Politicians, major threat to fair polls – Jega

Former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Attahiru Jega, on Thursday in Abuja reflected on the success of the 2015 general elections and advocated a thorough reform of the electoral process before the 2019 general elections.

Such reforms, he said, were necessary to correct recurrent mistakes and check excesses of politicians who he described as “a major threat to a free and fair election in the country.”

The ex-INEC chairman said Nigeria should implement the recommendations of the Justice Muhammed Uwais Electoral Reforms Committee.

“We must put the next four years to even better use by ensuring the implementation of those outstanding and very good recommendations of the ERC, which have not been acted upon; the completion of the outstanding amendments to the legal framework, as well as the bringing about of additional reform measures to deepen and consolidate our electoral democracy. I therefore urge that we must all, old and young, but especially the youths, embrace electoral reforms and demand for more,” Jega advised.

He stated that Nigeria ranked among countries in the world with a long history of badly conducted elections.

According to him, the 2007 general elections remains the worst election ever conducted in the political history of Nigeria.

Jega said this in a lecture entitled, “Electoral reforms in Nigeria: Challenges and prospects,” which he delivered during the maiden edition of the University of Abuja Public Lecture Series, where he also expressed optimism that the new INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, would do well.

He said, “It is not yet uhuru in terms of sustainable election in Nigeria, because there are still many outstanding challenges. There is need to reform the electoral process before the 2019 elections to consolidate democracy in Nigeria. As long as politicians continue to have this unwholesome mindset, efforts at electoral reform and deepening democracy would remain constrained.

“Given the fact that elections are the major pillar of leadership selection and governance legitimisation in liberal democracies, constant and unseizing effort for the reformation of the electoral process is an imperative in all countries that are democratising.

“It is especially necessary in countries in transition to democracy, such as Nigeria, where there is a long history of badly conducted elections; where elections have been bastardised, and where many voters have become despondent and have virtually given up hope of their votes counting in choosing their elected executives or representatives in legislatures.

“INEC faced perhaps its greatest challenge in containing the predisposition and reckless mindset of Nigerian politicians. From my experience, I quite often say that Nigeria has a special breed of politicians (Nee: ‘Militicians’). They generally tend to believe that political power through elections has to be “captured” and this has to be done by hook or by crook; and by any means necessary!

“Them, winning election is, literally “a do-or-die” affair. Any wonder then, that our political arena increasingly resembled a bloody battlefield, with maiming, killing, burning, and unimaginable destruction of lives and property. Navigating the ‘minefield’ of ‘do-or-die’ politicians as an impartial electoral umpire required nerves of steel, and we had to quickly have the requisite thick skin, as well as appropriate containment strategies.”

The former INEC boss said INEC was able to check politicians and navigate their ‘minefield’ through compliance with the laws and insisting on same and respect for due process, as well as being non partisan and transparent.

However, Jega said this had remained a formidable challenge for the future reformation of the Nigerian electoral process.

Jega insisted on a good legal framework as a necessary precondition for credible elections in line with international best practice.

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