By Daniel Kanu
Respected scholar, Prof Lai Olurode was former dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Lagos and former national commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The eminent academic in this exclusive chat with Sunday Sun spoke on e-transmission of election results and its constraints, his worry about PIB allocation to host communities, the inevitability of restructuring Nigeria and the need to rejig the constitution, among other sensitive national issues. Excerpt:
Let’s know your view on the e-transmission of election results, following the disagreement it has generated?
I think the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) under Prof Attahiru Jega brought humongous technology into the electoral process and what the current INEC under the current leadership of Prof Yakubu is doing is to further infuse more technology into the electoral process, so that the element of human intervention will be reduced. And this is necessary if we are serious at checkmating the human element in the electoral process. It will help to confirm more credibility and transparency in the electoral process. But let me say this, it is not that there will not be issues of transparency or that there will not be issues about the absence of credibility in the electoral process by mere infusion of technology into the electoral process, but what it does is that simultaneously with the manual processing of the result and the use of electronic means you will be able to juxtapose and be able to spot on time the fault lines and be able to checkmate the full collation before anything happens, before announcement where foreign elements might come into the electoral process. Let me give you an instance where the introduction of technology might compound the electoral system. Look at the failure of the card reader in 2011 and also in 2015. There were isolated cases, but we were able to deal with it in 2011 and 2015 before they could derail the electoral process. So, all over the world, of course, there are varying degrees, countries are not in a haste to go to electronic voting because of the loopholes/danger associated with it. I think we shouldn’t be in a hurry to do it at a go, it should not be something that is wholesale, it can be gradual. Areas of the country that is ready for it, let it start from there, but don’t subject INEC to any other body like the National Communications Commission (NCC). The legislation that is required is to give INEC the authority to do the electronic transmission of results when it deems fit. INEC does not need to go to NCC or to anybody, it can liaise with NCC when they are ready to test run it. What is killing the country is this idea of uniformity. The local government structure is the same all over the country in spite of the fact that there are cultural differences, we still force ourselves to have the same unitary kind of system. What is happening in one zone must happen everywhere, no, it’s wrong. The truth in this country is that we are not at the same level of modernisation. We can look at the key indicators of development, we look at education, enrolment in schools, look at birth delivery, look at road network, look at the private sector etc, the role of the private sector is not the same across the zones and it doesn’t need to be the same. In some regions, they wait for the government before anything can happen as there is so much dependency on the government all through. My point is that, don’t make for wholesale transmission of the election result, let it be done when any part of the country is willing to because Nigeria is an expansive territory, largely expansive and immense. It’s good to commend the government of this country in the extent it had gone with regards to the flourishing of technology in all sectors. There are some areas in the country that if you want to call you will not be successful, but that does not mean that there is the same network defectiveness across the country. When the country was not as robust as this in terms of digital or technology advancement, INEC was also conducting elections, so we should not throw away the bath water because you see the signs of rain. We should not throw away the old system we are using as we still need it; you fall back to it in some areas that technology might be failing for now. Where electronic transmission is difficult, INEC knows what to do as they have been conducting elections before this e-transmission argument. The truth is that e-transmission has its challenges, its frustrations, especially if there is a network problem or for whatever reason during transmission, the delay may be misunderstood and the country may be thrown into fire, the country can be thrown into a tenterhook. My advice is, let’s transit into it gradually; we should also give room to five to10 per cent error. As it is today, it is not advisable that INEC should do e-transmission across the country at the same time, the connectivity is not on the same level across the country. It could be selective, but we need to start from somewhere. In fairness to the National Assembly, in their original amendment, they took cognizance of the possibility of failure of technology in some areas, but it is only in the amendment that now requires INEC to go to NBC or NCC and that the National Assembly must give its nod before any transmission, that is the area I disagree with. Give INEC its independence, its freedom to transmit the result electronically.
How would you also react to the controversy surrounding the PIB, particularly the three per cent allocation for the oil community?
You see, if you go to the oil communities, I think they were taking 13 per cent before through OMPADEC which they shared, but this one (three per cent) will go to the communities now, one goes to the state and the state now shares among the communities. I have been to Bayelsa, I have been to some oil producing states, the devastation, the environmental pollution, the degradation of their environment, the occupations in those areas leave the people resident in the areas with difficulties practicing their indigenous occupations, no amount, no percentage is too much to concede to them. But unfortunately, we have challenges all over the country, even the three per cent that is given to them will it be well spent? I think it is not all about allocation, it’s about the issues of expenditure in the areas that will be of benefit to the people. I am not even sure that the communities have the capacity to manage those resources. Though I can concede it to the communities that three per cent is small, you can make it seven or even 10 per cent, but the question is that of management; the capacity to manage the three per cent at that level of government. Some states don’t even have the capacity of the resources that accrue to them, they don’t even bother to ask for some of those resources, they forget them.
How do you react to critics that say the presidency is treating bandits with kid gloves, but intolerant in crushing democratic agitators?
Let me give you a general response. I don’t want to be judgmental and I will tell you why. Giving the complexity nature of our society, the diversity of religion, the diversity of ethnicity, of geography etc, these are not our makings. We just found ourselves in Nigeria; you did not choose to be born where you are etc, but the choice of God. You can’t be wiser than God. But you have to establish, what are the parameters under which we can live collectively, together under peaceful co-existence without rancour. The only parameter is justice and if you do justice to some and you don’t do justice to the others and there is no basis for discrimination in terms of the dispensation of justice then you are courting chaos. So, if justice is being done to bandits, if bandits are treated with kid gloves and others treated harshly, what do you think that is going to happen? The peaceful co-existence will then become difficult and they will see you as being selective in your judgment. They see you as being selective in your dispensation of goodness and, therefore, the other group will become angrier, they will feel alienated, they will feel they are not part of the system, then governance, legitimacy becomes difficult. You must dispense justice across the board and not be selective. Even Prophet Mohammed said that if it is ascertained, proved that my own daughter has committed an offence, cut her heart, there will be no respite for her; she will face the punishment. That is leadership. And a good leadership begets good followership. What is good for the goose is also good for the gander, be fair to all concerned as a leader else you have problems you cannot contain. The tragedy of Nigeria is that some people are being treated with carrots; some are being treated with stick for the same behaviours, so how will you elicit support? This is food for thought for the government and all in position of authority. There should be formal equality. When you ignore others and treat them with disdain governance becomes problematic, legitimacy will be threatened. My message to all Nigerians is to treat people equally, you will command respect, people will fall for you, love and support you. For instance, look at the former Imo State governor, Rochas Okorocha, he was building all over the country, building schools, doing so many things, he didn’t limit it to his state or his part of the country, but the only time he decided to do something differently was when he wanted his son-in-law to succeed him and the people kicked, because there was no fairness, no justice in that action which is the pillar of good governance.
A lot of statesmen and groups have advocated for the restructuring of Nigeria…?
(Cuts in) Restructuring is an idea whose time has come and it is happening, I call it restructuring by default. Let me give you one example; before nobody can set up any airline except Nigerian Airways. Before, radio station or television stations were only monopolized by NTA. What is happening now? Look at other areas of success stories; they are now competing with the Federal Government-owned ones. So, without competition there can be no good service delivery. Look at the security issue, for instance, establishment of regional security outfits: Amotekun is not in the constitution of Nigeria, Ebubeagu is not in the constitution nor the Northern security outfit, but the truth is that the Federal Government with less than 500, 000 police officers with all the challenges of security we have cannot secure the country alone. The police command that we have in Abuja can’t do much and you can see that the state command for these regional outfits is huge, so restructuring is inevitable, what is left is just to formalize it and the earlier it is done the better for the country. The only problem that I have with restructuring is that the language of the restructuring as being packaged by the advocates instill fears in people that don’t support restructuring. The packaging is poor; the PR is also at ground zero. You need to convince those who do not share in your views that restructuring is a win-win game. If you package it as if the other person is going to lose everything he has in your area, of course, nobody will jump at it. So put yourself in the position of those that are not in support of restructuring, let that inform the kind of language you put forward. Make it more attractive and that it is a win-win situation for all, for development and all that. Convince people on the need for restructuring, do lobbying. Get the support of the North because of the way the constitution was crafted; they have more members at the National Assembly as at today. Advocates of restructuring are saying that good governance is not forthcoming, that there is so much over-centralization, that more powers should be transferred to the regions etc, which is okay, but at the same time you are painting the kind of picture that some part of the country will be cut off or that you want to secede, break away and all that, such language I think is not the best to use. You see that brings the issue of power rotation to mind and it is not a big deal, but what I see as a big deal is having a constitution that works. I don’t want to know who my president is if he is working. In fact, I will not want to have a president who will only take care or focus on for instance my Yoruba people. Give us a leader who will see the country as one. I need a president that will have legitimacy that everybody will respect. I don’t also want a president like the kind of Obasanjo presidency, with tremendous power, that saw opportunities to repackage the country and refused for eight years, he could have done a bit of decentralization, he had power. This is a country where not less than 68 items are under the Exclusive List, what again are you waiting for? Look at the parastatals that the president has power to make appointments, appointments into the universities, appointments into key offices in the country, into INEC, into ICPC, into EFCC, all kinds of commissions, how will the person not be overwhelmed? If you have a president that is concerned with only the key issues of development, things will get better. Why will the Federal Government be controlling education, for instance?
Do you think the constitution going through the National Assembly as being done now will give Nigerians the constitution of the people?
Whatever you want to do with the constitution you need to build up formidable elite consensus which is missing. What is clear now in all parts of the country is that the Federal Government is biting more than it can chew and I am sure from the way I have seen the president working with the signing of the local government autonomy bill etc, the Federal Government appears to be willing to let go some of the powers that it has, but they should be encouraged to continue. If you want something from, let’s say, your chairman and you say you want changes and you are abusing him consistently, what do you think will be his reaction? You cannot say the Federal Government is not doing anything good, that FG is completely bad, encourage where they are doing good and constructively criticise when they are not. You can’t come to my home and be insulting me and you expect to have a good dinner, it will be difficult. Definitely, the constitution needs to be retouched, a journey to India, China is not going to be in a day, you make it gradual, so as to elicit the support of other sections. We need to take it gradually not by way of a revolution. I think we are making some gains, but definitely this constitution is not working in the best interest of all and needs a proper rejig.