The Town Hall Debate: Election Security and Party Primaries

“A free and fair election is evidence of Democracy. Can we truly say we have a free and fair election process in Nigeria?” These words welcomed the audience to the “Fixing Nigerian Elections” town hall debate held on Channels TV. It enunciated the need for a discussion on the failing electoral system in Nigeria.

Honourable guests present included the likes of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, The Former Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, The Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, Nigerian Entertainer, Cobhams Asoquo and many more.

A variety of topics were discussed as it pertains to elections in Nigeria and the thorn-like issues that restrict the event of a seamless election process. Notably, two of the topics that were stretched out was that of election security and party primaries.

Many spoke on the inexistence of election security and concerns were raised about it, referring to troubling incidents that have taken place in the past. A detailed look at the Kogi elections that were held in 2019 and the massive amount of violence that took place in the event was labelled as an instance.

On another hand, issues of party indiscipline and shady politics that eventually leads to questionable primary elections were highlighted. Reference was made to the recent crisis that took place in Nigeria’s major parties preceding the Edo governorship primary elections.

It was established that there was a weighing issue of electoral insecurity and an intra-party conflict that’s impeding the progress of fair elections.

An introspection was done for the benefit of the audience; sifting through prior actions to combat issues in pertinence to election security and party primaries.

Senator Ike Ekweremadu highlighted that several reforms had taken place in previous times. Such reforms had been championed by the Justice Uwais Electoral Reform Committee in 2008, The Ministerial Committee to review the Justice Uwais report in 2009 and The Sheikh Marudeen Lenu Report on electoral violence in 2012. He went on to say that while the reforms were in existence, the implementation was a failure and constitutes the biggest problem.

Chairman of Yiaga Africa Board, Dr Hussaini Abdu corroborated this stance in the debate and espoused that the reform does not last because politicians keep undermining the process. Given a short period of time after the reform has been passed, those in power have already sought new ways of circumventing the law.

The people have no faith in these laws. This notion was put forward by Yemi Adamolekun, Executive Director of Enough is Enough. She explained that obvious flouting of the laws by the politicians gives people reason to doubt the efficacy of such reforms and suggested electronic balloting is not widely supported because citizens are sure results would be blatantly manipulated.

The issue of interference of incumbents was another point raised as a reason the reforms put in place are not producing many results. It was said that those in power would not approve or support reforms that could act as a stumbling block for a second term in office.

Another crucial point raised by the INEC Chairman was that for issues with election insecurity to stop, electoral offenders need to be penalised. And this is difficult because the INEC body is saddled with the task of enforcing the laws and they don’t have the necessary capacity; an independent security force for instance.

A way forward was proposed by many of the several guests. On the front of electoral insecurity, the newest bill that is yet to be enacted was positioned as a necessary relief. The constitution and electoral reform committee headed by Sen Ken Nnnamani is pushing for an Electoral Act and the Electoral Amendment bill which is expected to be approved by December 2020. The reform is expected to cover general provisions on the electoral process and to also tackle electoral violence in Nigeria.

In the case of party primaries, many proposed party internal regulation and also a system that would only ensure a single term in office for politicians. This is explained to reduce the temptation for corrupt practices to elongate their stay in office.  Yabagi Sani, National Chairman of ADP also suggested that the ownership of parties should be regulated.

The debate proved to be essential as it watered the fruits of a necessary conversation. It nudged the populace on where to look and whom to hold accountable to ensure free and fair elections in Nigeria. With much said, there is still much more to be done.

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