Nubari Saatah: Restructuring INEC and creating a transparent process (Y! Politico)


There is something about criticism in Nigeria; it spends more time trying to be theoretical about the numerous problems confronting her than deploying or suggesting practical steps in solving these problems.

Abraham Lincoln once said; he has a right to criticise, who has the heart to help. Now this is not me insinuating that people do not have a right to criticise in whatever way or manner they see fit or necessary—I have had my own fair share of theoretical criticisms too—but it will not bite to proffer a little practical solution while at it.

I will try to criticise and offer workable solutions to the problem that arises whenever there is an election. So I will begin by saying that the Independent National Election Commission (INEC) as is presently designed is faulty and will continue to lead to distrust, and although I tow Tennessee Williams’ line of thought when he says “We have to distrust each other.

It is our only defence against betrayal,” I believe our electoral body—as currently structured—does not bring the best result out of this distrust, which in turn makes our elections bloody, the results fiercely contested and leaves the losers bitter.

The 2015 election and subsequent elections all serve as good reference points. In the period leading to the 2015 Presidential and Governorship elections, there were notable claims and counter claims from the major parties participating in the elections which revolved around plans to rig the election using the Independent National Electoral Commission or/and its Chairman at the time, Professor Attahiru Jega.

One of such claims was made by the People’s Democratic Party which claimed that they had evidence to show that key players of the ruling All Progressive Congress met with the INEC chairman in Dubai to plot how to rig the general elections in their favour (The PDP still claims to have such evidence).

The All Progressive Congress –the then main opposition party—had a claim of theirs during the collation of results that the security agencies on the orders of the President—Goodluck Jonathan at that time—would abduct the INEC chairman on live television while the counting was going on.

The elections have long been been won and lost but the bitterness that has arisen from the distrust of the entire process—and the fact that the losers feel they were cheated—is one that has permeated the country and has caused more rancour and divisions.

This particular scenario can be seen in virtually every election that has been held in Nigeria both past and present; the feeling of being cheated becomes a major clog in the wheels of what elections are all about, which is to produce accountable leaders.

The solution I propose for this is not one that will call for an overhaul of the structure, but more like a tweak. The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission should not be appointed by the President and subject to the approval of the National Assembly. The chairman of the commission at any given point in time should be the chairman of the main opposition party at that particular time.

The “main opposition party” here can be referred to as the party with the second highest number of seats in the National Assembly. You might be wondering why on earth I will suggest something like this.

This process shifts the burden to plan and execute a free and fair election squarely—err not entirely squarely though—on the shoulders of the main opposition party, which reduces the ability of manipulating the process since other state apparatus needed to ensure that such a manipulation is done successfully is not at its disposal.

This on the other hands takes a chunk of distrust usually harboured by the opposition parties and drops it on the party heading the government at that point in time. By equally “sharing” distrusts, we end up producing a process led and monitored by two people with enough individual power and authority to monitor but not manipulate the process to favour either of them.

Next up, how long should the tenure of the chairman be? This question has already been answered earlier, but I will answer it again for clarity. The chairman of the electoral commission does not have a definite office term; his/her term expires only if his/her party loses their position as the main opposition party which can either happen by becoming majority in the National Assembly or by being overtaken by another party as the second party with the largest number of seats at the National Assembly.

Another problem that might arise is a situation where the President’s party is the party with the second largest number of representatives in the National Assembly. This is capable of not putting to good use the distrust as spoken of earlier, by having the President and electoral commission chairman come from the same party, it puts in their collective hands the machineries needed to manipulate the electoral process if they so wish.

So in a situation like this, the party with the third largest number of representatives in the National Assembly becomes the electoral commission chairman.

We have addressed major issues that might arise from this new structuring of the electoral body, so let us move to the members of this body. Members of the new proposed electoral commission will be chairmen of all registered political parties in the country at any given point in time. How does this help improve the electoral process?

Firstly, every member of the commission is entitled to a vote and a veto power just like the chairman of the commission. The chairman of the commission will have the power to create a policy or plan without input from the members in a situation where he deems it necessary, but before such a plan or policy is adopted it must be presented at a sitting that meets the required quorum of two third of members of the commission.

If no member of the commission at this sitting veto’s the plan/policy, it is adopted. In a situation where one or more members makes use of their veto powers, it Is put to a vote where a simple majority is needed for it to be adopted after which no member has the power except the chairman of the commission to veto it.

Members also have the power to present their own plans for deliberations and adoptions, whether in groups or individually, but only the chairman has the power to veto a bill that has passed the voting stage.

I for one do not believe in neutrality. I only believe in a man’s ability to hide his bias. So the practice of the President appointing a “neutral” person to head the electoral commission has never flown for me.

What better way to provide a truly neutral and transparent process than putting that task in the hands of a group of people whose partisan nature are far from being aligned.

Their distrust for each other which is fuelled by the need not to be betrayed or cheated therefore becomes the fuel to create a transparent, fair and acceptable outcome for all.

Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

Nubari Saatah is on Twitter @Saatah

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