A former national chairman of Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC),Professor Attahiru Jega, has said the idea of rotational presidency was not foolproof and would therefore not take Nigeria out of its present political and economic challenges.
Speaking on ARISE NEWS Monday night, he explained that whether power remained in the North or in the South, Nigeria at the moment needed the best person to be the president – one who is competent, with capacity and experience to be able to get the country out of her present situation.
Jega, who disagreed with former Military President Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, over the age bracket of those, who should aspire to be president in 2023, also spoke about the electoral amendment bill before the National Assembly, which he said should not be passed without addressing certain critical elements else it would create more problems than it sought to solve.
His words: “That person can come from the North, South, East or the West but the important thing is that even if political parties decide that a candidate should come from a particular area, what we need to do is that Nigerians must interrogate the capacity of that person to lead this country appropriately.”
According to him, apart from the two major political parties in Nigeria (APC and PDP),Nigeria should have an alternative platform that would bring good people that really are selfless and focused in terms of addressing the challenges that have been bedevilling this country.
“To me, that is probably the best way for us to begin to address the challenges that face our economy. It can be any party but I have joined PRP and I think it is a good platform to drive that process. You know membership of a political party is free choice but I am saying that the way we are trying to reposition PRP, it will be a good platform for people to come and for us to put hands together to addresses the challenges of this country,” he added
Jega, who had been campaigning that Nigerians should not vote either the APC or the PDP, but the PRP, said, “Our politics needs to be better than it is presently. We have two dominant parties in Nigeria and we have seen how they have managed our politics and our economy. It is clear that there are not much to be desired in the way they have ran this country.”
He said as a political scientist, his take was that there were good people in those parties but the parties were dominated by people, whom he could say without fear of contradiction, put too much of their selfish and personal interests rather than the national interest in all they do.
Jega said as far as he was concerned, the president of Nigeria should be the best choice of the people of Nigeria, adding that age should not matter.
“As a political scientist, I have read about Nigerian politics, I understand the challenges and I have also had the privilege for five years of relating relatively more loosely with Nigerian politicians, so, I have a clear appreciation of the serious challenges that Nigeria faces particularly, the dangerous trajectory, which many of our politicians are leading this country to and if we all sit and watch and allow this, in no time they would wreck this country.”
To do better and deepen Nigeria’s democracy, Jega said first of all, Nigerians should ensure that, “we respect the constitution, we comply with the rule of law and we should also ensure that whoever is in power has the national interest as his focus rather than personal idiosyncratic tendencies. If we can do that, a lot of the challenges that we face now and the perception of inequity and lack of opportunity will be remarkably addressed.”
He stressed that Nigerians could also improve the process remarkably by having good people rather than sitting and watching reckless people wrecking our country, to come and alter that trajectory that is going to lead us to self-destruction as a nation, if care is not taken.
“Every Nigerian has the responsibility and everyone knows things are not right in this country. So, we need to ensure that good people come in and there are good people everywhere,” he said.
On Babangida’s age prescription, he stated: “That is his (Babangida) personal opinion. But as far as I am concerned, the President of Nigeria should be the best choice of the people of Nigeria. Age may not matter.”
Asked about who he was referring to in his recent statement that those in power have betrayed Nigerians, who elected them, Jega said there was much to be desired in the way the executive and the National Assembly approached the electoral amendment process.
He stressed that there were things that they needed to do and they have not paid attention to and there are things they are trying to do, which would create more problems than it would solve if they proceeded the way they were going.
Clarifying his recent statement where he urged Nigerians not to vote for the APC and the PDP in 2023, Jega said the country’s politics needed to be better than it is presently.
The former INEC chairman said there were three critical issues that make an election credible. He explained that one key area is the mindset of the politicians; the capacity of INEC to prepare for elections effectively and efficiently, which is the second; and the legal framework which is the third.
“Now in the Nigeria context, whatever INEC does, if our politicians have a mindset of winning elections by hook or by crook and they are willing to deploy resources to influence both the legal process and the operational mechanisms of comforting elections, they are obviously very serious challenges that will continue to bedevil the integrity of the electoral process. And to be honest, that is what to my mind we are seeing in Nigeria presently,” he said.
Jega stressed that the Electoral Act Amendment bill being considered by the National Assembly should and could have been better than what was passed, adding that since 2010, he has not seen remarkable improvement in the legal framework for elections in our country.
To this end, he pointed out that any effort to improve that legal framework would be commendable and acceptable, but added that one would have expected that members of the National Assembly expressed their minds clearly on some of the key issues that could have enhanced the integrity of the electoral process.
Jega stated: “And looking at the bill that they are now considering, I see at least three key areas where there are serious challenges if they are not addressed and they pass the bill the way it is, will create more problems that it would solve.”
He explained that while INEC could try to develop competence and capacity into organising elections efficiently, effectively and transparently, it could not influence the mindset of the politicians, who were desperate to win the election by hook or by crook.
“What Gen. Obasanjo at that time called it a do or die affair. Obviously INEC is kind of handicapped in dealing with that kind of mindset.”
Asked if there are no laws to check these excesses, Jega decried that the politicians truncated the laws, they operated with impunity, they deployed resources, the security, pointing out that INEC was not a security organisation, but the security agencies appeared incapable of addressing some of the challenges facing the electoral process.
Against this background, Jega said there was a need for a robust legal framework to ensure that certain things were done appropriately.
He added that there were two contradictory provisions in the Electoral Act, which really needed to be addressed.
Jega noted that on the one hand, a Section says once a party conducts its primaries and submits candidates to INEC, it cannot change it for any reason whatsoever, and on the other hand, another Section of the Electoral Act says that parties are to conduct their affairs through the democratic process.
He explained that there were situations where political parties exploited the Section, where it said INEC could not change the name of candidates submitted to it but submitting names of those that came fourth in the primary election or even someone, who did not even participate in the process and INEC could not change it, because that was what the law said.
The former INEC chairman said INEC was supposed to be an institution that operated within the legal framework, but that if the legal framework was not robust enough to empower INEC to do what it ought to do to improve the integrity of the electoral process, there would be serious challenges.
“The whole idea of electoral amendment is to improve the legal framework. The 2010 Electoral Act as amended is certainly better than the 2006 Electoral Act, which preceded it. But there are still areas that need to be improved on. I have told you one area which since 2011, when I was there. After the election, we discovered how political parties were exploiting the legal framework to undermine the democratic process and INEC could do nothing about it, because the law really arm-strong its capacity to do it. Those are the things you expect that would improve.
“Before the 2019 election, at the last minute, something was done but it was never signed into law until after the election. And now we are expecting before 2023 that we can have a much remarkable; more improved Electoral legal framework. And I’m telling you from what we have seen from the draft bill under consideration by the Senate and yeah, House of Representatives, there are going to be serious remarkable constraints, rather than creating a better framework.”