Eminent stakeholders at a Citizen Town Hall on Electoral Reforms yesterday, called on the National Assembly to hasten the passage of the Bill for an Act to establish the National Electoral Offences Commission.
The stakeholders, including the chairman, Independent National
Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof Mahmood Yakubu; attorney general of the federation and minister of Justice ,Abubakar Malami; Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Bishop Matthew Kukah; Mike Ozekhome (SAN) and minister of State for Niger Delta,Festus Keyamo (SAN) underscored the need for reforms in the electoral process, stressing that it will improve the quality of public leadership and governance at all levels and also increase trust in democratic institutions.
Noting that speedy passage of the electoral Bill is essential to addressing decline in the quality of elections and loss of faith in democracy, they blamed the political class for opposing reforms in the electoral process.
Recall that the Electoral offences Commission (Establishment) Bill 2020, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Abubakar Kyari and co-sponsored by Sen. vie Omo-Agege, passed first reading on February 27 and passed the second reading on March 4.
The Citizens’ Town Hall meeting was organised by Yiaga Africa in partnership with EU-SDGN; European Centre for Electoral Support (ECES), Albino Foundation, International Press Centre (IPC), Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF), CLEEN Foundation, Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC), Westminster Foundation.
Others are National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), BBC Media Action, Institute of Media and Society (IMS), INEC and Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ).
Speaking at the event, INEC chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, stressed that the timely establishment of the National Electoral Offences Commission will improve the quality of elections in the country, noting that the nation’s policy on persons who undermine the election needs to be clearly spelt out.
He recalled that during a retreat for federal lawmakers on the review of the electoral legal framework in March this year he urged the National Assembly to hasten the passage of the Bill for the establishment of the Electoral Offences Commission.
Prof Yakubu noted that the nation could no longer afford to foot drag on the legislation which would provide the framework for dealing with impunity and banditry in elections.
He said electoral offenders are becoming more brazen because they are not effectively prosecuted.
The chief electoral officer said the commission would like the 9th National Assembly to make history by passing the Bill into law saying it is time to walk the talk.
He charged lawmakers and election managers to renew their interest in reforming the legal framework in the best interest of of electoral and democratic processes.
‘’We need to strengthen our electoral process and transform the culture and we are working with NASS to get the required changes.“
While tasking political parties to endeavor to do the right things, he decried the increasing number of litigations against the electoral commission.
On the cost of running elections, the INEC chairman lamented that the commission has been dragged to court over 2000 times, adding „most times we need to hire lawyers.“
He continued, ‘’Some of the cases are not intended by people who filed them, but we have to hire lawyers. Elections are expensive because we also conduct bye-elections including senatorial elections. We have six senatorial district elections to conduct.
‘’We continue to spend on these elections. We have approached the lawmakers to pass the Bill, while we remain resolute to conduct a free and fair election,“ he said.
On his part, Bishop Kukah, said the assumption that Nigeria has clearly transitionedfrom dictatorship to democracy is not true.
He decried the level of greed among the political class which manifests in the electoral process, saying it is creating room for the judiciary to undermine the democratic process.
The Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese who lampooned politicians for being indisciplined, pointed out that there are inconsistencies in the nation‘s democratic process.
‘’We are assuming that we have a clear transition process from dictatorship to democracy but this is not really true. We have greed and it is manifesting in the whole electoral process creating a room for the judiciary to undermine our democracy,“ he said.
He added, ‘’Our system is quarrelsome; it has been all about the military over the years. The integrity of the judiciary is under question. We need to pay attention to the future, the coming generation should see politics in a noble form.’’
He called on the judiciary to function in line with its mandate, adding that politicians must obey the wishes of the people.
‘’Judiciary should function in line with its mandate and politician must obey the wishes of the people.
‘’It will be nice if we have a generation of politicians that are not greedy. The current breed of politicians are ambitious and are not ready to serve the people.
‘’Our health, education and social services are in dire straits. We cannot afford to raise generations without good ideals and morals,“ he added.
On his part, the AGF, Abubakar Malami, said that the nation’s electoral process is evolving and developing.
‘’As at 1999, the system was unpredictable and very chaotic which is gradually becoming a thing of the past. Pre-election matters in
1999 can be in court for seven to 10 years. At the moment there are legal frameworks on the conduct of electoral matters.
‘’We understand the need for cooperation between the judiciary, legislature, and the executive and we will continue to stress this,’’ he added.
A senior lawyer, Mike Ozekhome, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), who also spoke at the event, said politicians see elections as a do-or-die affair.
He said INEC ought to be independent in line with Section 153 of the constitution just as he noted that electoral offenders should be barred for contesting an election for a period of 10 years or above to serve as a deterrent to others.
Also, minister of State for Niger Delta Festus Keyamo (SAN), called for the independence of the law enforcement agents.
The executive director, Yiaga Africa, Samson Itodo, said there are 965 days, 31 months or 2 years, 7 months and 21 days to the 2023 general elections, adding that the challenges facing the nation‘s electoral process are enormous.
Noting that the challenges require leadership and decisive actions from diverse stakeholders, he added, “This is why Yiaga Africa and our partners are hosting this town-hall to address the declining quality of elections and loss of faith in the democratic institutions due to impunity, exclusion and unbridled corruption.
“If the electoral process is reformed, it will improve the quality of public leadership and governance at all levels and also increase public trust in democracy and democratic institutions,” he said.
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