Being welcome address delivered by the convener: Pastor Tunde Bakare at The International Conference Center, Abuja on Monday 31st May, 2010.
I welcome all patriots who are gathered here today in search of solutions to the thorniest issue of our time – the urgent need for free, fair and credible elections. Our country Nigeria has occupied a primordial place on the global map of electoral irresponsibility, given the impunity with which the will of the people has been treated over the years.
I recall the crisis that attended the first organized rigging in Nigeria in the Western Region in 1964 and 1965, the violent responses to the 1983 riggings in Ondo State, the 5-year resistance that trailed the unjust annulment of the June 12, 1993 election results, the sham of the 2003 election which was courageously annulled by Sylvester Nsofor (JCA), and the 2007 elections which the whole world unanimously agreed was the worst in the history of humanity.
The declaration by the European Union Election Observer Mission (EU EOM) that the 2007 elections fell far short of basic international and regional standards was a clear pointer to and evidence of how our country’s electoral process has brought shame and disgrace to us.
According to Max van den Berg MEP, Chief Observer of the EU EOM, their report contains two clear messages: “First, that the 2007 election process was not credible, and in view of the lack of transparency and evidence of fraud, there can be no confidence in the results. Second that urgent and comprehensive reform is required to improve the framework and conduct of future elections.”
The Transition Monitoring Group (TMG) in one of its reports on the 2007 elections titled “An Election Programmed to Fail” described the election as a charade and declared that it did not meet the minimum standard required for conducting democratic elections.
It further described it as an election that was destined to fail because of INEC’s poor level of preparedness. It declared that all the processes of the election were faulty from the very beginning.
The United States of America and International Federation for Electoral Systems declared in the report of its observation mission that the election took place under an ill prepared and partial electoral commission and was marred by reports of voter malfeasance and vote rigging.
Barry Lowenkron, US Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, in the account of his experience at the 2007 elections said, “In most areas of the country, polls opened either after significant delay or did not open at all.”
The group then encouraged Nigeria to expedite election tribunals and to strengthen the independence and capacity of INEC. Late President Umaru Yar’adua also admitted the fundamental flaws in the election that brought him to power.
Now, we are about to have a repeat of that experience, or how can we expect a good outcome when we fail to prepare well from the beginning?
Since 2007, what concrete effort has our government made to improve the conduction of elections? One would have expected that by now, the urgent and comprehensive reform recommended by Max Berg would have been in place, not to talk of the implementation of the Justice Uwais Panel Report, but the reverse is the case.
How many of these recommendations have we implemented? Did we expedite election tribunals? Did we strengthen the independence and capacity of INEC? The answers to these questions are obvious: no, no, and no.
I believe very strongly that if, as a country, we are able to get our electoral system right, then our challenges are half solved. A credible election will lead to a credible government.
The recent removal of Professor Maurice Iwu has rekindled some hope that perhaps there is the possibility of getting it right. It is true that Iwu is not all that was wrong with our electoral process, nonetheless his retention would have fore-closed the possibility of any attempt to remedy the crisis of confidence in the conduction of elections in Nigeria. This campaign has therefore come at an appropriate time when we have to take our destiny in our own hands as a people.
The National Assembly unfortunately has shown that it would stand in the way of genuine electoral reforms, given the way and manner it has treated the Justice Uwais Panel Report. But that is not a case for despair – it is a challenge to galvanize our people to insist on what they want, as experience has shown that power concedes nothing without forceful demand.
It is very essential at this point that we consider the imperatives for making our votes count. The following should immediately be put in place:
- 1. Concrete steps should be taken to establish a truly independent and capable election administration. This should include the introduction of a transparent, inclusive and accountable system for the nomination and appointment of an INEC Chairman, Commissioners and Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs), which would ensure the confidence of election stakeholders. The need for a credible umpire to officiate elections in Nigeria cannot be overemphasized;
- 2. An Institutional Framework that stipulates funding, structure and appointment of officers in such a way that the independence of INEC will be guaranteed;
- 3. INEC should immediately start work to improve the voters’ register, removing double registrations, under age entries, entries without pictures and other shortcomings. The voters’ register should be displayed in public for verification purposes and constituency delineation processes should be carried out in good time. These should be undertaken with a view to ensuring public and political confidence at all stages of the process;
- 4. Voting booths should be used in all polling stations and procedures to ensure the secrecy of each vote should be implemented effectively;
- 5. Impunity for electoral violations should cease and political parties should end the practice of hiring thugs to perpetrate electoral violence;
- 6. The security agencies – the Police, State Security Service (SSS) – and other related service providers should be fair to all stakeholders; they should serve the interest of the nation rather than that of any political party;
- 7. Transparency should be enhanced and ensured, particularly with regard to INEC meetings and decisions and the swift publication of detailed polling station results at all levels of election administration;
- 8. An effective framework should be established to ensure that the mass media provides equitable access and coverage to political parties and candidates during the campaign period;
- 9. Complaints, appeals and petitions procedures should be enhanced to ensure clear, effective, transparent and timely processes for election stakeholders;
- 10. Election mandates protection: Nigeria now needs a galvanized people who are ready to defend their votes at all costs.
- 11. Electoral petitions must be concluded before the swearing-in of the winner. Hence, an election timetable that incorporates this assumption should be worked out. Elections may be held no later than January ending, preceding the May inauguration of the winner; or in the case where elections are bound to be staggered, elections must be held four months before the end of the tenure of the incumbent. Six months as specified by the Uwais Report may be too long, as managing transition may become contentious when either the incumbent and/or the elect are combative. Petitions are also unnecessarily drawn out and made more expensive. Hence election tribunals should be obliged to deliver judgment within 60 days of the election, and appeals should be concluded within 45 days from date of first judgment;
- 12. Electoral Offences Commissions charged with the responsibility of prosecuting electoral offences must be established;
- 13. Mandatory reports regarding processes at collation centres and the issuance of results on the spot to the party agents as well as to the police and the SSS must be encouraged;
- 14. Finally, there should be detailed guidelines and provisions for voting, counting and collation procedures. These should include:a. results to be publicly displayed at polling stations immediately after counting has been completed;b. a requirement for copies of official result forms to be distributed to all involved stakeholders, including political parties, candidates and observers;c. a requirement for detailed results broken down to polling station level to be publicly displayed at all superior levels of the election administration;d. a requirement for INEC to swiftly and publicly display detailed results of the elections on its website, including all polling station results as well as collated information on the number of voters, votes cast, invalid votes, etc;e. a requirement for results to be officially announced within a time limit of three days;f. a requirement for voters, political parties and observers to be able to request a recount of ballots at polling station level when irregularities have been identified;
g. a requirement for INEC to be able to order a recount of ballots at polling station level once it is established that the law has been violated.
In conclusion, it should be clear to President Jonathan Goodluck that he has the best chance to give the country an enabling environment for free, fair and credible elections where all contestants are treated equally and given the wherewithal to exercise their franchise.
While we commend Mr. President’s May 29 speech that clearly acknowledged for the first time supreme sacrifice of the heroes of our democracy such as M.K.O Abiola, Musa Yar’dua, Chief Alfred Rewani, Gani Fawehinmi and if I may add Ken Saro Wiwa and others from Niger Delta region, we must state here that the only way to avert further bloodshed in the defence of democracy as opined by Mr. President is for him to walk his talk and back his words with immediate actions such as the appointment of highly credible INEC Chairman, Commissioners and Resident Electoral Commissioners from the civil society or the judiciary especially those who are not card carrying members of any political party.
Also the frivolous comments by those looking for relevance as well as justification for past electoral blunders must be checkmated by all well meaning Nigerians including those in the Presidency. The system of impunity that makes a sinner out of a saint such that if Jesus Christ were to conduct an election in Nigeria it would still be disputed as claimed by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the PDP BOT Chairman did not only show the depravity of mind, it also exposes the cancerous dynamics of do or die politics.
Similarly, his open declaration that PDP will get back such states as EDO and ONDO that they lost at the tribunal due to electoral fraud suggests that OBJ and his gang prefer the status quo. Nigerians from all walks of life must rise to make their votes count and deliver themselves from champions of electoral fraud parading themselves as eminent statesmen and integrity models.
Free and fair election like justice is very easy. It is injustice like rigged elections that are difficult and expensive. Once the government of the day is prepared to allow the people to make their choice without any hindrances and are prepared to abide by the people’s wish, it is easy, simple and rewarding. It is only when the government of the day decides that only a set of people of their choice are to be elected that it turns those who are supposed to enforce the law into law breakers and criminals as was the case in 1999, 2003 and 2007.
The era of do or die politics must come to an end and the practitioners of such must be put out of business.
This is the time for positive concrete actions for the realisation of free, fair and credible elections if we must get it right in 2011 as there is no other way to create a better Nigeria that we all deserve in our life time.
I thank you for your attention.
God bless The Federal Republic of Nigeria.