President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday promised Nigerians more prosperity and greater security as his administration marks its third anniversary.
He also urged Nigerians to “remain steadfast and to keep faith with this Administration, as we remain committed to peace building and good governance, to deliver the best of dividends of democracy.”
The President made this remark during the Democracy Day lecture delivered by a forme Independent Nationa Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman Prof. Attahiru Jega.
It is with the theme “Peace Building and Good Governance for Sustainable Development.”
The President said a government elected by the people, must continually be in touch with the aspirations of the people, and work for their highest possible good.
He added that although “we have experienced rough times, but through good governance, we have not allowed ourselves to be overawed by the existence of challenges.
He spoke on his government’s resolve to fight corruption because of the “realisation that reducing corruption and ensuring the effective and just utilisation of public resources, are crucial for achieving sustainable growth and development in Nigeria. Corruption has been at the root of most of the development challenges of our country. There can be no progress in any facet of our national life unless we tackle and curb corruption.”
He said security had improved considerably as “the entire country has been freed from occupation of any of its parts by insurgents” adding that “our econmy is on the bend”
In his lecture, Jega raised the alarm on the 2019 general elections.
He also urged President Muhammadu Buhari to take his anti-corruption campaign to the civil service and the National Assembly, accusing federal lawmakers of taking bribes in the course of their duty.
Prof. Jega, a former vice chancellor of the Bayero University, Kano, listed legal challenge, insecurity, hate speeches and attitude of politicians, among others, as threats to the elections.
The threats, Jeaga said could mar the polls if not addressed.
He spoke about violence and the increasing spate of hate speeches by political, religious and opinion leaders.
Jega admonished the government to prosecute Nigerians making hate speeches.
He identified the delay in the passage of the electoral legal framework for the elections as a critical challenge, adding that the Electoral Act has many contradictory provisions that should be urgently amended.
Jega said: “The first thing to consider is electoral violence and there is no better way to address this than what happened in recent party congresses and its potential danger.
“If political parties cannot organise their internal elections peacefully, how can they engage the other parties with civilities in the general elections.
“It is very important that this is addressed because if there is crisis in the elections, some of these issues outside the scope of electoral commission but in the end it is the electoral commission that gets blamed.
“So, it is very important that we improve our systemic mechanisms of addressing violence and conflicts related to elections and, in particular, improving the score of internal democracy within political parties. We may be running out of time, we must try harder and do everything possible within the shortest time.
“The second thing that needs to be addressed is the recent spate of hate speeches by political actors, religious leaders, it is this unbridled utterances by opinion leaders, religious leaders, political leaders that facilitated electoral violence in general elections. So these have to be tamed.”
The ex-electoral umpire-in-chief said: “Again, we must take serious measures to see that the rule of law is complied with. Effective prosecution is very important to militate against this challenge.
“So more and more patriotic, democratic, well-meaning Nigerians need to speak against hate speeches while government puts its mechanisms in place identifying, prosecuting those who constitute nuisance.
“Thirdly, a big challenge I see is the delay is passing the electoral amendment act, from what happened recently in the House of representatives it seems some progress is being made, but it is very important that they have a good and a much better electoral legal framework in place for the 2019 general elections than we had in the 2015 general elections.
“I kept giving examples of some aspects of existing legal framework which could have created constitutional crisis if not for God’s intervention in 2015. For example, a constitutional provision that requires the electoral commission to conduct a run-off election within seven days, it is impossible in this country but that is what the constitution says. Why is it impossible?
“By the time the electoral commission announces the results, it would have been two days and then if you take out those two days, you will be left with five days to prepare for the run-off election. Meanwhile, after elections, INEC normally demobilises staff, security personnel etc and you cannot demobilise them and get them back in the polling unit within five days.
“So, in 2015, we had very serious apprehension in the electoral commission because of that constitutional provision, because of a runoff because necessary we cannot do it within the constitutional provision.
“Of course, there are many other aspects of the Electoral Act, which are contradictory to party democracy. You have a provision 87 that says that party primaries should be conducted democratically and Section 31 says whatever name the party submits to the Electoral Commission cannot be rejected for any reason whatsoever.”
“INEC is supposed to observe party congress, so INEC has a list of those candidates that emerge at party primaries. But political parties have a penchant of hiding under Section 31 to send to INEC people who have not even participated in party primaries and I saw this happen in 2015.
“We wanted to reject that but we were advised by lawyers that if we did that, the electoral commission will now be interpreted to be partisan and in Nigeria people are often ready to drag electoral commission into politics and once that is done, the entire integrity of the commission is undermined,” he said
Jega faulted the non removal from office of those who cross-carpet.
He said: “Last example I will give is the issue of conducting by-elections in the case of death or in the case of cross carpeting. INEC, by law, has to be notified even if it reads it in the newspapers, even if it knows that has happened, unless the National Assembly has written to it to declare a vacancy, INEC will not conduct a by-election.
“And there were many cases that we knew before the 2015 general elections, people who had cross carpeted, who should have lost their seats by virtue of cross carpeting but the leadership of the National Assembly, advertently, vehemently refused to write to INEC.
“I appeared before the Ethics Committee, provided evidence that a senator had actually cross carpeted and, by the provisions of the law, should have lost his seat and that we wanted to be written so that we could conduct by-election to replace him; that letter never came until I left office.
“That provision is still there and if we don’t address it, we will continue to carry the baggage of laws that can undermine the integrity of an election.”
“So it is very important to accelerate this process of having a new improved legal framework for INEC to be able to do its job because right now they are operating under serious pressure, Jega stated.
He urged the government to be mindful of the ECOWAS protocol it signed, which requires all signatories to ensure that any amendment to the electoral legal framework is concluded at least six months before a general election.
He said that ideally it should be at least one year before general elections.
“Because, that is how INEC will be able to put the mechanisms in place in order to improve the process and enhance the chances of electoral integrity,”Jega said.
He went on: “Last point I want to make is that security agencies need to display professionalism, neutrality and impartiality.
“This is very important. In fact, in all fairness, the relative success that we had in the 2015 general elections was because of the active engagement of what we call the inter-agency consultative committee and the commitment of the security agencies to do their best under very difficult circumstances.
“I’m not saying there were no breaches, in fact with benefit of hindsight there were many breaches but their professionalism and neutrality in the 2015 general elections.
“But the most important thing is that when you compare the work of the security agencies in 2015 elections to what happened in 2007 elections, it was marginally much better.”
Jega urged President Buhari to beam his anti-corruption searchlight on the National Assembly committee chairmen who ask for bribe to pass budgets of Ministries Departments and Agencies and when they go on oversight functions. He mentioned no names.
Said Jega: “And I wonder here what is happening with intelligence and investigative responsibilities of security agencies in policing our National Assembly.
“Some chairmen of the committees in National Assembly have become notorious on this issue of demanding for bribe with impunity.
“I have passed through the university system, I have heard so many stories of so many vice chancellors about the woes that they go through on question of budget and so called oversight assignments.
“I am not saying that chief executives are saints but all we are saying is that we must point the search light so that Nigerians and particularly public office holders should have basic common decency and integrity by which they discharge their responsibilities because virtually everybody seems to forget about what is going on.
“I believe it is very important to consider addressing these issues over a long term even while we address the underline causes as well as the immediate causes in the short and medium term.”
Calling for public service reforms, Jega urged the Buhari’s administration to avoid the fire brigade approach in handling the herdsmen / farmers crises among other insecurity challenges.
President Buhari recalled the episode when a former Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godsday Orubebe, almost stalled the announcement of elections results in 2015.
He said: “Here I must digress to raise an observation because I did not see Mr Orubebe who ought to have come and listen to Prof. Jega deliver his lecture; this is a major observation.
“That instance for those of us who were lucky to see the confrontation between Orubebe and Prof Jega (on television) it will remain a life impression.
“The other one is the Prof Jega briefing to the government the opposition and the military before the date of the election was finally agreed on.
“And I thank personally the United States government then under President Obama for sending John Kerry to read the riot act to the government and to us the opposition then that nothing other than a free and fair election will be acceptable.”
Senate President Bukola Saraki, Hose of Representatives Speaker Yakubu Dogara, ministers and Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor Godwin Emefiele, among other dignitaries, attended the lecture
Saraki said Nigeria cannot afford to allow the 2019 elections to be less credible, free and fair than the 2015 general elections. Dogara noted that Nigeria’s democracy is fragile and should be handled with care.