Former Chairman of the Independent National Commission, INEC, Attahiru Jega, on Monday said that the conduct of the All Progressives Congress’ Ward and state congresses as well as the alleged corruption in the National Assembly are some of the bottlenecks the 2019 election is bound to grapple with.
Mr Jega stated this while delivering a lecture to mark this year’s Democracy Day in Abuja which was attended by President Muhammadu Buhari, Senate President, Bukola Saraki; Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara.
Others were the Chief Justice of the Federation, Walter Ononghen; Secretary to Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha; Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Winifred Oyo-Ita and others.
The former INEC boss warned that violent party congresses constituted a risk to the election as he argued that if the parties could not conduct their internal elections without violence, what more could be said of the general elections?
He also cited the increasing incidents of hate speech which he said must be controlled through existing laws or could jeopardize the exercise.
He observed that the delay in the passage the framework for the conduct of the 2019 exercise was also a risk to the election.
Mr Jega who said the provision of the constitution which gives only seven days for the conduct of run-off where necessary, adding that it was an impossible task as no such election can be done so short a time.
He said: “The first thing to consider is an 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, very important that this is addressed because if there is a 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, 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 facilitate electoral violence in general elections. So these have to be tamed.
“Again, we must seriously ensure that the rule of law is complied with. So, an effective prosecution is very very important to mitigate against this challenge.
“Otherwise with the intensity, this is going right now, it will undermine the integrity of the 2019 elections.
“So, more and more patriotic, democratic, well-meaning Nigerians need to speak against hate speech while the government puts its mechanisms in place identifying, prosecuting those who constitute a 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, very important that they have a good and a much better electoral legal framework in place for 2019 general elections that we had in 2015 general elections. This is very, very important.
“I kept giving examples of some aspects of existing legal framework which could have created the 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 result, 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 next runoff election.
“Meanwhile, after elections, INEC normally demobilises staff, security personnel etc., and you cannot demobilize them and get them in polling unit within five days.
“So, in 2015, we had very serious apprehensions in electoral commission because of that constitutional provision, because of a run-off because 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, and section 31 that says whatever name the party submits to the electoral commission cannot be rejected for any reason whatsoever.
“INEC is supposed to conduct party congress, so INEC has a list of those candidates that emerged 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 happened in 2015.
“We wanted to reject it 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 contended that the National Assembly has prevented seats of members who cross carpeted to be declared vacant as required by law.
He asserted: “The 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 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 community, provided evidence that a senator had actually cross carpeted and by the provisions of the law, should lose his seat and that we wanted to be written so that we can conduct a 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 very important to accelerate this process of having a new improve legal framework for INEC to be able to do its job because right now they are operating under serious pressure.”
Mr Jega pointed out that the present administration was focusing its war against corruption on embezzlement and theft rather than tackling bribe giving and taking in states and federal government institutions.
He particularly cited the case of National Assembly members who he accused of seeking bribes during oversight functions.
“And I wonder 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 a 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 the go through on question of budget and so-called oversights assignments.
“I am not saying that Chief executives are saints but all we are saying is that we must point the searchlights 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, 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.”