Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Nigerian judges and 2015 elections

“Let me use this opportunity to sound a note of warning to all judicial officers. Do not allow any political party or politician to compromise your integrity or your future. We must never again be used as tools to truncate our nation’s democracy.
Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mahmud Mohammed, on February 3, 2015.
On February 3, 2015, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, inaugurated 242 judges carefully selected from the Nigerian courts to sit on election petitions to be filed by candidates and political parties after the 2015 general elections. Justice Mohammed action was in accordance with the provisions of section 133 (3) (a) & (b) of the Electoral Act 2010, (as amended) requiring that election petitions tribunals must be established 14 days prior to the elections, and that the secretariat of the tribunals must be opened seven days before elections.
It should be noted that post-election dispute resolution is a key activity which brings a final closure on the electoral process. The court is the only institution after the election management bodies i.e. Independent National Electoral Commission and the State Independent Electoral Commission that can determine the winner of an election or review and reverse the pronouncement of the Returning Officer on a poll.
Nigerian judiciary therefore plays a pivotal role in the electoral process. The courts not only interpret knotty issues surrounding the conduct of elections, the judiciary also resolves issues around candidates’ nomination disputes which usually arise after the party primaries. As I write this, hundreds of cases have been filed in several courts at the aftermath of the November – December 2014 party primaries conducted by political parties ahead of the forthcoming elections. Thus, the courts are dragged into both pre and post-election crises. Apart from litigation, other dispute resolution mechanisms available to aggrieved parties and political aspirants include mediation.
Since 2006, I have worked very closely with the Office of the President of the Court of Appeal which is responsible for appointing election petitions tribunal judges. My former office (where I voluntarily resigned last year to pursue an independent career in democracy and good governance consultancy) assists with capacity building for tribunal judges by training them on election petitions case management techniques. The training took place for the first time in 2007. It has also been conducted in 2011 and in the first week of this month for the 2015 set. I recall that in 2011, the organisation took a step further by training lawyers who were involved in election petitions on how to handle the cases professionally given the fact that election matters are sui generis i.e. unique or in a class of its own. They are quite different from the normal civil and criminal cases lawyers and judges are used to. In the course of my interactions with members of the Bench and Bar involved in election matters, I have learnt a lot. That is why the admonitions given by the CJN to the 2015 set of the EPT judges resonate with me.
I pity Nigerian judges. They are endangered species. For every judgment given, they make both friends and enemies. Trust Nigerian politicians, once they lose a case at the court, the judges must have been compromised. They must have been bought. But the winning team will gloat and laud the judgment. To the winner, Nigerian judiciary is the true defender of the masses; the last hope of the common man. It would have been okay if these comments are made privately. However, the trend is that both the plaintiffs and the defendants as well as their counsels often take turns to address the press on their perception of the court pronouncements. In many instances, false accusations are levelled against judges who have worked strenuously to dispense justice. While politicians lambast and ridicule the judiciary, the judges are barred, by virtue of their code of ethics, from addressing the press to defend themselves. They are therefore not in a position to join issues with the politicians and their lawyers who cast aspersions on their integrity.
In this country, we have heard of judges and their family members being kidnapped and court houses bombed. Many other judges have also been threatened and in fact molested while others have been unjustly punished for their uncompromising attitude. Many courts which are referred to as “Temples of justice” are in the shambles while the welfare of judicial workers is never the priority of most governments. Just recently, judicial workers went on strike for weeks over welfare issues. The budgetary allocation to Nigerian judiciary is the lowest among the three arms of government despite their enormous constitutional responsibilities. The simple reason for this poor treatment is because, unlike the executive and the legislative arms, it has no power of appropriation.
My sympathy for Nigerian judges does not in any way obliterate the significance of the numerous admonitions the CJN gave to the 242 judges that will sit on election petitions cases for 2015. There is no gainsaying the fact that there are fifth columnists among the members of the Nigerian Bench. They are the ones who rubbish the noble efforts of the distinguished majority who are of exemplary conduct. These scoundrels in the temple of justice are the ones who offer judgments for sale. They are the ones who rather than look at the merit of the matter brought before them resort to technicalities. Some of these erring judges have been severely punished by the National Judicial Council by being compulsorily retired or dismissed from service. However, there have been calls that such erring judges should also be made to stand trial and, if found culpable, jailed for their infamous actions in addition to being made to forfeit their ill-gotten wealth.
However, I wish to remind the judges serving at the election tribunals of the eternal words of the CJN: “Since you all do not have the luxury of time in the discharge of your duties, I urge you all to be pedantic in your deliberations but do not allow ‘red-herring’ technicalities to distract you from the path of justice. You must listen attentively, and enquire appropriately, taking care not to descend into the arena. In addition, it is crucial that you consider all the evidence before you carefully, deliberate conscientiously, and adjudicate swiftly and justly as not only you but the entire Judiciary will also be on trial. Posterity will judge you on the words that you utter in judgment and my sincere prayer is that we will all not be judged harshly by history.”
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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Nigerian military and illegal election duty

“…It must be stated, by way of emphasis, that the Armed Forces have no role in the conduct of election (and) must not be involved except perhaps, in the area of providing logistics services to the agencies of government in the preparation for the election.
Justice Abdul Aboki of Court of Appeal, Abuja, on Monday, February 16, 2015
The courts have spoken! The Nigerian judiciary has ruled that the deployment of troops for election purposes is an aberration, an infraction on the Nigerian constitution and the Electoral Act. First, a Federal High Court sitting in Sokoto on Thursday, January 29, 2015 had declared that the deployment of military for election duties in the country is unconstitutional.
Justice Mohammed Rilwan, who gave the ruling while delivering judgment in a suit challenging the deployment of the military for election duties, said that apart from protecting Nigeria’s territorial integrity, there is no constitutional provision for the deployment of the military for elections. In the case instituted by the Deputy Speaker of the Sokoto State House of Assembly, Bello Goronyo, the Judge said that for the Federal Government to do so, it must have recourse to the National Assembly which would enact such a law.
On Monday, February 16, 2015, the Justice Abdul Aboki-led five-man Appeal Court sitting in Abuja upheld the position of the Federal High Court, Sokoto, on the matter. Justice Aboki gave the ruling in the Ekiti governorship election appeal case which was resolved in favour of the Ekiti State Governor, Ayodele Fayose. Justice Aboki raised some fundamental questions in coming to the conclusion reached which ousted the role of the military in elections.
According to eminent justices of the Appeal Court, Abuja, “The question is that who ordered deployment of military or soldiers in the Ekiti governorship election? Was there any act of insurrection to warrant the call on the military to restore order? And was such deployment in accordance with Sections 217 (2)(c) and 218(4) of the constitution?” Their lordships submitted that, “There is nothing before us in the records in answering the posers positively.”
“With this, whoever unleashed soldiers on Ekiti State disturbed the peace of the election on June 21, 2014, acted in flagrant breach of the constitution, and flouted the provisions of the Electoral Act which required an enabling environment by civil authorities in the conduct of elections.”
The appellate court therefore barred the use of the Armed Forces in the conduct of future elections in the country. The court further averred that “Even the President of Nigeria has no powers to call on the Nigerian Armed Forces to unleash them on peaceful citizenry who are exercising their franchise to elect their leaders.”
These two judgments cited above are heartwarming particularly at this critical juncture where the role of the military in politics is being viewed with distrust. It will be recalled that a couple of weeks back, an audio tape was allegedly released by one Captain Sagir Koli where a purported rigging plan of the June 21, 2014 governorship election in Ekiti State was perfected.
The recording professedly captured some political actors in a meeting discussing strategies for rigging the Ekiti governorship election where they also allegedly gave directives to the military to favour the PDP, claiming they were working for the Presidency. Two of the dramatis personae were reported to have owned up to attending the meeting but disagreed with the context.
It will be recalled that on June 19, 2014, the same military denied some All Progressives Congress stalwarts entry into Ado-Ekiti on a spurious “order from above.” It is this patent partisanship coupled with the fact that recently the National Security Adviser wrote to the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission saying that the security agencies would not be able to provide security for the earlier scheduled elections on February 14 and 28 thereby causing INEC to shift the polls by six weeks that make these judicial pronouncements laudable.
It will also be recalled that just last week, the national leader of the APC and a former governor of Lagos State, Bola Tinubu, raised the alarm about the siege laid to his house in Lagos by some soldiers. It also did happen that in Imo State last week, some soldiers allegedly acting on the orders of a minister of state blocked the entrance to the Imo State Government House with Armoured Personnel Carriers. The APC had also cried out that the telephone lines of its national chairman and many of its chieftains may have been bugged. These are ominous. No wonder former president Olusegun Obasanjo also alleged partisanship on the part of the military.
Now that the Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal, which is a superior court, have both made legal pronouncements on the role of the military in elections, what is the implication of these judgments on our elections?
To my own mind, it does not bode well. Nigerian Armed Forces (Army, Navy and Air Force) as well as all major security agencies (Police, Civil Defence, Department of State Security Services, Federal Road Safety Commission, etc), about 16 of them, are all members of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security established by INEC in 2011 to provide some logistic support to the commission particularly in the distribution of both sensitive and non-sensitive election materials as well as provisioning of security for election personnel and materials. It is good that the appeal court had said the military can help out with the logistics. However, exempting them from providing election security needs to be revisited.
Just last Friday, February 13, the National Human Rights Commission released a 80-page report where it stated that 58 persons had died in election violence across the country between December 3, 2014 and January 31, 2015. The Chairman, Governing Council of the ‎commission, Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, while highlighting the contents of the report, noted that the 58 deaths had resulted from 49 election-related violence across 22 states in the country. If we had lost 58 lives within 60 days, that shows how volatile the forthcoming elections has been and will be. Can we then leave election security solely in the hands of the Nigeria Police, DSS and NSCDC? Will they be able to effectively police and secure the North-East zone and other hotspots across the country? It will be a suicidal gamble.
In order not to act ultra vires, I hereby enjoin President Goodluck Jonathan to do the needful as prescribed by Section 217 (2) (c) by writing to the National Assembly on the need to approve the military deployment in aid of INEC which is a civil authority. This can and should be done now that the National Assembly is back to work after their recess. In approving this however, a well spelt-out code of conduct must be handed down to the military about their limited role of providing logistic support to INEC as well as complementing the police and the DSS in providing election security. Any breach of this code should be visited with stiff punishment.
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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Poll shift and burden of campaign finance

I was facilitating a training session for party agents last Saturday at the Distance Learning Institute of my alma mater, the University of Lagos, when the news broke that the Independent National Electoral Commission had shifted the scheduled elections for this weekend by six weeks. Holy Moses! I tried to establish the veracity of the news from senior INEC officials that were co-facilitating the training with me and they debunked it. According to one of them, the commission was still meeting and had not yet addressed the press on the issue. I kept getting calls from several friends and family members trying to confirm what had spread like harmattan fire.
Of course, it was not until about 11pm that INEC chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, addressed a world press conference where he confirmed the purported rumour. Truth be told, like many Nigerians, I am not happy about the postponement of the elections. Not that I believe INEC was fully ready, however, I wanted the brewing electoral storm to berth so that we can puncture the rising political tension and have some peace.
The fellow that broke the news of the postponement of the elections to me at the training venue mentioned something thought-provoking while we were conversing about the implications of the poll shift. According to the fellow who claimed to be a pastor in politics and had taken a leave of absence from the altar to mobilise support for his political party, considering the huge resources expended by his party campaigning since their commencement, another six weeks of campaign at the magnitude his party had done will run their candidates bankrupt.
Indeed, there are several costs to the poll delay. They are social, political, and economic costs. The social cost to the poll shift lies in the doubt it had created in the minds of the electorate about the proficiency of our governance institutions. The situation has created a confidence deficit and cast a pall of distrust on our key democratic institutions such as the electoral management body, political parties and the security agents. The trust of people in these institutions to deliver on their key constitutional mandate is, at present, at its lowest ebb.
To an average Nigerian, our key democratic actors have once again made what should ordinarily be a routine exercise look like a rocket science. We had four good years to prepare for these polls. INEC actually released the timetable for the elections on Friday, January 24, 2014, more than a year ago. I also do know for a fact that INEC has strategic plan 2012 – 2016 with milestones and timelines. Why then is the commission having issues with the procurement and distribution of the Permanent Voter Cards and Card Readers? What role has funding to do in this big mess up?
On the part of the military or better still, security agencies, why are they becoming consistently inconsistent? First, on the issue of the certificates of the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd), the Army spokesperson initially told this news medium that the military had copies of Buhari’s certificates only for the same person to deny the same a few weeks after.
Also, just this February 2, the Service Chiefs informed the Gen. Abdusalami Abubakar-led National Peace Committee for the 2015 elections meeting with representatives of different political parties in Abuja that they were ready for the 2015 polls. Yet, 48 hours after, the National Security Adviser wrote to the INEC chairman that the military would not be able to guarantee security for the February 14 and 28 polls and as such demanded a postponement of at least six weeks. Not only that, the NSA and the service chiefs allegedly informed the National Council of State meeting of last Thursday that they were not ready for the polls. Not a few Nigerians believe that the military have been highly politicised and are being used to undermine the electoral process.
As regards the political class, they have been integrity-deficient from time. Trust and confidence of the electorate in politicians have always been very low. Engineering a poll shift against the grain of popular opinion for the elections to run as earlier scheduled has further depreciated people’s faith in the political elite.
In terms of political cost, the postponement has given more time for the political contestants to malign, discredit, abuse, and destroy their political opponents. Thus, the political costs are the tension and disability the six weeks will generate. These costs may be fatal to democracy as it could lead to unpopular change of government if not well managed.
The economic cost is also very huge and wide. According to this newspaper in its February 10 edition, “The postponement of the elections has cast a shadow on the naira’s outlook, pushing the forex market into a panic mood…” Thus, the naira hit an all-time low of 196.30 against the dollar at the interbank segment of the foreign exchange market on Monday, February 9. Some analysts say this situation may persist for the better part of this year. Therefore, the uncertainty surrounding the polls is harming the economy.
At the subnational or private level, candidates and their parties have to re-plan and re-strategise. They have to pay more for the services of their campaign teams such as researchers, event planners, and mobilisers. If they had gone to lease or hire campaign vehicles and aircraft, they have to pay for additional six weeks which was probably not budgeted for ab initio. They have to produce and air new jingles and advertorials; pay more for their private and public security; pay more service charges particularly on electricity, water and communications (telephones and social media).
Even when the elections were fixed for February, many politicians were reported to have sold off their property (houses, cars, landed property, etcetera) in order to raise money for their campaigns while those who did not have much to sell had to go a-borrowing by taking bank loans or borrowing from money lenders as well as friends and families.
The greater implication of extended campaign finance, more so, at this critical juncture where naira has depreciated and revenue from oil is at rock bottom is that political corruption will become an attractive option when these politicians assume power after their elections. Politics, to mainstream politicians, is an investment. For the lucky few who will make it to power after elections, their reward is usually bountiful as they engage in the rat race to recoup their political investment with a wide profit margin.
It will be naïve to think that only the candidates and their political parties will spend more during this poll shift period. The electoral commission and the civil society groups working in the area of elections, including foreign and local observer groups have to look for extra resources to be able to execute their programmes and projects during this period.
However, I pray that this poll shift will not be counter-productive at the end. God bless Nigeria!
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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

X-raying INEC’s Preparedness for the 2015 Elections

The countdown to the 2015 general elections has begun and it is a few days to the presidential and National Assembly polls scheduled to hold on February 14, 2015. The Independent National Electoral Commission had released the timetable for the elections on Friday, January 24, 2014 so that all actors and stakeholders in the electoral process will have ample time to prepare for the polls. As at today, there are 28 registered political parties but only about half of that number will be contesting the presidential elections. Even at that, many perceive that 12 of the 14 contenders are pretenders while only two; the Peoples Democratic Party and the All Progressives Congress are the real contenders.
Quite a few things are unique about the forthcoming elections.  For example with the merger of three political parties to form the All Progressives Congress and the approval of the merger by INEC on July 31, 2013, the unprecedented had happened. It was the first time political parties had merged in Nigeria. Hitherto, what has been happening is political parties going into working alliances and forming governments of national unity after the polls. The formation of the APC with about 16 governors at inception prepared the stage for the current de facto two party system even though de jure, we are a multi-party state. Another unique thing about the elections is the unpredictable outcome of the presidential election. Barely a few days to the polls, no one can say with utmost certainty where the pendulum of victory will swing.
At INEC’s end, it is also the first time a permanent voters card which is bar-coded (machine readable) will be used for the elections. Hitherto, INEC had grappled to have an electronic voters registration exercise which contains the biometric information (picture and fingerprint) of the voter. INEC is advancing in achieving that and had procured over one hundred thousand Card Readers for the verification and authentication of the voters. All these are meant to check electoral fraud. Other novel ways in which INEC is preparing for the forthcoming elections include the appointment, training and deployment of Political Finance Desk Officers to track campaign finance of political parties and contestants. Prior to that, INEC in 2013 published “Guidelines and Regulations for Political Parties”. It is the first time since inception that INEC will be tracking the campaign finance of political parties and in addition, that of candidates.  I took part in the training of these monitors on December 22 and 23, 2014 in Abuja.
As part of the Commission’s plan for the forthcoming elections, it had done the following: Develop a strategic plan 2012 – 2016 with timelines and milestones. This was done by the staff of the Commission with some technical support from the donor community; restructuring of the Commission into about nine departments from the initial omnibus structure of over 20 departments it had in 2011. The restructuring was aimed at better productivity and to professionalise the election management body. INEC has also developed a voters’ verification platform; online application for accreditation of observer groups; customisation of ballot papers to reflect only the names of contesting political parties; there is also enhanced security features on the sensitive election materials such as result sheets and ballot papers. Not only are the ballot papers and result sheets going to have serial numbers, the ballot papers are going to be color coded such that they are useless to riggers who may want to snatch the papers to use in other Wards, Local Governments or States.
INEC in November 2014 launched a gender policy aimed at mainstreaming gender considerations into its electoral planning, programmes and policies. In an unprecedented manner, INEC on July 9, 2013 appointed its first female Secretary to the Commission, Mrs. Augusta Chinwe Ogakwu. In order to encourage female participation in the electoral process, one out of the three poll officials will be a woman. Even the voter education programmes of the Commission targets women and will mobilise them to participate in the electoral process. INEC has also institutionalised and sensitised election stakeholders to embrace the use of Alternative Dispute Resolution. It has upgraded its ADR Unit into a Directorate after its restructuring in 2012. Thus, the Commission has trained capable hands to handle political and election dispute as well as carry out work place mediation. In addition, INEC has launched a robust citizen communication contact centre and on May 16, 2014 has set up a National Inter-agency Advisory Committee on Voter Education and Publicity (NICVEP). This was done for effective dissemination of electoral information and enlightenment of the electorate. The Commission has also institutionalised the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security.
INEC is currently training over 750,000 poll workers that will conduct the February 14 and 28 General Elections; has published the names of candidates and have generally assured Nigerians of its readiness to conduct free, fair and credible elections. However, a couple of things have been unsettling with INEC preparations. One is the late release of the election fund to INEC by the Federal Government. It can be recalled that as at the first week of January 2015, about N75 billion required for the conduct of the election had not been released to it. Furthermore, while the decision of the Commission to allow only voters with Permanent Voters Cards to vote is praiseworthy, however, the tardiness that greeted the production and distribution of the cards is worrisome. Millions of potential voters are yet to get their cards and that has made a section of Nigerians clamour for a shift in the polls. Well, INEC has extended the collection of PVCs till February 8 and followed this up with intense publicity, it is hoped that by the new date, only an insignificant number of people will not have collected their voter’s card. I am in full support of the Federal Government declaring a day or two public holidays to enable Nigerians working in formal sectors to obtain their cards. Alternatively, INEC should consider distribution of the PVCs at the Polling Units level. This will lessen the stress voters are going through because they want to collect their cards at the Ward level.
My other major concern is the use of Card Readers. That is also desirable to check fraud but the fact that these CRs have not been field tested bothers me. In Ghana and Kenya where this device had been previously used for elections, there were significant glitches recorded.  INEC therefore must have a Plan B which the poll workers can resort to in the event of manifest failure of the Card Readers.  This Plan B must be communicated to the poll workers as part of their training so that it can be uniformly applied across the country.
The political parties are having a swell time dazzling the electorate with music, dance and sartorial elegance but the content of their campaigns have been shallow.  The candidates are hardly speaking for more than   10 minutes while a lot of time gets wasted on protocols, invectives, innuendoes, shadow-boxing and rhetoric. I would have expected them to print and share their manifestoes at such political rallies. These manifestoes are supposed to have been translated into local languages and should have clear timeless and milestones which they can be held to. I am also worried by the scale of pre-election violence recorded across the country. There have been snatching of permanent voters cards in states such as Rivers and Edo.
Deaths have been recorded and properties worth billions of Naira destroyed. This large scale violence prompted the signing of the Abuja Peace Accord by the presidential candidates on January 14, 2015. However, this peace accord has been observed more in breach. On February 2, unknown persons allegedly bombed three separate High Courts in Degema, Isiokpo and Port Harcourt areas of Rivers State. This in my own estimation is to intimidate the judges from adjudicating on some pre-election matters arising from the flawed party primaries. It can be recalled that between November and December 2014 when all the political parties held their party primaries, the exercise reportedly witnessed a lot of underhand dealings including imposition of candidates, wrongful substitution, parallel primaries and other sharp practices. This made many aggrieved aspirants seek redress in courts. Unfortunately, judicial workers were on strike for about two months and only resumed last week.
It is equally worrisome that some Nigerians are trying to use the courts to scuttle the forthcoming elections. Some wanted the courts to make a pronouncement directing INEC to postpone the elections while some others are trying to get the main contenders, Major General Muhammadu Buhari and President Goodluck Jonathan disqualified from contesting. While the call for disqualification of Buhari is hinged on lack of the requisite academic qualification and perjury, Jonathan’s is based on points of law that he cannot rule for more than eight years (out of which he has done six) and has also taken the oath of office twice. It remains to be seen how the courts will decide on the pre-election matters before it. It is also saddening that the National Assembly is yet to conclude work on the amendment of the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act. Hence, for the first time in this Fourth Republic, general elections might hold without a new Electoral Act.
This piece was published in the Law Report of Thisday of today, February 10, 2015. It was written before INEC postponed the lections to March 28 and April 11, 2015.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Why you should vote in the coming elections

The countdown has begun and it’s 10 days to the presidential and National Assembly elections coming up on February 14, God and court willing! I said court willing because there are overt and covert attempts by some elements to use the instrumentality of the courts to have the elections postponed in order to serve their vested interest despite repeated assurances by the Independent National Electoral Commission that it is ready for the polls. With public opinion more in support of the elections holding as scheduled in spite of some challenges with the preparations, I want to use this opportunity to enjoin all those who have yet to collect their Permanent Voter Cards to do so without further delay.
It is agreed that the Independent National Electoral Commission has not been optimal in its preparations for the polls especially with the sloppiness in the procurement and distribution of the PVCs and the card readers. We must however situate INEC’s tardiness in the commission’s inability to get the needed funding for the elections as and when due. It will be recalled that as of the first week of January 2015, INEC’s N75bn election funds were still being expected. This newspaper in its edition of January 6, 2015 quoted the Chief Press Secretary to INEC’s chairman, Mr. Kayode Idowu, as saying that, “I don’t know where the indicated figure (N75bn) will be sourced. INEC is in talks with relevant authorities on disbursement of outstanding funds and is receiving favourable consideration”. This was barely six weeks to the Election Day! I have said time and again that election is a process and not an event and some of the election materials are not on the shelf. They are tailored to suit certain specifications and the procurement processes is sometimes cumbersome except the Bureau of Public Procurement grants waiver to expedite the procedures. In fact, not all the money in the “World Bank” can procure certain election materials if the order for such is not made in good time for the vendors to deliver.
Having said that, INEC has said it now has all the PVCs of the registered voters. I want to give the commission the benefit of doubt on this. An estimated 45 million out of the approximate 69 million eligible voters have collected their PVCs as of the time of writing this piece on Monday, February 2. That leaves about 24 million yet to collect their voter cards. The commission has also extended the collection date from the initial January 31 to February 8. It has also recently decentralised the collection point to the Ward or Registration Area level as against the earlier Local Government Area collection point. That’s laudable.
However, but for the monetary factor, I would have preferred a situation where INEC will distribute the PVCs at the Polling Unit level. This would quicken the process, more so, if in addition, federal and state governments would declare at least one-day public holiday to enable civil servants and workers in the formal sectors to collect their PVCs. All said, it must be noted that whatever strategy is adopted, not everyone will be able to collect their voter cards.
The reasons for this are not far-fetched. First, voting is not compulsory in Nigeria unlike in places like Australia where voting is mandatory. Two, some of the registered voters may have died, incapacitated by sickness or travelled out of the country. Considering the fact that there is no collection by proxy, the PVCs of this category of voters will remain uncollected. Three, as a result of the security challenge in some parts of Nigeria as well as due to occupational mobility, some of the registered voters may have relocated elsewhere from where they registered. This category of voters may not have been aware of how to transfer their voter cards from where they initially registered to their new places of residence. This exercise by law ends 30 days to the polling day according to Section 13 (2) of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended.
If you have collected your PVC, I say congratulations to you. If you haven’t, hurry to your Registration Area or ward distribution point and make sure you collect before the February 8 extended deadline. Collection is what guarantees your voting right. Aside from enabling you to vote, the PVC is a veritable means of identification that is admissible in financial transactions such as opening of bank account and cash withdrawal. It is also acceptable means of air traveller identity before boarding. It’s in the same category as the National Driving Licence, “International Passport” and National Identity Card. This is because of its biometric features. So, the PVC has multiple usages. What is more, while you pay to obtain Driving Licence and travelling passport, the PVC is free! Collecting your PVC is step one. The more important action is to ensure you vote at the general elections starting next week.
A lot of times, we complain about things that are not working. The change we want to see in the quality of our elected representatives and in governance. Politics is about authoritative allocation of values as declares by political theorist David Easton. In a complementary manner, Harold D. Lasswell, another political scientist, says politics is about who gets what, when and how. It’s time to elect the right leaders into office so that we can have good governance; no patriotic Nigerian should be indifferent to this national call to duty. There is no sitting on the fence on this matter.
Political parties have been marketing themselves through their campaigns at political rallies and the media; to me, there are two broad choices before the Nigerian electorate: Continuity and change. While the Peoples Democratic Party has been campaigning on the theme of continuity, the main opposition party, the All Progressives Congress, has hinged its election battle cry on Change! Thus, the choice is ours to make between continuity and change. Of course, there are other less appealing options with nebulous manifestoes but generally speaking, the narrow choices are between the spotlighted thematic positions.
I have heard some people advance reasons why they will not vote. Some of them say the votes do not count as the outcome is already predetermined by powerful forces within and outside the election management body. Some say they have no significant dividends of democracy to show for their previous voting. They said rather than for things to improve, they have moved from bad to worse. Others hinge their lackadaisical attitude to election on the fact that they will not be able to vote due to their Election Day duties. People in this category include the security personnel on election duty, accredited observers on election duty, accredited journalists on election duty, health workers and other workers on essential duties such as the men of the Fire Service, electricity workers. The about 750,000 poll workers INEC is deploying on Election Day duty sadly too will not be able to vote just for the simple reason that there is no provision for early voting. One had also thought that out-of-country or Diaspora voting would have been allowed in this year’s elections. Unfortunately, it will not be.
For those who still believe that votes do not count in Nigeria, they need to wake up. Votes now count! What is more, it could be your vote that could determine the ultimate winner of the election. I stumbled on a piece written by Joachim Macebong on April 1, 2011, titled; “The Importance of one Vote”. The article is very instructive. Here is an excerpt: The most often heard excuse for not voting in an election is “my one little vote won’t make a difference.” Yet, history is full of instances proving the enormous power of one single vote. In many cases, the course of nations has been changed because one individual ballot was cast or not cast.
In 1645, one vote gave Oliver Cromwell control of England. In 1649, one vote literally cost King Charles I of England his head. The vote to behead him was 67 against and 68 for – the ax fell thanks to one vote. In 1714, one vote placed King George I on the throne of England and restored the monarchy. In 1776, one vote gave America the English language instead of German. Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and Rutherford B. Hayes all became the US Presidents by a margin of one vote. In 1868, one vote in the US Senate saved President Andrew Johnson from impeachment. In 1875, a one-vote margin changed France from a monarchy to a republic. On November 8, 1923, members of the then revolutionary political party met to elect a leader in a Munich, Germany beer hall. By a majority of one vote, they chose an ex-soldier named Adolph Hitler to become the NAZI Party leader. South Africa lost the bid to host 2006 world cup to Germany by one vote.”
Voting is your right, use it well!
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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

INEC monitors campaign finance

In an unprecedented manner and in consonance with its statutory functions, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has trained and deployed campaign finance monitors in all the states of the federation in Nigeria. The training of the Commission’s Political Finance Desk Officers took place at Hotel De Bentley, Abuja from December 22 – 23, 2014.  The training workshop was conducted by INEC in collaboration with Centre for Social Justice, Abuja. The facilitators at the training were Executive Director of CSJ, Eze Onyekpere, a veteran journalist and lawyer, Charles Odenigbo and I. It was a highly participatory and illuminating two days with a lot of enthusiasm shown by the participants. It is true that the capacity building workshop was late in coming, more so as the campaigns had already started weeks before the deployment of the monitors, it is still commendable that INEC decided to take this giant step. This initiative is being complemented by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) which in partnership with CSJ had earlier deployed campaign finance observers to track the election finance of the presidential candidates in the lead up to the February 2015 General Elections.

It is noteworthy that the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in section 15 (c) of the Third Schedule of the Constitution says   “The Commission shall have power to - monitor the organization and operation of the political parties, including their finances.” In addition, section 225 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria also gave wide powers to INEC on monitoring of political finance. For instance,   S. 225 (2) says  “Every political party shall submit to the Independent National Electoral Commission a detailed annual statement and analysis of its sources of funds and other assets together with a similar statement of its expenditure in such form as the Commission may require.” Subsection (5) says “The Commission shall have power to give directions to political parties regarding the books or records of financial transactions which they shall keep and, to examine all such books and records.”

It would be recalled that monitoring campaign finance had been one of the weak points of INEC as the Commission has hitherto demonstrated incapacity to perform this onerous task. In spite of capacity building and technical support from organization like IFES the Commission has largely limited itself to annual audit of the finances of the registered political parties. This lackluster performance has attracted wide condemnation as many see INEC’s  inability to perform this statutory function as part of the reason Nigerian politics has become highly monetized or what some analysts have referred to as ‘cash and carry’. With the restructuring of the Commission after the 2011 elections comes the merging of the Political Party Monitoring and Liaison Department with the Election Monitoring and Observation Unit to form Election and Political Monitoring Department.

The current leadership of the EPM has taken a number of practical steps in order to enforce campaign finance regulations. It decided to wield the power given to it in section 153 of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended to issue subsidiary legislations, guidelines and manuals. In 2013, the Commission published “Guidelines and Regulations for Political Parties.” There is a part of the guidelines which stipulated procedures for candidate financing. This section states among other things that all candidates shall notify INEC of all fund raising events at least seven days before such event; disclose to the Commission records of all contributions and other sources of funds for their campaign, as well as records of expenditure in a prescribed format issued by the Commission and that all candidates shall submit detailed audited returns of their campaign expenses to the Commission within six months after an election.  This is novel and noble!

It is noteworthy that before the coming into force of this guideline, only political parties are under obligation to submit audited annual report and campaign finance report to INEC. Not only has the Commission come up with this new guideline, it also drafted seven Political Party Finance Tracking Forms. PPFT 1 is meant to track Billboard Advertisement; PPTF 2 is for monitoring of Electronic Media Advert; PPFT 3 is for tracking Print Media Expenses; PPFT 4 is for tracking expenditure at Campaigns and Political Rallies; PPFT 5 is for Campaign coverage by electronic media; PPFT 6A is Political Party Disclosure Form (Summary on expenses) while PPFT 6B is Candidate Disclosure Form (Summary on expenses). I was involved in the review of these forms as well as the Political Party Finance Manual and Handbook which had earlier been published by the Commission with support from IFES. I dare say that though these documents are not foolproof, they constitute useful instruments for curbing impunity in our political systems through enforcement of campaign finance regulations.

Now that INEC has decided to wake up to its constitutional responsibility on party and candidate finance, it is hoped that the Commission will publish for public consumption the report of its campaign finance tracking.  Should it find any of the political parties or candidates culpable of having breached any of the campaign finance regulations it should apply the appropriate legal punishment. Only then can the culture of impunity that currently pervades our polity be broken.

Jide is the Executive Director of OJA Development Consult, Abuja.