Immediate past President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Austin Alegeh, recently blamed the Independent National Electoral Commission for the recent spate of inconclusive polls in the country. In this interview with Today’s Impact Gbade Adeniyi, Alegeh’s colleague and legal icon, Olisa Agbakoba, contradicted his position and, instead, blamed politicians.
There’s been a lot of criticism of the Independent National Electoral Commission for the rising cases of inconclusive elections. What’s your take?
I think the starting point is not to just focus on INEC. The starting point is to look at the immature political culture that we have; where it is winners take all and the do-or-die politics, as acknowledged by former President Olusegun Obasanjo. In that context, people will kill their mothers for power. Now, if people can be that desperate, then they are prepared to subvert all institutions. Whether it is EFCC, whether it is INEC, whether it is the court.
Sometimes people don’t understand that we have an absolutely immature political culture. Now we have two main political parties. You know that, don’t you? The APC and..
Sure, and the PDP…
(Cuts in)….no the PDP is in tatters. APC is absolutely shaky. They have arms of the APC clearly not functioning well. It’s clear to anybody who wants to look carefully. So in real terms, we have politicians masquerading on the platform of the party that is convenient for them. And whenever it suits them, they will jump ship. In that context, national institutions are subverted. So every challenge you see, whether in the court to delay election petition cases, or whether INEC does not call for election as at when due or even declare it inconclusive, the main problem is the weak political structure. If we have strong political system, then the person who is defeated will accept defeat.
Look at America. In spite of the fact that the Republican Party does not like Donald Trump as a candidate, he has emerged from the primary in a democratic process. We did not see any member of the party leaving to form another party or joining the Democratic Party. They don’t like him, but they are staying. In Nigeria, the opposite is the case. That’s why everything is subverted here, including INEC. That’s the main problem. INEC is not a problem at all. It is the lack of political maturity.
What do you think INEC could do to reduce the level of inconclusiveness of election results? Like what happened in Rivers State, for example.
What can they do? I say what can they do? You tell me. In some cases, when it’s obvious that somebody who shouldn’t be an aspirant jumps out, he files cases, he compresses every single point. There is rigging. There is fighting and thugery . The election is not transparent. When INEC cancels it on those grounds, the party that it does not favour will say INEC is bias, like the situation now in Rivers State where there are quite some challenges. Tell me, what do you expect INEC to do?
But if the election is free, fair credible and transparent, INEC will not declare it inconclusive. But our politicians are prepared to stretch the process, anyway they can. INEC, in my view, should even wield a bigger and stronger stick. So I am making the point that INEC is not where to look when we are talking about ending the issue of inconclusive election.
What do you mean by ‘INEC should wield a bigger stick’?
They should follow what the rule says strictly, and take strong and tough decisions, regardless of what people say. You will find out when a referee is refereeing a match and he’s tough, it puts players in their position. So one way INEC can do more is to be a tougher referee, to exercise to the fullest effect the powers given to it by the law. It should therefore prosecute more. Like those who have subverted elections by rigging or committing other electoral offences.
When we sat for the Uwais Committee on the Reform of Electoral Process, we recommended the Electoral Offences Commission, because we knew INEC could not do this work. And that leads us to another problem; INEC is doing far too much. There are so many functions of INEC. First, INEC prints all the materials for elections. Second, INEC deals with political parties’ regulations. Third, it conducts elections, which is its primary job. Fourth, it prosecutes offence, which I don’t think it should be its job. They spend a lot of time in logistics. They spend time prosecuting offences. So if we can just focus INEC to be a referee, as we recommended in the Uwais report.