Letter to Independent National Electoral Commission (1)
The Independent National Electoral Commission (the Commission) is the body constitutionally saddled with the responsibility of conducting elections to all political offices at all levels of government in Nigeria, except the local government elections in the states. The Commission is so named as such due to the compelling necessity for it to be truly independent. It is expected to be an impartial body in the discharge of its responsibilities, this being the reason for the emphasis of independence in the description of the appellation. Since the Commission cannot act, on its own, the impartiality mandated by the name and the Constitution is expected from the officials who populate the establishment. In other words, all staff of the Commission are expected to be independent in the discharge of their responsibilities.
This includes even the ad hoc staff recruited in the conduct of the elections. The implication of the foregoing is that officials appointed and/or employed in the Commission must exhibit the highest level of integrity. The pre-requisite demands that proper background check, vetting and profiling of potential officials must be undertaken by the intelligence and anti-corruption agencies. To what extent this is done remains a subject of debate. Suffice to state that, if the conducts exhibited by some of the Commission officials are anything to go by, then it could be concluded that it is either this is not outrightly done or poorly done. As commanding and towering as this requirement of impartiality is, experience over time has shown that officials of the Commission often betrayed this trust and confidence reposed in them. This is obvious from the recent prosecution and jailing of some of the Commission officials. In the past, the story has been, at best, that of condemnation of the compromised officials without any prosecution, much less conviction.
Names of these several condemned Commission’s officials abound but for probable libel action, wise counsel dictates that avoidance of mentioning those names might be a worthy and preferred option and also because such names are already in the public domain for their inglorious past. To abridge this seeming gap in the profiling process and remind the appointed and recruited officials of the Commission of this onerous duty, the officials are made to take oaths of office, particularly that bordering on independence and impartiality in the conduct of elections.
In spite of all these, do the public at large still believe in the impartiality of the Commission? I think not! Several factors account for this skepticism and lack of confidence in the Commission and by extension, the officials. The fundamental issue militating and leading to the erosion of public confidence in the Commission is the mode of recruitment of the officials largely. For those that are direct appointees that constitute the management of the Commission, the nominations are made by the same politicians whose affairs are to be regulated by them. By the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) they are ultimately appointed by the President of the country who is first and foremost a politician and a member of a political party.
The recommendation comes from the President to the Senate, another set of politicians, who purportedly screens the nominees. The impression, at the barest minimum in the public space, is simply that of he who pays the piper dictates the tune. This implies that the appointors ultimately dictate the occurrences in the field of operation of the Commission. In the past and prior to the constitutional amendment, a person could be qualified to be appointed into the Commission even where he was a member of a political party simply because the constitutional provision then required such a potential member of the Commission to be qualified as a member of the national legislative house which specified membership of a political party.
With the recent constitutional modification, however, such a person now must not belong to a political party. This is meant to be a safeguard against political bias. The question, however, is, what if in recent past the person had been a member of a political party or an apparent sympathizer of a political party? Would such a person qualify to be nominated and appointed? Well, by the wordings of the Constitution, he cannot be legally disqualified as mischievously decided in the recent screening case of Mr. Muideen Olalekan Raheem, the Osun Resident Electoral Commissioner nominee, who was originally nominated for the office. However, if the interpretation is matched with the mischief the provision is meant to forestall, then such a person cannot and must not be appointed into the Commission. Thus, legally speaking, the fact that you have been a member of a political party in the recent past cannot be a stumbling block to the absorption of such a person into the Commission, if, at the time of his nomination, he is not a member of a political party.
Likewise, being a sympathizer of a political party cannot equally and legally be a disabling factor in the appointment of a person into the Commission, but on a moral ground, it may be a worthy factor in the screening of such a person by the legislators. Thus, due to this corrosive factor of political appointment of the Chairman and Commissioners of the Commission, agitation against the mode of recruitment has led to several profound recommendations by various bodies set up to review the electoral process. Two notable ones in recent past are the Uwais’s Commission report and the Ken Nnamani report on electoral reforms which recommended the appointment of the management officials of the Commission by an independent body such as the National Judicial Council that deals with the appointment, promotion and discipline of judges.
This, regrettably, has not seen the light of the day, even by the current administration that set up the last electoral reform committee. It seems to me that as soon as each government settles and appreciates the importance of controlling the Commission, the government jettisons the adoption of the recommendation. Hence, we are still where we are and consequently, the continuous dwindling of voters’ turn out in our electoral circles.
It is a major factor heightening voters’ apathy in the country to the extent of less than 35 per cent of the electorate electing the President of Nigeria in the last presidential election. Funding is another factor impairing the efficiency and delivery of the Commission thereby engendering lack of confidence in the Commission. In so far as the legislators and the executives continue to moderate the funding of the Commission, political considerations and influence will remain a clog in the independence of the body. The budgeting and funding, in my view, should be purely outside the ambit of politicians. This will implicitly address the challenge of the inadequacy of personnel which is another bane of credible conduct of elections in Nigeria. Last but not the least, for the purpose of our discussion today, are the twin issues of welfare and security of tenure.
The officials of the Commission are certainly not sufficiently motivated to resist mostly mouthwatering offers of politicians in Nigeria. In the same vein, the security of tenure of the staff needs to be strengthened. I have gone this far to enthuse us with the composition of the Commission as well as the militating factors against their expected independence so as to situate my invitations, in terms of value changes, expected from the Commission’s officials, notwithstanding these aberrations. The first area of concern is what the Yoruba capture in the saying, ti won ba bi ni, ki a tun ra enibi, implying that even if you were born in awkward circumstances, you can reinvent yourself. In this context, in spite of the Commission’s managerial officials’ accident of birth by the politicians, they need to be born again on points of societal expectations from them. They need to shake off the political toga that ordinarily accompanies their appointments.
It is no news that, most times, the Chairman and the Commissioners are nominated, screened and appointed by politicians. That politicians have no bias is to be denying the obvious.