Dr Kayode Fayemi, Governor, Ekiti State.
I am particularly delighted to have been asked to be the Guest Speaker on this occasion of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole’s second year anniversary in office as Governor. Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, all of us here are not unfamiliar with electoral fraud, but I guess what qualifies me to be the Guest Speaker here today is the simple fact that I was a victim as well as a survivor of electoral fraud in our country’s chequered history.
As we celebrate some of the limited gains from the struggle that we waged against electoral fraud in 2007, one must also acknowledge that there is a pervasive and widespread fear about Nigeria’s next elections in 2011. Pundits are already filling their columns with doomsday scenarios for the country’s decade old and fragile democracy. In a way, these fears are not completely misplaced if history offers any lessons. Unlike the 1959, 1979, 1993 and 1999 elections, organised by departing colonial and military authorities, the 1964, 1983, 2003 and 2007 (and its numerous re-run elections) organised under incumbent civilian governments were marred by serious fraud and violence, the unfortunate effect of which, was political instability, which in turn heralded the return of the military (in at least two cases – 1964 and 1983). The 2011 election in Nigeria certainly harbours more potential for electoral fraud and violence and doomsday scenarios might help the citizenry to maintain vigilance in order to keep the electoral management body, politicians and their agents in check and on their toes and it is for this reason that the hope of an entire nation, perhaps unfairly, is hinged on your shoulders at this critical period.
The fact that I have experienced first hand the evils of a broken electoral management system makes this lecture more experiential rather than academic. Ladies and Gentlemen, we all know that an Electoral Management Body is supposed to be the independent, impartial umpire in any election. Nigeria’s version of it certainly ranks amongst the most partisan, partial election management body in the world and this largely stems from the nature of appointments into the body. Under the chairmanship of Professor Maurice Iwu, its partisanship is not even disguised, given how Chairman Iwu emerged as the Head of the Commission. More than at any time before him, election rigging under Chairman Iwu became an article of faith, and this has underscored the importance of distance and detachment between the Electoral Commission and the political leadership of the State. But the problem of INEC was not simply limited to the excesses of its erstwhile chairman, but also to the culture in the organisation and this partly explains the less than impressive leadership of the previous heads of the body. Although many of the staff may take a cue from the partisanship of its leadership and simply replicate the behaviour in their various state postings, often in favour of the ruling party, a big challenge is the nature of recruitment into the organisation. Most of the people central to INEC’s rigging culture are career civil servants who have been in the institution in the last two decades, some since the time of Professor Humphrey Nwosu. My first recommendation therefore is that INEC needs a truly independent administration and its Secretary should be selected through a transparent process not through secondment from the civil service as has been the case for so long. At the time Dr Ahmadu Kurfi, Alhaji Gambo Gubio, Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed and now Alhaji Kaugama were all seconded to INEC, they were serving Federal Permanent Secretaries still beholden to the executive in office. Whilst it is possible to argue that a “systems” person who could get things done is necessary especially in situations where the Chairman is an “outsider”, this often becomes the source of the manipulation of the Chairman and other national commissioners. In the same vein, the powerhouses of rigging in the States are often the Administrative Secretaries and the Heads of Operations, rather than the Resident Electoral Commissioners who often do not know enough about the systems and invariably become beholden to these entrenched key staff.
The erstwhile mechanism of reshuffling Admin Secretaries and Heads of Operations from one state to the other as previous Chairmen have done before is ineffective because these officers operate like a cartel and it does not matter whether you move the man in Ondo to Kebbi or Gombe to Edo, all they do is to simply transfer local contacts to their replacement – especially the commission agents who act on behalf of the politicians.
A less disruptive approach is to return many of them to the Headquarters under your watchful eyes, replace them with some of the officers at Headquarters for the purpose of the 2011 elections, set up an independent monitoring mechanism that is transparent and fair and then embark on a major recruitment exercise which may or may not take effect before the next election.
Voter Registration and INEC’s flawed register
Perhaps the most critical issue you are likely to confront in your preparation for the next election is the issue of a credible voters register. As much as forty per cent of the names of the national voter register are fake. Although INEC officials are central to the series of voter registration infractions in the country, it hardly acts alone. Indeed, virtually all communities are involved in the making of fraudulent voter registers simply because communities treat voter registration as a form of population census and a vehicle for the delivery of their own share of the national cake. Where INEC falters most is in the deliberate lack of independent verification capacity in separating genuinely registered voters from fake names imported from almanacs, inanimate objects, foreign personalities etc.
Whether it is a manual register (such as the one used in Ghana) or an electronic register, what is key is a system with a well developed and normalised database; adequate security to protect the content of the registry; development of a fool-proof procedure of transmitting data between the data collecting devices and the central registry and uniform generation of collected data. It is clear that the current INEC register is a criminal document and an incompetent concoction with a poor system integrity that is incapable of uniquely identifying each voter. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that it is only perfect for multiple, underage, foreign and inanimate objects’ registrations. As is now evident from publicly available information, apart from the deliberate attempt to subvert the integrity of the electoral system, the voter register problem is traceable to the pirated use of biometric software without the approval of the owners and this led to a loss of the original functionality since the software owners had not released the code keys.
INEC tried everything since the last elections to correct this problem by bringing in others – not the original makers of the software – to help fix the problem to no avail because of the security features built in by the original owners. The same problem is prevalent with the bio-metric feature in the INEC voter register. Here, INEC mixed and matched vendors of software and hardware such that biometric features of one vendor are being used on another vendor’s platform thus rendering it inoperable. Simply put, what we need is a Voter Register that is rig-proof and not a vehicle for multiple registration and ballot stuffing.
Sadly, even the Jega led INEC has had its own challenges with ensuring a clean and credible voter registration process. The confusion that has surrounded the Direct Data Machine contract has raised more eyebrows than one would have ordinarily expected from a Jega led initiative. The complexities are still being confronted even now and while INEC talks about commencement of registration in January 2011, it remains uncertain whether the voter registration exercise could be competed properly in readiness for the April 2011 elections.
Yet I am confident that once voter register fraud is significantly reduced, if not outrightly eliminated, the basis of a credible election would have been established. Equally, the government and INEC would need to embark on a public enlightenment campaign explaining to people that voter registration and population census is not one and the same thing and the size of your population ought not to have any bearing on your community access to development. Ultimately, what the manipulation of the voter register speaks to is our lack of regard for credible data and vital demographic statistics and a means must be devised to address this problem both in the short and long term.
INEC and other Challenges
Apart from fixing the institution and ensuring a credible voter register for the purpose of achieving a free, fair and clean election, there are other challenges that one can foresee, particularly in the area of the amended Electoral Law and INEC’s interaction with other state institutions and government agencies. Although INEC is central to the series of infractions that plague elections, it hardly acts alone, and this is where the other institutions and agencies like the judiciary and the security agencies usually combine to undermine the quest for electoral integrity and justice.
In my own view, a situation in which the security agencies assume the functions of an electoral umpire is one of the most significant problems in organising elections. Sadly, officials of the electoral body actively connives with favoured candidates in egregious violations of the Electoral Act and in the perpetration of crimes like ballot box snatching, ballot stuffing, multiple thumb-printing and outright doctoring of electoral documents and security agencies’ representatives turn a blind eye. What is worse is that when the aggrieved candidate also decides to challenge this at the tribunal, INEC, at least under Professor Iwu completely refused to be an impartial arbiter and was always ready to act in concert with candidate of the ruling party to subvert justice through avoidable delays, refusal to release relevant election documents and outright forgeries of documents to justify evident violations of the Electoral Act and the constitution.
One of the most significant recommendations of the Uwais Election Reform Committee on which you sat is the idea of an Electoral Crimes Commission aimed at deterring the egregious violations of the Electoral Law. It is significant to note that not a single person apprehended for electoral offences by the police in the 2007 election was convicted for any of the alleged offences. Not one person, yet there were confirmed cases of assassinations, doctoring of electoral documents, bribery, inducements of election officials, and other sundry crimes already covered in the Criminal and Penal Codes and other legal statutes in the country. In my view, this is a systemic problem that actually calls for a far less involvement of security agencies in Nigeria’s elections beyond just providing cover on Election Day. The way it is now, security agencies have formally and informally inserted themselves in the processes right from the ward level to the National level and the extent of collusion between them, candidates in election and election officials has undermined rather than assist electoral integrity. I have had cause to argue recently that impunity would continue to reign as long as beneficiaries of electoral fraud go unpunished beyond losing their ill-gotten positions. The fact that the illegal occupant of the seat in Ekiti could walk away after forty two months in the saddle without any sanction for electoral malfeasance can only underscore what is wrong with us as a country and at the same time a source of encouragement for those who want to continue to perpetrate electoral fraud.
The Judiciary as the last bastion
With respect to the judiciary’s role in electoral process, this is a role provided for by the Electoral Act and a part of the election process. As you know, the country has been awash with allegations and counter-allegations of bribery and corruption in respect of election petitions. Recently, two prominent legal luminaries – retired Supreme Court Justice Kayode Eso and senior lawyer, Chief Afe Babalola both publicly criticised Election Petition judges for turning election adjudication into open bazaars for extorting money and selling judgments, thus becoming millionaires and billionaires overnight. A very well publicised case, which resulted in the dismissal of two election petition judges – Justices Opone and Adeniji, is relevant here. In this case, a non-candidate in an election ended being declared by INEC as the winner of a senatorial seat and the two judges were confirmed to have received bribes to subvert justice and keep Ugochukwu Uba wrongfully in a Senate seat in Anambra State.
A review of election petitions adjudicated upon from 2007 to date would indeed show inexplicable contradictions on matters that ought to be straight forward such as ballot-paper serialisation, qualification/disqualification of candidates in elections, burden of proof, meaning of substantial compliance with provisions of the Electoral Act not to mention undue delays in the settlement of election matters. Some of the recommendations by the Uwais Committee address some of these problems particularly on issues of quick disposal of election matters before swearing in winners of elections(a plan now held in abeyance in the amendment to the electoral act, but there can be no doubt that the integrity of the judiciary has suffered tremendously and the relationship between the judiciary and the electoral agency deserves your attention.
In spite of the criticisms, it must be said that the judiciary has pronounced responsibly on many of the blatantly rigged elections, nullifying no fewer than twelve of the thirty six governorship elections in the last two and half years, including the one I challenged. Cases relating to the electoral laws, registration of more parties, conduct and management of elections are but just a few in which the judiciary has also demonstrated independence and fairness. Indeed, the judiciary has come out of this as the most well regarded arm of government and truly earned the reputation of being the last hope of the people, yet serious allegations of bribery and perversion of justice continue to dog the institution.
Road Map to Democratic Consolidation: The Need for a Collective Struggle
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, As we celebrate two years of progressive politics in Edo State, I think we should also spend this time to reflect on where we go from here. Having spent the last five years in partisan politics and grassroots organising, my belief in the need to take politics beyond parties is even more reinforced. The immediate challenge is to concentrate on how to rescue our people from bad governance. Unless the critical mass of the people cutting across age, gender, zones, geographical location and party political affiliations adopt the same positions, with a more clearly defined collective agenda, the current approach of hoping elections would help solve fundamental problems of nation-building will not suffice. There is an urgent need to build coalitions and platforms in the public sphere that are beyond parties and personalities, but all embracing enough to those who subscribe to the core values of integrity, honesty and dedication to the transformation of Nigeria. This is not a struggle for a so-called mega-party, but a struggle for an all-embracing platform that could address a variety of issues – mainly constitutional and electoral, but none is more urgent today than the question of making the votes of our people count.
Almost everyone agrees, including the leading beneficiaries of the electoral fraud in our country – that the reform of the broken electoral system is the single, most important remedial action needed in our country today. This is what has informed on our part in the political society with critical stakeholders in civil society like the Alliance for Credible Election (ACE), the Transition Monitoring Group(TMG), The Nigerian Labour Congress(NLC), The Nigerian Bar Association(NBA) – the formation of the Coalition of Democrats for Electoral Reform (CODER). The primary objective of CODER is really to ensure that the votes of Nigerians count and to assist the President in a non-partisan manner in ensuring the full implementation of the recommendations of the Justice Uwais’ Electoral Reform Committee. As a member of the National Working Committee of CODER, rather than re-inventing the wheel, I think the best thing is to share with you the highlights of our campaign as a pressure group trying to mobilise Nigerians across the country behind this cause.
We in CODER believe that without a fundamental electoral reform, the future of multi-party democracy in Nigeria will not only be in jeopardy but also the faith of the people in democracy as a representative system of government based on ballot will considerably wane. Clearly, if a people’s wish to elect representatives of their choice has been continuously thwarted and electoral outcomes manipulated – all patriots and lovers of democracy at home and abroad must mobilise and insist that a thorough going reform must commence NOW and be concluded before the next set of general elections can take place. Whilst we are not unmindful of the need for roots and branch constitutional reform in the country, and we are in agreement with those who put this as the pivotal and central issue to focus on as this paper extensively argues, it seems to unrealistic to concentrate exclusively on this now without ensuring the sanctity of the people’s vote. Indeed, our belief is that credible electoral reform is the necessary sine-qua-non for the attainment of wholesale constitutional reform and fundamental restructuring of the Nigerian state. It is only when those genuinely elected by the people get into office that they will respond positively to the yearnings for wholesale restructuring.
CODER has put forward ideas and recommendations that we believe will reinforce the central thrust of the Justice Uwais’ Electoral Reform Committee on (a) Mode of Appointment of INEC Chairman and Commissioners; (b) Constitution of Board of INEC (c) Registration of Voters; (d) Mode of Voting (e) Determination of Electoral Disputes (f) Funding of Elections (g) Conduct of Future Elections (h) Custody of Election Materials (i) Establishment of Electoral Offences Commission (j) Role of Security Agencies (k) Election Results (l) State Independent Electoral Commission and Constitution of Board of SIEC. Let me quickly run through these ideas and the rationale behind our proposals.
In the event that the current clamour does not produce the needed reform of the electoral system, then CODER is of the view that Nigerians must be mobilised to constitute themselves into a resistance vanguard at the next polls in the way that voters in Lagos, Bauchi and Kano were sensitized to achieve this in the 2007 elections. This is the only way to demonstrate to the Garrison Commanders of the ruling party that their effort at subverting the will of the people and entrenching themselves in office illegitimately could be challenged and thwarted. This is what our indefatigable, irrepressible leaders like Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu have shown in their epic battle against oppression and their belief that this country must become a nation of citizens with inalienable rights to chose their own leaders of their own free will.. That is what Adams Oshiomhole has succeeded in doing here as a giant killer. It is what the Iroko of Ondo State, Governor Olusegun Mimiko has done in reclaiming his mandate and it is what we have also done with our single minded tenacity in the quest for freedom. But we must know even as we celebrate these gains that the polity is still troubled and seriously fragile. We must acknowledge that beyond the euphoria of the moment, we must move beyond the mirage if this polity is to survive.
It’s still the structure, stupid!
Without discounting the importance of elections in a democratising polity, it is important to still interrogate the notion of democracy in its variegated and complex forms – especially in the context of transition societies. The notion, which paints a pre-conceived destination, almost a uni-dimensional focus on elections as democracy: Have elections, and every other thing shall follow – is a seriously flawed one and there is now concrete evidence to suggest this with the retreat into façade democracies in the West Africa sub-region particularly, with developments in Mauritania, Niger, Guinea Bissau and now Guinea-Conakry.
In my view, the problem is still about the nature and character of the Nigerian state, and it is not one that elections can resolve, no matter how regular, well organized and untainted they may be. It is clear to most people in Nigeria, including the political leadership, that the question of the national structure is the central issue that will not go away in Nigeria’s quest for democratic development and effective governance. The question that many continue to pose will have to be answered with all its attendant ramifications: What is this nation called Nigeria? What does it mean to be Nigerian? What is the relationship between the citizens and the state? Can it survive its unitary, over-centralised nature? What is the nature of inter-governmental relations? These were the questions Nigerians avoided in the events leading up to May 1999, in the desperation to rid the country of its military rulers and in the hope that elections will resolve them. Without resolving the issue of the national structure via national dialogue, it is difficult to see how Nigerians can attain democratic consolidation and effective governance on the basis of electoral democracy.
Thank you for the audience.
 Being Lecture delivered on the occasion of the 2nd Anniversary in office of Comrade Governor Adams Oshiomole on November 12, 2010 in Benin City, Edo State
 The Guardian, June 17, 2010. It was reported in virtually all other newspapers too.