Ordinarily the Nigerian Senate’s rejection of Ms Lauretta Onochie, a Presidential aide, as a Commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should be a victory for democracy and for Nigerians in general. It ought to have signposted a refreshing hope for the increasing role of public opinion and social advocacy in the continuing struggle to shape and enthrone democratic ethos and tenets in our polity.
Regrettably however, the odious timidity displayed by our elected representatives by claiming that Onochie’s nomination was turned down for violating the federal character principle, cut short that victory. That our elected representatives embarrassingly lacked the courage to reject Onochie’s nomination for being openly partisan and unqualified is condemnable. In saner democratic climes, Onochie’s name would never have been put forward in the first place.
Coming fast on the heels of the Onochie charade is the latest move by the nation’s National Assembly to clearly undermine future elections in Nigeria. Majority of Senators from the ruling party arguing on a false premise that only 43 per cent of Nigeria have internet network voted in support of a clause that allows the executive and legislative arms of government to dictate the activities of INEC in the discharge of its constitutional duties.
The amended clause to Section 52(3) of the new Electoral Act which read that: “The Commission may transmit results of elections by electronic means where and when practicable” was brazenly changed to an unconstitutional clause that now reads that: “the commission may consider electronic transmission, provided the national network coverage is adjudged to be adequate and secure by the Nigerian Communications Commission, and approved by the National Assembly.”
The National Association of Seadogs (Pyrates Confraternity) also notes with disappointment and displeasure, a similar scenario that played out in the House of Representatives prompting the minority caucus of the House to stage a walkout over deliberate steps taken by the leadership of the House to suppress dissenting voices against the plan to rail-road the Green Chamber into skipping the amendment of clause 52(3).
Nigeria’s elections have been known to be replete with manipulations occurring in the course of manual collation and transmission of results by road. Numerous incidents of forgery and falsification of manually collated results have been recorded in previous polls; a disturbing shortcoming which the electronic transmission of results aimed at eliminating before it was scuttled by lawmakers from the ruling party.
The National Assembly by this singular act has stripped INEC of its powers to superintend over transparent elections. It has, in one fell swoop, unduly arrogated powers to itself and NCC to ambush INEC, rein it in, and stifle genuine efforts at improving the nation’s electoral fortunes.
It is both interesting and reassuring to note that, in the light of this latest dubious shenanigans by the legislative arm of government, INEC through its National Commissioner for Information and Voter Education, Mr Festus Okoye has once again, and for the umpteenth time, reiterated the electoral umpire’s preparedness for the deployment of electronic transmission of election results, after having tested the process in remote areas during the 2020 Edo governorship election. More recently, the Chairman of Association of Licensed Telecom Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Mr Gbenga Adebayo also declared that telecom operators have the capacity to transmit election results electronically in all parts of the country. That the leadership of the National Assembly controlled by the ruling party will stick to its guns, even after this most recent repudiation of its anti-people stance by the electoral body and ALTON beggars belief.
We call on members of the ruling party in the National Assembly to immediately rescind this retrogressive decision, and desist from giving the impression that it is averse to free, fair and credible elections. Failure to do this leaves us and fellow Nigerians with no other option than to implore President Muhammadu Buhari to live up to his oft-repeated pledge to bequeath the nation with credible and enduring elections and withhold his assent to the obnoxious bill. He should dissociate himself from the unpatriotic plan to further endanger democracy in Nigeria. The President has a glorious opportunity to walk his talk, and help to sustain democracy by placing national interest above base partisan considerations. Nigerians are watching!