A former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega, and a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir Lawal, have bared their minds on worrisome conduct of elections in Nigeria.
Jega, yesterday, disclosed how prominent politicians compromise security and registration officials and manipulate voter registration. Speaking in Abuja, while delivering a keynote address at a policy roundtable on the theme, ‘Improving the Integrity of Nigeria’s Voter Register’, organised by Yiaga Africa, Jega said: “This is certainly a major challenge, although there is a sense in which the extent and magnitude of registration of underage persons and foreigners is grossly exaggerated and politicised. It is a major challenge, because it happens due to manipulation of the registration exercise, corruption, and what can be called ‘community connivance’.
“For example, in some areas, during registration, notable politicians organise such illegal activities, threaten and compromise security and registration officials, and get residents in the communities to look away and say nothing while such acts are being perpetrated.”
Jega said multiple registrants also find their way to vote in polling units. He suggested vigilance, effective policing, arrests, and improved civic education as possible remedy to the development.
According to him, having well trained and courageous registration officials that could withstand the temptation of inducement and threats from politicians would go a long way in addressing the menace.
Babachir Lawal, on his part, said the 2023 general elections negatively impacted national unity and divided Nigerians along ethnic and religious lines.
The ex-SGF, who spoke in an interview with BBC Hausa, monitored in Kaduna, yesterday, said the division became so deep; people became suspicious of one another and chose to keep to themselves.
He said: “Now, in the North, things have deteriorated completely. We’ve returned to the previous days. The Yoruba are on their own. The Igbo are on their own. And we, northerners, are divided between Christians and Muslims. Even among us, Christians, there are tribes, maybe the Tiv are here; Idoma, Kilba are there. There is Michika here. This is what we’ve been trying to avoid. We’ve been divided. How are we going to achieve unity? It’s not possible now.”
He added: “How can we come together when we have slaughtered our own and now we want to stitch things together? No way. Who is there now in the north that can call for a meeting of elders from the region to deliberate and unite? There is none. I can see there were groups that were trying to meet and unite, but you will find that they are mainly a group of Muslims or a group of Christians.”
Relatedly, a political analyst, Adetokunbo Pearse, said Nigeria must overhaul its electoral system before 2027 general elections to make progress democratically.
Pearse told News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Lagos, yesterday, that free and fair elections remain the panacea for growth and development.He said: “Until we change the way INEC operates in Nigeria, we cannot have free, fair and credible elections, while good leaders may not emerge for nation-building.
“Until we stop the practice whereby the president, who is a player in the game, is the one appointing the INEC Chairman, we may never have credible election results in Nigeria. There is nowhere in the world where the president, in a federation, especially, appoints the electoral chairman.
“Also, the INEC chairman cannot be one man for one state in one location. It is too centralised. That is why we are calling for decentralisation of government when we talk about restructuring. INEC must be totally restructured, as they have in the U.S.A. We must learn something.”
He called on the National Assembly to rework the nation’s Electoral Act to strip the president of the power to appoint the INEC chairman and other officers.
THE observations came as the Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja, yesterday, reversed nullification of the election of Governor Abdullahi Sule of Nasarawa State.
In a unanimous decision, a three-member panel of justices voided the verdict of the Nasarawa State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, which sacked Sule of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
In the lead verdict delivered by Justice Uchechukwu Onuemenam, the court held that evidence before it showed that the tribunal relied on legally inadmissible evidence to declare candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), David Ombugadu, as valid winner of the governorship election held in the state on March 18.
According to the court, the tribunal was wrong to have relied on the evidence of eight of the witnesses produced by the PDP candidate, whose witnesses statements on oath were not front-loaded alongside the petition.
The appellate court held that according to Section 285(5) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, Section 132(7) of the Electoral Act 2022 and Paragraphs 4(5) (6) and 14(2) of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act, every written statement on oath must be filed alongside a petition, within statutorily allocated time.
“Where a trial court admitted and acted on illegally inadmissible evidence, it is the duty of the appellate court to ensure that such illegally inadmissible evidence is expunged.
“A court of law is only allowed to act on legally admissible evidence. If documents are unlawfully allowed by a trial court, the appellate court is duty bound to exclude the documents and discountenance the evidence.”
The appellate court proceeded to strike out all the evidence and exhibits that were tendered before the tribunal by the witnesses. The court also vacated the order of the tribunal directing Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to withdraw the Certificate of Return issued to Sule as winner of the governorship contest.
Ombugadu, however, has said he is heading to the Supreme Court to reclaim his mandate. Describing the Appeal Court ruling as rape of truth, he said he is hopeful the apex court will correct the error and declare him winner.
Ombugadu spoke while addressing supporters at his resident, shortly after the verdict. He appealed to the supporters and residents of Nasarawa to remain calm, saying light will eventually triumph over darkness. He also admonished them not to take laws into their hands but seek divine intervention through prayers.
“As law abiding citizens, we must not take laws into our hands when we have not even exhausted all the legal process to claim back our mandate. There are similar cases elsewhere, where tribunal judgment was nullified by an Appeal Court but was reclaimed at the Supreme Court,” he said.
A mild protest had broken out at Nasarawa Eggon Local Council, following the judgment but it was brought under control by military personnel.
Also, the Court of Appeal in Abuja affirmed the judgment of the Gombe State Governorship Election Tribunal, which dismissed the petition filed by the PDP challenging the re-election of Governor Muhammadu Inuwa Yahaya of the APC.
INEC had, on March 18, announced Yahaya winner of the guber poll with 342,821 votes. Muhammad Jibrin Barde of the PDP was said to have scored 233,131.
Barde approached the tribunal, insisting the election of the governor did not comply with provisions of the Electoral Act.His lawyers maintained that the PDP candidate scored the majority of lawful votes during the poll while multiple thumb printing and ballot box stuffing took place in nine local council areas in favour of Yahaya.
But the three-man panel of the tribunal chaired by Justice S.B. Belgore dismissed PDP’s application for lacking of merit. The PDP candidate then approached the Appeal Court for redress.
In its judgment, yesterday, the Appeal Court agreed with the tribunal that the PDP’s case was void of merit. This was as the PDP in Cross River said it would contest Wednesday’s Appeal Court judgment that affirmed Governor Bassey Otu as winner of the March 18 governorship election in the state.
The party’s decision to challenge Otu’s electoral victory was contained in a statement issued by the state Publicity Secretary, Mike Ojisi, in Calabar, yesterday.
While urging PDP supporters to remain calm, Ojisi said the verdict of the appellate court did not reflect the full conviction of the party’s position on the processes leading to the election. He said: “While we are saddened by this temporary setback, we are, however, glad that there is still room at the Supreme Court, and this is the beauty of our judicial system and democracy.
“We kindly appeal to our teeming supporters and party faithful to remain calm, as we are still committed to seeking legal options and exhausting all legal means toward reclaiming our mandate.”
The governor, who had earlier called for an end to further litigation on the matter, however, said he remains unshaken by the petition against his electoral victory.
MEANWHILE, some APC stakeholders in Kano State have cried out over alleged threat to their lives by supporters of the ruling New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP). Led by Rabiu Sulaiman Bichi, the stakeholders, at a press conference, held at the APC national secretariat in Abuja, claimed that the NNPP-led administration has perfected plan to unleash mayhem in the state.
They said this would hold under the guise of a mass rally tomorrow in protest the Appeal Court ruling, which declared APC won the state’s governorship election.
He said: “Things appear to be getting worse since the embattled leader of the NNPP, Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso, came back to Kano on Sunday, where he held a meeting of the party’s stakeholders, at the end of which they came up with a line-up of activities that included unleashing violence and eliminating APC in Kano.
“We have it from reliable sources that they are planning a mass protest on Saturday (tomorrow) during which key figures of the APC will be targeted, if possible to eliminate them.”
The stakeholders, who include former commissioners, former and serving state Assembly members as well as former and serving appointees of both state and federal governments, assured that they would remain law-abiding citizens and would not do anything to disturb the peace in Kano.
They, nevertheless, added that they would not hesitate to protect their life and property, and called on the state police command and other security agencies to prevent a breakdown of law and order.