A civil Society organisation, the Centre for Transparency Advocacy (CTA), which served as a key election observation group in the 2019 elections, said on Monday that the nation needed a new electoral law in order to enhance the integrity of elections going forward.
The CTA, which presented its report on the 2019 general elections said that some forces beyond the control of INEC were responsible for the series of crisis the electoral body ran into in the course of the 2019 elections.
Acting Director of the CTA, Ms Faith Nwadishi, who led other team leaders to present the report in Abuja on Monday, said that INEC tried to assert its independence and determination to conduct a transparent election during the 2019 election cycle but came up against forces that tried to put all that to test.
She said: “One of the most remarkable themes of the past four years of INEC under Professor Yakubu has been how it has tried to show its independence in the way and manner it goes about exercising its mandate, despite the intense pressure from the political class.”
The group commended the security agencies for helping INEC to conduct the elections by maintaining law and order generally across the country, but declared that INEC must be placed in a position to ensure its independence and curtail the excesses of the security agencies.
It said that the deployment of security operatives during the elections must not be overlooked since according to the body, the military have no roles at all in election processes.
It said: “Our laws do not give soldiers any role to play in our election and our courts up to the highest level have ruled accordingly. Their deployment and brazen partisanship against the opposition was an affront on decency. Of course, we realize that they could only have acted on the orders of their.
The CTA further said: “Having said all the above, we believe the attempt to rebuild electoral credibility must start with the law. The incoming National Assembly must work in collaboration with lNEC, civil society organizations and other stakeholders to firm up our electoral laws.
“We are prepared to make our technical contributions in this regard. Indeed, there is the need to give INEC more powers to reflect the presumed independence of the body.
“It must as much as possible be put fully in charge of the resources and personnel it needs for elections. We cannot afford to continue placing the fate of our nation in the hands of ad-hoc staff for such important assignments related to elections.
The body also stated that the nation must also invest in technology adding that it was an embarrassment seeing the heavy paper trail that greeted the 2019 elections.
“It’s an embarrassment seeing the amount of paper we carry all over the place during elections. There are ways people can Vote credibly from wherever they are and for the vote to count. We do not need the massive national logistical and personnel mobilization we engage in during elections. There are climes where elections are conducted while people go about their daily businesses without disruption. Technology makes that possible and we must not be left behind.”
The CTA stated that for elections to be credible, the way the government handles criminality around the polls is of essence adding that people must see electoral offenders punished.
The group said: “Let us state clearly here that the ultimate test of credibility is how the government handles criminality. If people do not see electoral offenders prosecuted and punished, the message would be clear that these persons work for those we have elected and who tomorrow will come seeking our votes again.
“If the government and the political class continue to act nonchalant, the people will lose confidence in politics and democracy and anarchy and self-help would be the outcomes. That would spell the end of Nigeria as we know it. It’s therefore the duty of the government, INEC and every patriotic citizen to ensure that’s not our fate. We have to work for a better electoral system now by ensuring that the law is upheld and offenders are appropriately punished.”
Making a further case for INEC to be in charge of its processes and materials, the body stated that the electoral commission was placed at the mercy of state and non-state actors who did one thing or the other to sabotage the 2019 elections.
It submitted: “The Presidential and National Assembly election was held across Nigeria on the 23rd of February 2019 after being postponed from the Initial date of February 16. 2019. Though there were reports of late arrival 0f electoral materials and personnel in some areas, our observers report that the exercise was relatively peaceful and voter turnout was impressive in all polling units monitored. The Centre for Transparency Advocacy (CTA) recognized the efforts the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) made to ensure a successful election, including its postponement from Saturday. February 16, 2019 to Saturday, February 23. 2019 in order to ensure such an outcome.
“However, (CTA) notes that despite these efforts, the election conducted on Saturday, February 23. 2019 forces beyond the control of the electoral body caused many problems, threw up many challenges, and exposed the lapses witnessed by domestic and international observers and Nigerians during the election.
“The (CTA) recognizes that there is enough blame to go round. Nonetheless, it is our view that we need fundamental reforms on how we manage the electoral process and conduct elections. A situation where the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is not in control of the facilities and the personnel it needs to conduct a free and fair election can only lead to unintended outcome, no matter the good intentions of various actors within the system.
“For instance, INEC does not control such state institutions as the police and the security forces, the Central Bank and the Nigerian Air Force or such private actors as the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), all of whom are needed to secure voting precincts and facilitate the distribution of sensitive and non-sensitive electoral materials.
“What happens when there is an institutional conspiracy by state actors to sabotage INEC’s preparations and process, in order to work towards a particular party remaining in government or voted into government at any level? What happens when politicians suborn state institutions to sabotage INEC and its carefully laid out plans and preparations at the last minute, which was exactly what happened leading to the postponement of the Presidential and National Assembly election that was supposed to be held on Saturday, February, 16 2019?
“Some ad-hoc staff became suborned by politicians, considering that they are not permanent staff of the Commission and with a lot of them susceptible to the temptation of immediate gratification for a day’s work without consideration for the consequences.”