Former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Prof. Attahiru Jega, Monday, raised the alarm, saying there were danger signals over the 2019 general elections.
He also noted that said it was through God’s intervention that the country was not thrown into constitutional crisis during the 2015 general elections.
Prof. Jega, who raised the alarm while delivering the 2018 Democracy Day lecture in Abuja, also told the federal government to ensure that security operatives display high sense of professionalism and neutrality in the forthcoming elections..
He further said there was deficit of good governance in the country and that the government should not only be concentrating on theft and embezzlement in its fight against corruption, but should do something about bribe taking at all strata of government.
According to him, bribe taking is getting worse in government, especially at the National Assembly.
He alleged that committees in the National Assembly were notorious and reckless in seeking bribe, stressing that chief executives such as Vice Chancellors were the victims, committee heads always demand bribe from them during over sight functions.
The former INEC chairman, who said that the INEC was currently confronted by electoral challenges, noted that the plethora of violence witnessed during the just concluded congresses of the All Progressives Congress, APC, portended great danger and threat to democracy.
He said if political parties could not observe internal democracy and conduct peaceful congresses, it was a dangerous sign over what would happen in the general elections.
Besides, he lamented increasing hate speeches by political actors, opinion and religious leaders which, he said, were capable of triggering of violence.
Speaking on the danger signs as the 2019 elections draw nearer, Jega said, “The first thing to consider is 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 organize their internal elections peacefully, how can they engage the other parties with civilities in the general elections? It is very important that this is addressed because if there is crisis in the elections, 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 utterance by opinion leaders, religious leaders, political leaders that facilitate electoral violence in general elections. So these have been tamed.
“Again, we must have serious measures that the rule of law is complied with, so effective prosecution is very important to mitigate this challenge. Otherwise, if we allow the intensity this is going right now, it will undermine the integrity of the 2019 elections.”
Constitutional crisis in 2015 elections
“I kept giving examples of some aspects of existing legal framework which could have created constitutional crisis if not for God’s intervention in 2015. For example, a constitutional provision that requires the electoral commission to conduct a runoff 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 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.”
INEC operating under serious pressure
“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.
“Again, we should be mindful of the ECOWAS protocol that we have signed, which requires all signatories to ensure that any amendment to the electoral legal framework is concluded at least six months before a general elections, ideally it should be at least one year before general elections. ”Because, that is how INEC will be able to put the mechanisms in place in order to improve the process and enhance the chances of electoral integrity.
Security agencies should be neutral, impartial
“The last point I want to make is that security agencies need to display professionalism, neutrality and impartiality.
”This is very important. In fact, in all fairness, the relative success that we had in the 2015 general elections was because of the active engagement of what we call the inter-agency consultative committee and the commitment of the security agencies to do their best under very difficult circumstances.
“I am not saying there were no breaches, in fact, with benefit of hindsight, there were many breaches but there was professionalism and neutrality in the 2015 general elections. But the most important thing is that when you compare the work of the security agencies in 2015 elections to what happened in 2007 elections, it was marginally much better.
”So, as the Senate president said, we need to ensure that things in 2019 are better than 2015 and we must avoid aggression in anyway possible.”
NASS members notorious reckless in demanding for bribe
Lamenting the level corruption in the polity, especially in bribe taking in the ministries and the National Assembly, he said that it had got to a notorious and reckless level.
He said: “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 bribe with impunity.
“I have passed through the university system, I have heard so many stories of so many vice chancellors about the woes they 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 search lights 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.”
In his remarks, President Muhammadu Buhari said a government elected by the people must continually be in touch with the aspirations of the people, and work for their highest possible good.
He said: “The theme of this year’s celebration “Peace Building and Good Governance for Sustainable Development’’ has been carefully selected to reflect our current opportunities and challenges.
“We have experienced rough times, but through good governance, we have not allowed ourselves to be overawed by existing challenges. Weak governance is often at the core of rising inequality and unequal development resulting in social disruption and political unrest with negative impacts on growth and development.
“Accordingly, we have engaged in several rounds of dialogue and town hall meetings, targeted at peace building, between the aggrieved and in some cases warring factions and communities. We have worked hard to dialogue with and if they turn unreasonable decimate insurgents in various parts of the country.
“We are still grappling but successfully, with border disputes and restoring the much needed peaceful co-existence among our people and neighbouring countries.
”The rebuilding of the North East is ongoing, to return our internally displaced brothers, sisters and children to their ancestral homes. Our resolve to fight corruption was informed by the realisation that reducing corruption and ensuring the effective and just utilisation of public resources, are crucial for achieving sustainable growth and development in Nigeria. Corruption has been at the root of most of the development challenges of our country. There can be no progress in any facet of our national life unless we tackle and curb corruption.”
The Senate President, Bukola Saraki, in his message, said the framers of the country’s constitution recognized checks and balances, adding that where such exists, there would be friction and conflict.
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, noted that in democracy globally, there must be compromise among the three arms of government.