Judex Okoro, Calabar
Utum Eteng, is the Founder/Coordinator of Clean Up Nigeria of Corruption (CUNOC), an NGO committed to anti-graft war in Nigeria.
He speaks on how to make the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) works better.
The president has emerged for a second term. What agenda are you setting for him?
Indeed, I knew President Muhammad Buhari would return in 2019 because that is the person Nigerians need at this moment. He has really set the nation on the right path to greatness. Forget that he made some mistakes in the first tenure, but surely he would correct them this time. For this second term, I expect him to consolidate on security for all citizens so we can minimise the killing of our brothers. Secondly, he should continue with the corruption fight and devote more time to pursue looters. The government should spend some more time to screen the accounts of all the INEC officers because some of them are the biggest thieves. Thirdly, the agriculture sector should be given more priority. The railway lines being proposed should also reach all the proposed states and the president should be guided by the last experience whereby he waited for some time before appointing ministers. He has now tested the coast and should know who and who should be appointed ministers. This should be done as early as possible and there should be no waste of time.
There are criticisms that the processes that threw up the president during the presidential election were flawed. What is your take?
I think the presidential and National Assembly elections have some level of credibility and somewhat massive turn out of voters who exercised their franchise. But the state Assembly and governorship elections were a disaster of the highest order. The governorship election in some states went from bad to worst. However, the elections are over but it is now left for the tribunal to look at some of the complaints and come out with a position. I believe that the chairman of INEC should apologise to Nigerians, the REC in Cross River State should as well apologise because of their failures to execute their duties.
Some parties are complaining of rigging across the North. If there was rigging in the North, there was massive rigging in the South and I am a witness. So the pot cannot call the kettle black. Rather if the pot calls the kettle black, it’s the confirmation of the existence of charcoal put on the kettle and the pot which is not good enough for a people who are aspiring to get it right, we have not gotten it right. But I take consolation in the fact that the tribunal is there and I enjoin everybody who is dissatisfied with the outcome of the election to approach it for redress.
Besides, I have heard of issue of forensic examination. But I can tell you that it would pose some problems because the card reader was not incorporated. You can see from the guidelines that the card readers must work and I can tell you that a very simple way of throwing out so many of these elections is through the card reader. We see people turning in more votes than the registered voters without reference to the card reader. There could be a problem for INEC, if it allowed for a proper inspection of these materials. Go to the Calabar office of INEC and you will see the rubbish and I believe the Resident Electoral Commissioner for Cross River State should be challenged.
The President rejected the electoral reforms bill for a number of times. Don’t you think if he had assented to it, it would have mitigated some of these electoral irregularities?
I want to congratulate and commend the president for not assenting to that booby trap amendment act. If you look through it you would have noticed how the bill would have worked against the president because there are speculations, which to some extent is correct that there is a plan to intercept and jam the system and make some announcements which are different from what is actually on ground and then the country will be charged. So it is good he declined assent to the bill. Secondly, I was a member of the Ken Nnamani Constitutional and Electoral Review Committee which did a fantastic job. Part of its recommendations was that it expected that the National Assembly will look at our recommendations holistically. Law making is their constitutional responsibility and that does not stop them from looking at an existing situation and see how they can box it. The bill as enacted by the assembly was selfish and he could have signed his death warrant. You know the last National Assembly was not out to make laws for the advancement of the country but the selfish interests of some persons. We only hope that the ninth session of the assembly will correct some of these anomalies and set the country on the right path. The law would have caused a situation where fake results will be announced.
The Uwais committee report as well as the Ken Nnamani committee has been shelved by the governments that empanelled them, why do you think they are shying away from implementing these reports?
I was a member of the Ken Nnamani committee set up by President Buhari and the Uwais committee report was part of our mandate to marry it along with the exigencies of our time and that was beautifully done. We married the two together and came out with something that should have taken care of the situation. We recommended that the appointment of the electoral umpire should be the same with the appointment of judges. They should be an independent body that will screen those who will act as umpires. They should not be appointed upon the recommendation of politicians. You see, there is no REC in this country whose appointment was not based on the recommendation of a politician, either in government or proximate to government. He, who pays the piper, calls the tune. From our observations, the umpires nowadays see their appointment as an opportunity to become millionaires and billionaires. Electioneering processes have been commercialised out of the rich of the electorate. We also recommended that INEC should be unbundled so that the time frame for doing certain things will be met.