Immediate past Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega has said excesses and recklessness of crooked politicians and their inimical activities to Nigeria’s electoral process must be substantially addressed ahead of the 2019 general election.
To this end, the former chairman of the electoral umpire advocated the urgent need to reforms the Nigeria electoral processes to facilitate credibility future elections.
He maintained that such reforms should encourage volunteerism, which in turn would create avenue for additional groups of professionals such as engineers, doctors and journalists to be part of the electoral processes.
Speaking at a programme organized by the University of Lagos (UNILAG) Muslim Community in collaboration with the Muslim Ummah of Southwestern Nigeria last week, Jega in a lecture titled: ‘Volunteers in the Nigerian Electoral Process: Challenges and Prospects,’ said if his advice was heeded, the excesses and recklessness of crooked politicians would be curtailed.
Expatiating on the significance of volunteer groups to credible election process, Jega posited that globally, citizens’ engagement in the electoral processes as volunteers range from volunteer work in political party and candidate campaigns to engagement in sensitization, enlightenment, voter, civic and political education, election observation and even more significantly, volunteering for election/polling day activities.
He said in liberal democracy, volunteerism is supposed to be a civic duty expected of all citizens, encapsulated in the civic culture; which encourages participation, civility, patriotism and selfless service with integrity to the community and the country.
He urged Nigerians, most importantly as the 2019 general election is fast approaching, to start thinking of what they can do for the country to have credible election rather than personal or selfish interest that could be derived from the process.
According to him, “Volunteer work is perceived as a high call to duty, in the service of community, country and humanity.”
He pointed to the fact that the Nigerian electoral process used to be one of the worst in the world in terms of integrity compared to other climes, when measured with international standards and expectations of free, fair, peaceful and credible elections. Jega hinged his claim on the 2007 election which was widely acclaimed as the worst in the Nigeria’s electoral history as a typical example,.
According to him, “No electoral commission in the world has enough poll workers in its employment to conduct elections. Volunteers help to enlighten, mobilize and motivate voters and support the conduct of credible elections. Therefore, the case for increased role of volunteers in the Nigerian electoral process cannot be over-emphasised.
“It is necessary and desirable and if appropriately deployed can add tremendous value to having elections with integrity, with positive spin-off effects on good democratic governance.
“Since Nigeria has chosen liberal democracy as the political and governance system, citizens’ active participation and constructive involvement are prerequisites for its entrenchment, stability and legitimacy.”
Citing examples, Jega said during Germany’s 2017 general elections, with 88,000 polling stations, using between 5-9 persons (an average of seven persons per polling station, about 650,000 volunteers were deployed, each were paid 35 Euros, equivalent of N16,245.00.
Recalling also the 2015 general elections in the United Kingdom with approximate 120,000 polling officials, Jega said polling clerks were deployed on election day and each of them were paid between 100-190 pounds, which was about N40, 000 to N76, 000 for a 15-hour work.
Coming to the situation in Nigeria where he said strong public institutions, with professional, and essentially neutral civil servants, are lacking, the former INEC boss said such development usually left the handing of elections to civil servants, which in most cases jeopardized the credibility and integrity of elections.
Said he, “The role of such volunteers (civil servant) becomes highly politicised to the advantage of incumbents. In such a context, the role of citizen volunteers instead of civil servants, assumes primacy.”
To buttress his argument, Jega stated that until the 2010 Anambra State governorship elections and 2011 general elections, civil servants and INEC permanent staff performed on election day from opening of polls, to management of polling units, counting of votes and declaration of results.
According to him, “Given the weaknesses of public institutions, threats to job security of civil servants by incumbent governors and lack of neutrality or non-partisanship of public officials, and corruption, the integrity of elections were systematically undermined at the polling unit level by multidimensional fraudulent activities. The anticlimax of all of these reached its zenith in the 2007 general elections.
“One of the key reform measures introduced by INEC beginning with the 2011 general elections, and improved upon subsequently, was the removal of civil servants and permanent INEC staff from core election day duties, especially management of the polling stations/units, counting and declaration of results.
“These were replaced with volunteers, drawn from the NYSC (as Presiding Officers POs and Assistant Presiding Officers APOs), students of federal tertiary institutions (as supplementary polling officials), and university academic staff (as collation and returning officers). The roles of these selected and carefully chosen volunteers in general conferred remarkable credibility and integrity to the 2011 and 2015 general elections, illustrated by the commendation they received in the reports of virtually all domestic and international observer groups for these elections.”
Jega stated that credible roles played by these volunteers helped to cure the image of the INEC as an election management body that indulged in fraudulent elections and sold results to the highest bidder, a negative image, which was acquired by the past conduct of some civil servants and INEC permanent staff involved in the previous elections.
He however lamented series of cases where Youth Corps members were threatened, intimidated, assaulted, maimed and even killed in the course of doing voluntary election duties which has led most of them to succumb to threats, intimidation and perpetrated and condoned fraudulent activities and thereby committing electoral offenses.
“Corrupt politicians are beginning to find creative ways to compromise Youth Corps members and some students involved in election duties. They are even increasingly penetrating and compromising seemingly credible CSOs. Some of these who are caught have been prosecuted, but many may have escaped arrest and prosecution.”