Former President Goodluck Jonathan Monday canvassed the overhaul of the electoral process to make the electorate the ultimate decision-makers in an election, saying winners should be decided through the ballot box rather than the court.
He described the undue intervention of the judiciary in the determination of election winners in the country as unhealthy for democracy.
Jonathan, who was a guest at a youth foundation programme in Abuja, hosted by the Founder of TOS Foundation, Ms. Osasu Igbinedion, stated that the prevailing tough political environment in the country has not helped the quest for more women’s participation in politics.
He said the judiciary had overreached itself by taking over the function of selecting elected leaders.
According to him, the standard practice is that the electoral management bodies exercise the sole responsibility of returning candidates and declaring winners while the judiciary complements by either upholding declared results or nullifying flawed elections and ordering a rerun.
He said: “I had already made a public statement on that to the effect that the ballot paper and not the judiciary should determine who wins elections or select political leaders. The ballot paper should be the only basis for selecting political leaders.”
Jonathan, however, stated that countries that conduct free and fair elections experience less election-related litigations while numerous court cases following elections are the hallmark of fragile democracies.
He added: “I have said this before and I will always repeat it. I am not saying the judiciary is not doing well. But my point is that our laws should suppress the issue of the judiciary returning candidates. If a candidate is declared the winner after a flawed electoral process, what the courts can do is to annul the election and order a fresh one, where a winner will finally emerge through the ballot. The ballot paper should decide who holds any elective office from the councillorship to the presidency. That is democracy.”
According to him, “In Nigeria today, the judiciary selects political leaders and this is not the best. The ballot papers should be the basis of selecting political leaders. If it is the judiciary that will select, it means that we are not yet there.”
The former president, while admitting that some funds might be needed in elections, especially in the area of logistics during campaigns, frowned upon the negative way money is deployed in inducing voters, electoral officials and security operatives to subvert the electoral process.
Speaking on the factors affecting women’s participation in politics and governance, Jonathan said most political parties and Nigerians believed that men are stronger and more rugged to overcome the tough political terrain to win elections.
According to him, political parties are desperate to win elections and as such will want to field male candidates for elections.
Jonathan explained: “Nigeria’s political environment is very tough and because of this option of the winner takes all, it is a very dangerous option. People feel that on average, men are stronger in terms of struggling to win these elections.
“They believe that considering our political environment, something that has not yet been sanitised properly, that it is easier for men to play more rugged politics with all kinds of night meetings. They felt that men can do better.
“So political parties are not very willing to send women, not that they don’t allow the woman because they pass through the primaries, but since you must win elections to take advantage of the numbers in terms of proportional representation, political parties are not very willing to send women.”
Jonathan stated that though he tried to get more women into his cabinet during his tenure, putting them into elective offices was difficult.
He said it was not easy influencing the governors to do one’s bidding due to the semi-autonomous nature of the states.
He also expressed concern over what he described as excessive money politics in the country, adding that his experience with the monitoring of elections in neighbouring African countries showed that Nigerians spend more money in contesting elections than other countries.
The former president also spoke on the failure of governance at the local government level.
He said: “The greatest failure we have in this country is the failure of the local government administration. Our local government system has failed and we must admit it.”
Jonathan stressed the need to reform the local government system because it is only when things are functioning properly at the grassroots level that the country can develop.
Chuks Okocha and Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja