Former military Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar and ex-Chairman of the National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof Attahiru Jega have blamed politicians for the nations’ inability to achieve electoral integrity and ensure political stability.
They accused politicians in Nigeria, and by extension, Africa for not only being self-centred, but lacked the will power to play by the rules, allow votes count and abide by the decisions made by the electoral bodies.
Abubakar noted that the problem of political instability in Nigeria, and in other African countries results from the tendency of the leaders manipulate the system to perpetuate themselves in office. Jega argued that Nigeria, and other African countries are unable to put in place credible electoral process because of the urge by politicians to win at all cost.
They spoke in Abuja yesterday while presenting papers at the on-going Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). Abubakar’s paper was titled “Political transitions in Africa: Lessons to learn,” while Jega’s paper was titled: “Political transition and governance: Electioneering and citizenry perspective.”
Abubakar, who spoke on his experience both while in office and his involvement in peace missions in many troubled countries in Africa, also spoke on how spoke they were able to manage the Nigerian electoral transition in 2015.
He said: “The genesis of Africa’s political problems is the action of its sit-tight leaders who do all they can to amend the constitution in order to perpetuate themselves. These leaders have the tendency to manipulate very vital democratic organs particularly, the Legislature, and even sometimes, the Judiciary to suppress any dissenting voice.”
“For a country or community or association to live in peace and harmony, there must be the will power to abide by the rules, and diligently observe the principles in discharging one’s responsibilities bestowed by the people and the good Lord, because at the end, you will be called to account for your deeds.”
“Under the auspices of a peace initiative, we brokered the acceptance by leading contestants of some form of a Memorandum of Understanding with them to agree to accept the outcome of the elections, preach cordiality in relations and conduct peaceful campaigns.
“It is gratifying to note that, courtesy of our humble effort and the goodwill extended to it by the contestants and the Nigerian public, the 2015 national ?elections were conducted peacefully.
“To his eternal credit, the then incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, who lost the polls had the magnanimity to concede defeat and congratulate the candidate of the opposition party. In the end, peace, amity and political stability prevailed in the land,” Abubakar said.
Jega argued that there was the need for politicians in the country to have a change of mindset and for the political umpire to show its ability to be independent and fair to all, for the nation to attain credible political system.
He faulted the argument that the nation a strong leader to grow, but argued that what the country needs to ensure a stable and credible electoral system and attain development was a comment leader, who knows what to do at the right time.
Jega said: “From my experience, I am convinced that electoral integrity is key to stable political transition and to ensuring that there is a framework for good governance and societal development. Electoral integrity is not just about the integrity of the election management body. It is also the integrity with which the key stakeholders engage with the electoral process.
“It also has to do with the integrity with which other institutions of governance – the Judiciary and law enforcement agencies – engage with the electoral process. In most African country, and no doubt in Nigeria, there is a deficit of that integrity. And we have to all work very hard in order to keep on improving this foundation of successful transition and framework of bringing about good governance.
“One of the key obstacle to having elections with integrity, to my mind, is what I call the mindset of the key stakeholders in the elections, namely the politicians/ and that mindset, regrettably is the mindset of self-serving disposition, in which a politician says ‘I want to win this election and I want to win either by hook or by crook, and by all means necessary.’
“Obviously, we also know that at one time, sitting President of this country characterised election as a do or die affair. So, it is a mentality which really is not only short sighted and has no long term public disposition, but which is very narrow and too self-serving.
“Until we are able to deal with this mindset of winning election by hook or by crook, there will remain to be challenges in terms of how we are able to bring integrity to the elections and how we are able to bring a sable and peaceful political transition. Obviously, all other categories of stakeholders in the electioneering process need to conduct themselves and participate in the electoral process responsibly and with integrity.
“There is no doubt that the electoral body itself has the most important responsibility to ensure that it displays relative independence in the way it discharges its functions, it displays competence and capacity in the way it manages and conducts elections, and also displays not only professionalism, but also, impartiality and nor-partisanship[ei1] in the way in which it conducts its responsibilities.
“In Nigeria, this is a very difficult thing to do. When you have leaders, who want to win election by hook or by crook, and they see the electoral commission as the mechanism through which they can win without campaigning, without working hard to get the electorate to vote for them, by getting people in the electoral commission to just write and declare results for them, then that is what they want to do.
“They will bring all sought of pressure on officials of the commission at the highest level if they cannot get what they want at that level, then they go down the chain. And that represents a very serious and dangerous activities which undermine the integrity of the electoral process.
“Obviously, recognising the need for electoral integrity, in the period that I was at INEC, we tried to pay attention to that. It is very important that for INEC to present itself as an independent, impartial, non-partisan body that also has the competence and capacity to delivery on credible election.”