Leadership, legitimacy and electoral process (1)
This, no doubt, is a continuation of my thoughts on the “Nigeria: How did we get here?” series, even though it is coming under a different title.
Beyond the flaws noticeable in the management and operation of the political parties discussed earlier, there are still several areas of concern in the actual electoral process, particularly those that impair the emergence of good leaders. Recall that this is the process through which our leaders claim legitimacy upon purported elections. Consequently, once the process wobbles, nothing credible can come out of it.
It must at all times be pristine. It is in this connection that we want to evaluate the steps leading to the emergence of leaders. It is a critical area where several flaws, as outlined below, still affect the emergence of good leaders. As of necessity, the starting point must be the composition and independence of the electoral body, known as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Presently, the President, subject to confirmation by the Senate, appoints the chairman and members. The interesting thing about the qualification of the members of the commission, equated with that of aspirants to the House of Representatives, is that they need not have any great educational qualification. It suffices if they possess a school certificate or its equivalent.
The challenge, therefore, is that in this era of falling standard of education and global digitalisation, one wonders how such a person can cope with the technological demand of the job. Another intriguing constitutional issue is on the qualification of INEC members.
Going by the wordings of the Constitution, Section 154, thereof, a member of INEC must be qualified as a member of the House of Representatives. Part of the qualification for membership of the House of Representatives is that such a person must be a member of a political party and must be sponsored by that political party. See Section 65 of the 1999 Constitution (as altered). The implication is that, for a member of INEC to be qualified to hold such an office, he must have political party affiliation.
This, in my view, can never augur well for the electoral process that requires a reasonable degree of political neutrality. This agitates a lot of people when it comes to impartiality. This again is another area where we got it wrong, and requires urgent remedy. There have been several controversies around this issue to the extent that, under the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, the Uwais Electoral Reform Committee recommended the nomination of members to be through the National Judicial Council in order to secure certain degree of neutrality and independence.
Under the present administration, the Electoral Committee set up by the Presidency has equally expressed concerns about this fundamental aspect of our electoral process. However, that situation has not been tinkered with and still remains as highlighted above. I associate with the suggestion that the National Judicial Council be vested with the responsibility of nominating the members of INEC with the rider that the qualification criteria be well spelt out and improved upon. By this, I mean that the minimum requirement to be nominated into the commission must be well spelt out in the Constitution. For example, I would advocate, even if it be for the purpose of pretense, it must be stated that for a person to be qualified for appointment into the commission, he must not be partisan.
In addition, I believe that the educational qualification and work experience of not less than 15 years be added. This is because experience, over time, has shown us that some members of the commission lack not only the competence to manage such assignments, but lack the necessary strength of character.
Another area militating against credible delivery of elections in Nigeria is funding. Currently, the appropriation and the release of funds for the operations of INEC are often shrouded in unnecessary political maneuvering. I believe the appropriation and the cash backing for the commission must not only be direct from the Consolidated Revenue Fund but must also be insulated from politicians at all levels. Recall that the 2019 general election was virtually crippled as a result of this challenge. Interestingly, even where we are able to correct all the above, there are other external areas that require fine-tuning in order to deliver credible elections that will lead to the production of good leaders capable of delivering good governance. One of such areas is the registration of voters. This is considered as the bedrock of any credible election.
Elections are often tainted and upturned on the basis of the voters’ register, which determines over-voting, valid votes, etc. On the issue of registration of voters, the law is simply that once you are 18 years old, you are a Nigerian, and you present yourself for registration, you must be registered. As at the last elections in 2019, the percentage of people that registered to vote as opposed to those eligible to register was nothing to write home about. Even at this, several afflictions challenge the integrity of the data. Except we want to pretend, there still exist several cases of multiple registration, existence of dead people in our register, registration of underage people and, in some instances, omission of eligible voters’ names.
These are part of the factors that challenge the credibility of our elections and, by extension, the emergence of good leaders. The apathy in elections that we suffer starts from here. The cumbersome process of queuing for hours in the sun and still not being able to register, coupled with the manual approach to registration, discourages a lot of people from pursuing their registration as voters. What stops us at this age from designing registration online and or posting relevant forms to apartments for filling and posting back? I know this obtains in a lot of other jurisdictions or countries.
This will improve registration figures dramatically. For those who prefer the traditional approach of the manual system, they can visit INEC offices. Both can run simultaneously. Some might query how the biometrics of such online registration shall be captured to make identity foolproof. The biometrics of any eligible voter is presumably already captured either under the BVN or the National Identity Card registration. I, therefore, further suggest that registration of eligible voters must be tied to the BVN and/or National Identity registration, which is now mandatory. A combination of all these is advocated as it would enhance the integrity of the process. Once we get this right, the road to credible elections is tarred. The other area we seem to miss the road again relates to the qualification of candidates.
The present situation, which mandates practically school leaving certificate as the minimum qualification is, in my view, unhealthy for the country, particularly those that recently got educated to this level in the last two decades. The quality of education received, to my mind, is too watery. Even if one is inclined towards excusing the earlier obtained school leaving certificates of yesteryears, which ranks comparatively with a secondary school leaving certificate of today, certainly, I would not indulge the recently obtained certificates. There is this view that the qualification is set that low in order to accommodate Nigerians of certain ethnic extraction that are considered to be educationally disadvantaged. This is false, if the northern part of Nigeria is being referred to. Such postulation is absolutely disagreeable. I have, in the last two decades or more, interacted with our brothers from the northern part of the country and I am not only convinced that they parade not only sufficient intelligence quotient but more than sufficient competent people that can occupy the entire political space of the nation.