Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
A former chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Attahiru Jega, yesterday, knocked the National Assembly, claiming that its members indulged in unbridled corruption.
Particularly, he slammed committee chairmen in the Senate and House of Representatives who he said engage in the act with impunity in the course of carrying out oversight function.
He expressed dismay that the Muhammadu Buhari administration was focusing its anti-corruption war on embezzlement and theft rather than tackling bribe giving and taking in states and federal government institutions.
“The fight against corruption has to be intensified in all its ramifications. There are many successes achieved which are commendable but the magnitude of the problem on the ground is turning these into drops in ocean.
“Members of the National Assembly engage in bribe taking when they pursue Committee works and oversight and I wonder what is happening with intelligence and investigative responsibilities of security agencies in policing our National Assembly.
“Some chairmen of the committees in the National Assembly have become notorious on this issue of demanding for bribe with impunity. I have passed through the university system. I have heard so many stories of many vice chancellors about the horror that they go through on question of budget and so-called oversights assignments.
“I am not saying that chief executives are saints but all we are saying is that we must point the searchlights so that Nigerians and particularly public office holders should have basic common decency and integrity by which they discharge their responsibilities because virtually everybody seems to forget about what is going on,” Jega said
During the lecture titled: “Peace building and good governance for sustainable development in Nigeria” to mark the 2018 Democracy Day in Abuja, Jega also flayed the violence that heralded recent primaries of political parties, saying it was a pointer to the danger lurking around ahead of the 2019 elections.
“The first thing to consider is a electoral violence and there is no better way to address this than what happened in recent party congresses and its potential danger. If political parties cannot organise their internal elections peacefully, how can they engage the other parties with civility in the general elections?
“It is very important that this is addressed because if there is crisis in the elections, some of these issues are outside the scope of electoral commission, but in the end it is the electoral commission that gets blamed.
“It is important that we improve our systemic mechanisms of addressing violence and conflicts related to elections and in particular improving the score of internal democracy within political parties.”
The former INEC boss further observed that the delay in the passage of the framework for the conduct of the 2019 exercise was also a risk to the election.
Citing the provision of the constitution, which gives only seven days for the conduct of run-off where necessary, Jega said it was an impossible task as no such election could be done in so short a time.
Jega cautioned that if the spate of hate speeches among political actors, opinion, religious and political leaders were not checked, they could spark electoral violence during the general elections.
He urged patriotic and democratic Nigerians to speak against hate speech even as he urged government to put mechanisms in place to identify and prosecute those who constitute nuisance.
On the delay in passing the amended Electoral Act, he said it was important that the electoral body has a better electoral legal framework in place for 2019 general elections than what obtained in 2015 general elections, arguing that some aspects of existing legal framework could have created constitutional crisis in the last election but for God’s intervention.
“By the time the electoral commission announces result, it would have been two days and then if you take out those two days, you will be left with five days to prepare for the next runoff election.
“Meanwhile, after elections, INEC normally demobilises staff: security personnel etc and you cannot demobilize them and get them in polling unit within five days.
“So, in 2015, we had very serious apprehensions in the electoral commission because of that constitutional provision, because if a run-off became necessary, we cannot do it within the constitutional provision,” he explained.
Jega also pointed out other aspects of the Electoral Act that he said were contradictory to party democracy.
He noted that while a section of the law recommended that political parties must conduct free and fair primaries, another section stipulated that whatever names of candidates the parties submit to the electoral commission cannot be rejected for any reason whatsoever.
“INEC is supposed to monitor party congresses. So, INEC has a list of those candidates that emerged at party primaries.
“But political parties have a penchant of hiding under Section 31 to send to INEC people who have not even participated in party primaries and I saw this happened in 2015.
“We wanted to reject it but we were advised by lawyers that if we did that, the electoral commission will now be interpreted to be partisan and in Nigeria, people are often ready to drag the electoral commission into politics and once that is done, the entire integrity of the commission is undermined,” he said.
The former INEC boss also mentioned the issue of conducting bye-elections in the case of death or in the case of defection by lawmakers.
“INEC, by law has to be notified even if it read it in the newspapers. Even if it knows that has happened, unless the National Assembly has written to it to declare a vacancy, INEC will not conduct a bye-election.
“There were many cases that we knew before 2015 general elections, people who had defected and who should have lost their seats by virtue of defecting but the leadership of the National Assembly, advertently, vehemently refused to write to INEC.
“I appeared before the Ethics Committee, provided evidence that a senator had actually defected and by the provisions of the law, should lost his seat and that we wanted to be written so that we can conduct bye-election to replace him.
“That letter never came until I left office. That provision is still there and if we don’t address it, we will continue to carry the baggage of laws that can undermine the integrity of an election.
“So, it is very important to accelerate this process of having a new improved legal framework for INEC to be able to do its job because right now they are operating under serious pressure.
Jega also warned the Federal Government to desist from treating the herdsmen-farmers’ clashes with kid gloves. The INEC boss said only good democratic governance could provide the appropriate framework to make Nigeria peaceful, adding that it is not a manna that can fall from heaven.
Saraki, on his part, warned that the conduct of the forthcoming 2019 general elections must not be less credible than the one conducted in 2015.