LAST week, our mentor, friend and great advocate for electoral democracy, Prof Adele Jinadu, celebrated his eightieth birthday, (we share the same birthday), and a lot of us joined him in Lagos for the celebration. The palpable fear among the civil society participants at the event was that Nigeria currently has a reckless political class and judiciary that is ready to beach, (like the proverbial whale), electoral democracy and that all hands must be on deck to defend our hard-earned democratic system.
First on the matter of the more prosaic beach, I stayed in one of the beachside resorts – Landmark Hotel – built on land reclaimed from the ocean, which will certainly reclaim its property in the coming years. I find the new property developments in Lagos distressing. The entire beach is now a private commercial affair and you cannot get to the beach without paying a 6,000-naira gate fee. On one side of Landmark Beach is Good Beach and on the other, Oniru Beach, all three closed to access (without payment) by the public. Who plotted this wickedness against the good people of Lagos State and why were they allowed to get away with it?
These beach hotels are overpriced on the basis of being luxury accommodation. The reality is that they are health hazards with raw sewage being fed directly into the sea through pipes from the buildings every 100 metres. People cannot enjoy the sea because it is literally full of shit. Are there sanitation authorities in Lagos? How can such a health hazard be allowed to exist and why do the nouveaux rich think it’s appropriate to flaunt their riches amidst human excreta?
In one of the side events around the birthday, the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC)/Transparency International in Nigeria held a National Seminar on Targeted Electoral Reforms and Enhanced Judicial Integrity in Post-election Litigation. The Seminar aimed at bringing under one roof, legal practitioners, electoral experts, electoral observers, civil society and the Media, to critically observe the areas enabling technicalities and challenges bedevilling the electoral system and conduct, in view of proffering holistic recommendations for adequate and all-inclusive reform that restores and preserves judicial integrity in Nigeria’s electoral system.
In his opening remarks, the Executive Director of CISLAC, Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani); castigated the judiciary for increasingly being perpetrators organising the theft of mandate won by candidates through the ballot and handing it over to ruling party candidates who had lost at the polls. Other speakers, including Dr Sam Amadi, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa SAN, Nurudeen Ogbara, Prof Hassan Saliu, President, Nigerian Political Science Association (NPSA), Comrade Omoyele Sowore, Comfort Idika-Ogunye, Attorney Carol Ajie, Engr Y.Z Ya’u, the Convener Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room, Barr. Frank Agbedo, Hon. Uche Onyeagocha, Mrs Olajumoke Anifowoshe, Former Attorney-General, Ondo State, Prof Farooq Adamu Kperogi of Kennesaw State University, Georgia and yours sincerely were just as critical.
The key observations made were as follow:
Over the past few years, corruption has eaten deeply into the judiciary and this process has negatively affected Nigeria’s electoral integrity as judges increasingly compromise the process of adjudication and appear to have lost their independence and professional ethics. The outcome is that the law courts are playing a more prominent role in the determination of political leadership through post-election litigations. The order of the day, says Prof Kperogi, is judicial coups against democracy, hence the need to refocus attention on the role of judiciary in electoral tribunal judgment.
Despite various legal reforms preceding the 2023 general and off-cycle elections, the conduct and outcomes of the elections demonstrate reduced integrity. One concerning factor is the appointment of politically partisan individuals into INEC thereby compromising the neutrality and independence of the electoral umpire.
Democrats should begin to mobilise as the return of the culture of the military coup and political instability across West Africa are not unconnected to the effect of electoral fraud, vote rigging, vote-trading as well as judicial distrust which we notice in Nigeria today. Growing judicial activism in depriving Nigerians their mandate won at the polls today constitutes a serious threat to the democratic order, good electoral governance and public trust in the electoral process. Citizens are beginning to ask themselves why should they vote if their mandate would be stolen subsequently.
The people’s mandate is also seriously affected by money politics. Political entrepreneurs now openly buy votes on polling day exploiting mass poverty in the land. Party nomination forms have also been commercialised and only the richest, meaning for the most part those who have stolen government money, can participate in the electoral process.
Key recommendations included the following:
Revive the spirit and methodology of mandate protection by citizens to prevent further theft of mandate through illegal means such as money politics, violence and thuggery and judicial coups against democracy.
Closely monitor the appointment of INEC national and state resident electoral commissioners and organise campaigns against the appointment of partisan party card carrying and/or corrupt individuals. Advocate for a new process of appointment of competent persons with integrity into INEC through an open and competitive process as recommended by the Uwais Panel.
Further develop and entrench in law the use of technology by INEC in the electoral process so that the institution can fully regain some of the public trust it has lost by demonstrating the transparency of its actions. Immediate amendments to Sections 41, 47 and 60 of the Electoral Act to provide adequate legal backing to whistle-blower and public interest litigations before, during and after the elections.
Immediate amendment to the Electoral Act for enabling provisions that render pre-election matters not litigable after announcement of the winner of an election, while limiting post-election litigations to the conduct of the elections.
Wishing Professor Jinadu many more years of useful advocacy on advancing electoral democracy in Nigeria.
Ibrahim is a professor of Political Science and development consultant/expert, and Senior Fellow of the Centre for Democracy and Development. He is also the Chair of the Editorial Board of Abuja-based online newspaper, PREMIUM TIMES.