Politicians engage miscreants, street urchins and at times even security agents to perpetrate violence on the electorate and electoral officials and fellow politicians in order to gain undue advantage in elections. As a consequence, they disrupt and frustrate elections in areas of their weakness and even manipulate in areas of strength.
You can multiply the nefarious acts carried out in this regard. These form the basis for the inevitable contest of the results at the election tribunals. The rate of unemployment and unemployable youths also imposes on the system charlatans, brigands and other undesirable elements who do not understand what electoral contest is and the spirit of the game. As indicated earlier, they moved into the contest to bridge the gap of their joblessness.
Hence, they will go to any length in trying to secure victory. It is like a point of no return for them. Appreciating that the election petition is the last resort, they naturally and effortlessly have recourse to it. Some godfathers have so completely compromised the system that they will never allow competent and ready-to-serve individuals to attain political offices but would rather foist on the system half-educated elements who are easily controlled and would never query the desires of their benefactors.
The electorate may reject these elements but, with the help of the unconscionable political overlords, they attain power by the use of force and other stratagems whose outcomes definitely would compel other contestants to see the tribunal as the only arbiter of their disputes and hence increase in the number of petitions in election tribunals. The level of illiteracy, particularly on the part of the electorate, constitutes another bane to free and fair elections.
How do I mean? Illiterate voters often muddle up the ballot papers as well as the thumbprints, thus leading to a lot of controversial ballots and void votes. Another interesting aspect of this is illiterate agents who make wrong entries or sign against wrong and contestable entries in the result sheets. Finally, and by no means exhaustive of the basis for multiple election petitions, is the belief in the possible and probable manipulation of the judiciary.
The truth or otherwise of their convictions is controversial. However, it remains a factor in the proliferation of election petitions in Nigeria. I am of the firm view that, except we urgently address these various factors, the nation will continue hemorrhaging from the amount of money spent in servicing the tribunals and courts, lawyers defending INEC cases and provision of security for the structures. This excludes the time, energy and human resources consumed in the process. We can as well imagine the cost implication on the part of the candidates, both the victorious and the defeated.
There is no doubt that this is equally huge. Most importantly, there is the negative image we have garnered for the country internationally in terms of our electoral process, as many lawyers wonder what we mean when at international fora and we claim to be election petition lawyers from Nigeria.
They wonder how we manage to survive, as elections only come once in four years. They do not know that the seasonal nature of elections in Nigeria and the manner by which elections are conducted can earn a lawyer sufficient briefs from one election cycle to another and income to make therefrom can make one a professional of no other area of law. By the time we aggregate all these, we will appreciate the urgency involved in the provision of solutions to the myriad of factors discussed above. It is in this connection that I humbly proffer the following solutions to the issues raised.
As per the lucrative nature of public office, there is urgent need for the review of the entitlements of public office holders, particularly in the context of the economic state of the nation and the predicament of the masses. Now is the most auspicious time to start having leaders that are ready to sacrifice for the nation. This is why it is crucial to encourage people of means and capacity to start showing interest in public offices.
Besides, from my experience and knowledge, I believe the time is equally ripe to migrate service at both the executive and legislative from full-time to part-time. The engine room needs to remain the civil servants who are the originators and implementers of projects and programmes.
Where 109 senators and hundreds of Honourable Members sit round the year at the expense of the professions in which they are specially trained only to debate issues that can be done on part-time basis, the nation is not only recording losses in terms of their humongous payments but also losing the economic contributions of these individuals from their various fields of training.
Let Cabinet members remain as policymakers and monitors. Entitlements then become a subject of input by way of attendance and contribution to the system. Attendance at the chambers substantially justifies that of the legislature beyond the brief they hold. In sum, we need to drastically reduce the entitlements of the public office holders.
On the amount of money spent on securing public offices, particularly elective ones, there is an urgent need to limit it by way of enforcement.
This is so because, as at date, there are statutory limits for campaign expenses for each of the offices, but these are more honored in breach than observance. The electorate must equally help in this context by ceasing to perceive their votes as products or merchandise. If they do not continue to demand money to trade off their future, the expenses reduce equally. Similarly, parties need to reduce the fees charged for both expression of interest forms and nomination forms, while party members responsible for the nomination de-emphasize the use of money in the process. I have interrogated this aspect in my earlier column and recourse can be made to it.
The truth is that INEC lacks the capacity to monitor and enforce the statutory positions, hence the need for the security and anti-corruption agencies to complement INEC’s efforts in this regard.
Let me acknowledge that, during the last election, modest efforts were made by the anti-corruption agencies, which engendered some measure of sanity in the system. By the time we are able to significantly reduce the amount ‘invested’ in the process, the level of desperation of politicians is minimized and there would be less recourse to the tribunals by way of petition.
Again, we need to improve on the quality of candidates in all ramifications. Recently, I read that the Senate was already being proactive in this regard by limiting qualification to gubernatorial and Senate to HND. certificates.
I must also acknowledge the thought of my brother, Hon. Babajimi Benson, one of the quality products of Lagos State, in this context. I am aware he has done tremendous work on this, and one only hopes that the effort sees the light of day. I, however, reserve my thoughts on the minimum expectation in this regard for the subsequent column.
The stipulation of minimum qualification as attempted by the legislature would not be sufficient where there is no enforcement and proper scrutiny of candidates by both political parties, INEC and the electorate to ensure that the recent cankerworm of Ordinary Level certificate forgery would not assume a worse dimension by the time candidates or aspirants are expected to produce what is even higher by way of HND. It is saddening that illiterates without O’Level certificates in Nigeria believe that the leadership of the country is equal to leadership at the band level of the primates and should definitely require no more academic qualification than ability to shout in Pidgin English. Our higher educational institutions, many of which have become havens for fake certificates, are waiting to reap bounteously from this legislative attempt to cure an ailment many conscionable elements think ought not to be our portion in the first instance.
One only hopes that any educational institution whose certificate is forged would not be spared in the process of investigating the source of such a certificate where an aspirant is found to have paraded one.
Further to the foregoing, the pedigree of candidates must begin to count for something in electoral contests. How can we entrust our destiny into the hands of someone that has not run any venture before, or has run a venture aground, or has no means of livelihood other than the position he is seeking and having served as a hanger-on to a political godfather?
All these are germane issues for us to address in order to reduce desperation for public offices and recourse to election petition tribunals. An average exposed person appreciates the spirit of contest and is ready to accept defeat where another candidate is preferred to him. We also need to curtail the degree of electoral misconduct we experience during elections. Apart from taking preventive measures, offenders need to be sanctioned appropriately.
This must include those that aided and abetted the misconduct, and/or in whose favour it is perpetrated. I do not, however, subscribe to the proposition of having specialized courts for this. The existing courts have the capacity to deal appropriately. It is the areas of investigation and prosecution that need to be strengthened. Once these misconducts reduce, it will have a correlative effect on the number of petitions filed. In addition, INEC needs to improve on the quality of staff sent to the field to conduct the elections. Using Youth Corps members as emergency ad hoc staff is not the best. At least, there is a training school that those hoping to participate in the process can, on their own, patronize before the election period.
They will then be availed first opportunity. Funding should be increased for INEC in this respect, appreciating that this is the foundation of the realization of our electoral potentials and goals as a nation. Stern measures need to be taken against compromised officials as is presently being done.
The penalty, however, needs to be stiffened. I must not fail to address the scourge of violence and thuggery that is not only prevalent in the nation’s elections again but assuming a dangerous dimension. Hardly does any election take place again without loss of lives and properties and no culprit is held.
This is a major factor engendering apathy in our elections. (See my column of 30th January 2020 “Voter apathy: Albatross of Nigeria’s political representation” https://www.sunnewsonline.com/voter-apathy-albatross-of-nigerias-political-representation-1). Security agencies need to brace towards taming this nefarious and notorious criminal conducts at our elections. The political will to achieve electoral uprightness is not there with the political class and hence the federal government has a lot of work to do in this regard.
Where government looks the other way on occasions in which its political party wins by fraud, such a government can never have the moral ground to stand to condemn electoral malfeasance when it is perpetrated against its party. Security agencies, in most cases, dance to the dictates of the ruling party in allowing electoral malfeasance, otherwise, no thug or brigand has the guts to perpetrate electoral brigandage where the security situation is not lame and lax as to allow him carry out his ugly business. As said above, not only the perpetrators must be brought to book but the sponsors also.
The use of electronic voting will greatly assist in the elimination of thuggery and violence. You can read more in my column of 26th September 2019 “Leadership, legitimacy and electoral process” https://www.sunnewsonline.com/leadership-legitimacy-and-electoral-process 1 alluded to above. The rate of unemployment, which promotes this, among others, must be dealt with. We need to create more jobs and engage the youths who are becoming restless by the day. It is the idle hands that are useful in the devil’s workshop. The education and enlightenment of these youths is also vital.
They need to understand the implications of their acts. Most times, they fail to appreciate that their joblessness originated from the flaws in the election as they trade away their future in favour of decrepit politicians who have no intention of bettering their lot.
They must be made to appreciate that inept leadership that emerges through the warped election process, for which they are contributors most times, renders them jobless. As I usually say, the price of electing, or, rather, imposing, incompetent leaders is greater than mere embezzlement of public funds that we all know as corruption. All efforts must be made towards making them know that their lives are linked to those votes that are being disrupted. Beyond the above, where more jobs are created, there will be reduction in the way we perceive public service as the only available industry we must aspire to occupy.
These will douse the rush and urge to contest elections because of joblessness. Interestingly, it is this class of candidates that is most vociferous and more of petitioners than others. Illiteracy, as alluded to earlier, engenders multiple election petitions.
To curtail this, civic education of the electorate is key. INEC must continuously, without ceasing, or at least a year before any general election, educate the public on how and mode of voting since this is part of the constitutional and statutory duties of the body. It must also encourage political parties to engage and educate their members, particularly, polling agents. All these will improve the quality of our voting and computation process, thereby impacting positively on the number of petitions filed. Finally, and by no means the last of the factors, is the belief of judicial compromise by the electorate.
This, I must admit, is ticklish area. In as much as I know that greater number of our judicial officials, and I mean, well comfortable majority of them are incorruptible, there are still these insignificant few, but significant in point of contamination of the rest, that have given bad reputation to the judiciary. It is these few that all security agencies, including the public, must assist in fishing and flushing out of the system. As much as the National Judicial Council is struggling to do this, there is severe limitation to its capacity, particularly when it comes to investigation and prosecution. All stakeholders, meaning, all Nigerians, are under obligation to assist in this regard. We must go beyond the Judges to prosecuting those other participants in the process of this aspect of corruption.
Corrupt judges do not approach bribe-givers themselves. They use intermediaries who could be lawyers, registrars in court or even some unscrupulous elements who trade their weight and influence in government circles about. I will also seize this opportunity to advocate reform in the recruitment process and capacity building of and for judicial officers. While poor welfare is also not an excuse to be corrupt, I appeal for the improvement of the welfare package of judges in the country.
The last review was in 2004 despite the scourging inflation in the country. Please, we must not tempt them. I honestly do not want to believe that the lull in the review is a means of subjugating them. It is in our collective interest to encourage and assert the total independence of the judiciary. As said in my introduction, the factors adumbrated upon are not necessarily exhaustive of the enabling circumstances for the proliferation of election petitions in Nigeria. Thus, a further study by way of research can be commissioned in this regard and, if already done, let implementation be done to reduce the menace.