by on April 16, 2019 Read Time: 8 minutes, 22 seconds

Dr Wunmi Bewaji, former Leader of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) in the House of Representatives and Executive Secretary, Coalition of Democrats for Electoral Reform (CODER), speaks on steps that should be taken to achieve better results in future elections. BOLA BADMUS brings excerpts:

Arising from the last elections, particularly the conduct of party primaries, what would you say about parties that did not allow internal democracy?

Internal democracy defined as what? We must be careful because we have found a situation where a political party would be sponsoring another candidate in another party. That has happened a lot and it is still happening. For party elders, there must be a structure and that is why you have the Board of Trustees (BoT). You also have the National Working Committee (NWC) and so the elders of the party, as represented by the BoT, must be given a say. There should be no internal democracy that would go beyond that elders committee because if you are going to go to court, it is going to be determined by one man who, for lack of better word, is not even aware of history of this party.

Where it comes to internal democracy, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) can come in and advise the political parties to strengthen their organs. When you strengthen your organs, you have the National Executive Council (NEC) of the party. Outside of the NEC, you have the NWC and outside the NWC, you still have the BoT. Any complaint from the party to the level of the BoT should end there and not the court. When we free the court of this, it can engage in some other work.

Also, in the constitutions of these political parties are provisions you must explore and exhaust before going to court. But now, the first thing people do is that they go to court, without even exploring those remedies. And then probably now, we amend the Electoral Act to say any issue relating to party primary must be dealt with by the internal organs of that political party.

What do you think is the solution?

Here in Nigeria, an election is free and fair where the person has won. If he loses that election, it is not free and fair. We have to factor this into whatever solution we want to proffer but at the end of the day if we are having 93 political parties, if they are all fielding candidates that would mean 92 persons are going to lose that election. I think what we can do is that you must cultivate the culture of democracy in the people and that was why we advocated the idea of enshrining democracy in our constitution as a fundamental human right. We have to start even from the schools. When you contest, when you run for an office, at the end of the exercise, you must be made to deliver minimum of 10 minutes speech, congratulating your opponent, otherwise you would not be eligible to run for that office. So, we must put something like that in our law whereby if an election has been conducted and somebody lost, the person must have the courage to pick up the phone and congratulate the other person who has won. We are not saying dont go to court if there are valid reasons to go to court, but a situation whereby the reason for going to court is because he thinks he can buy his way in court room, that must be discouraged.

You said INEC performed very well

I rated the process, not INEC. INEC is a part; a stakeholder.

Many people would disagree with you because the presidential election earlier fixed for February 16 was shifted till the following week and we had inconclusive elections, in spite of assurances by INEC that it was ready for the exercise

I scored the process 99.99 per cent, not INEC. INEC is part of the stakeholders we are talking about. The electorate and the security agencies are also part of the process. It is not everything that goes wrong with the election that we are going to blame on INEC; in our report, we talked about population explosion. And now we are hearing of inconclusive elections unlike before. The point is that the population of voters we have now is the total population of Nigeria some years back.

As the population continues to explode, unless INEC embraces technology, it is going to be finding it more difficult to conduct elections. We are having over 80 million registered voters now; the next exercise, it might be 120 million registered voters. How would INEC cope with that figure? We are talking of 34 per cent voter turnout, if we had recorded 60 per cent voter turnout, would INEC have coped with that figure? That is the question we should be asking ourselves. If we had recorded 80 per cent voter turnout maybe the results wouldnt have been announced by now.

INEC is facing the problem of archaic method of conducting elections. The system is archaic; INEC itself has become an obsolete organisation and an obsolete bureaucracy. It is not growing and it is not in tune with modern development in the conduct of elections. For INEC to be able to rise up to the occasion, especially the growing challenges that population explosion is bringing about, it has to embrace technology; electronic voting is long overdue. I think the time has come for electronic voting.

Also INEC has to revisit the idea of one-day voting, but I think electronic voting would take care of a lot of these problems. For example, before now, whenever we were having the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Conference, it was always like the NURTW having an election. But today, even the day NBA is holding its election, nobody is aware. This is because I will open my phone, the Supreme Court number which is what I will vote with and that is it and by the evening, we already know who has won and who has lost.

But I think that the truth of the matter is that there are some vested interests in INEC who are making a whole lot of money from this manual system. Do you know we can conduct our election with less than five per cent of the present INEC budget if we embrace technology? Yet, the election would be far more credible than what we have now and the level of participation would rise. In the 21st Century, for us to be queuing up in the sun and under the rain to vote is very sad. I think the time has come for us to embrace technology in Nigeria.

What would you say on voter apathy which was observed in the last elections?

It is not good for any democracy. The national average is 34 per cent. It is even worse in some states. In Lagos, it was 18 per cent. Even the number of uncollected Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) is high. I think the democracy itself is under threat and the threat is not coming from the military but the army of lazy Nigerians who think that the only thing they want to do is to talk on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and criticize the government. Every citizen must have a sense of civic responsibility.

Of course, these elections are held once in every four years. In some countries, it is mandatory for citizens to serve maybe two years in the military. Even after that, you now enter into the list of reserves which means they can call you back at any time during emergency. We dont have that in Nigeria. All we are asking you to do in Nigeria is to make you come out for just one day and vote. I think that is not too much to ask from the citizens. You find a lot of people in their houses sleeping; some youths were found on the streets playing football. So that means that, with what we are witnessing now, something urgent has to be done.

Lagos recorded 18 per cent but a state like Jigawa recorded 54 per cent; Sokoto recorded 50 per cent; Katsina also recorded 50 per cent. But the lowest figures are coming from the areas where we have the so-called educated people. That is why I said the elite dont vote. Even in Lagos, 90 per cent of that 18 per cent were market women. From our data, women are taking active part in our elections than men. The so-called illiterate are taking active part than the so-called educated people. 90 per cent of these educated people dont even have PVCs to start with. Something then must be done.

You were a former lawmaker and the leader of Alliance for Democracy in the House of Representatives. What are your thoughts on the composition of the next leadership of the National Assembly?

The tradition has always been to allow the party to determine the leadership structure of the National Assembly and the reason is simple. The party ran on particular policies and programmes sold to the electorate. Now the party knows its own members. You are not going to outsource that to members of another party because the leadership of the National Assembly is meant to complement and synergise with the elected president. In established democracies, that is the reason, for example in the US, unless something personal is found against the nominee of the president, the nominee would be allowed to go by the Senate. The convention is always that the president knows the people he wants to work with.

In 1999, the only reason the National Assembly was not inaugurated on May 29 was because, as at that time, meetings were still going on in the Villa to choose the Senate President and agree on the Speaker and all the rest of them. They were still holding meeting until June 2 when the candidates finally emerged and the National Assembly was inaugurated on June 3. So, the party hierarchy must be allowed to choose the people that they know would deliver on their agenda.