not have the evidence. I will advocate continuous collaboration between Nigeria and development partners to ensure free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria. Many countries in the region are worried that if Nigeria descends into chaos, there is the risk that the spiral effect will be catastrophic for the region.
What are the challenges facing the smooth discharge of the affairs of the National Peace Committee?
It is important to recognize that one of the most significant strengths of the Peace Committee is its convening power. The ability of eminent Nigerians to come together and convene political stakeholders at the highest level of government remains the conveyor belt for the successes of the NPC interventions. However, these are not done without challenges. The first major challenge is the electoral process itself. For instance, during the 2019 general elections, the number of registered political parties increased to 91, with 73 presidential candidates. Party primaries were riddled with irregularities and intrigues. INEC, the electoral umpire, was daunted with court cases that became disruptive and distracting, and it was a huge task for the NPC to reach out to all of them. Another major concern was the increase in the circulation of fake news, hate speeches and misinformation. Most of these issues should have been dealt with by institutions empowered by law to do so. However, in most cases, NPC had to engage with relevant stakeholders to remind them about their constitutional responsibilities to ensure a peaceful electoral process. Another major challenge was the issue of perception. It was difficult for the Peace Committee members to express their individual perspectives and convictions without putting the mandate of the committee into question. This was linked to the growing expectations of the Peace Committee members and the need for them to be seen as non-partisan and unaligned to any politically exposed persons or institutions. It was also expected that the Peace Committee reviewed its membership and brought on board, fresh faces that represented the aspirations of Nigerians in terms of facilitating peaceful elections and transition. However, there is some challenge in identifying credible Nigerians who are non-partisan, neutral and willing to work pro bono. Nigeria’s political and electoral landscape is constantly uncertain. Getting political actors to the table is constraining and energy sapping. Dates are constantly shifted, changed or even cancelled. The committee constantly had to work with available dates given by the key political actors.