The Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, says efforts to amend the electoral laws to improve electoral processes in Nigeria would amount to little unless the stakeholders changed their attitude to the laws.
He insisted that “Shortcomings that flow from deliberate human actions or inactions in clear breach of the laws cannot be blamed on the laws”.
This was even as he made a strong case for early, staggered, and direct primaries, which he explained was on the agenda of the 8th Senate to lift the credibility and democratic quotients of the nation’s electoral processes.
Ekweremadu stated this in Abuja at the Discussion Series on Electoral Reforms organized by the Nigerian Bar Association, Abuja branch, on Thursday.
The Senator maintained that “the nation will only have electoral processes marred by willful manipulation, reckless judicial interventions, induced violence, vote selling and buying, abuse of power, and disregard for the law unless critical stakeholders play by the rule”.
He added that “the tragedy of our electoral system is never in the lack of laws, but the lack of respect and proper implementation of the laws”.
Continuing, he said: “This is why sometimes, even the most revered institutions of democracy, which their neutrality should be sacrosanct, to boost confidence in the electoral system, literally descend into the fray. Such institutions of democracy must not only be fair and immune from the political fray but must also be seen to be so”.
The Senator, who also chairs the Senate Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution, expressed worries that whereas Section 76 of the Constitution as well the Election Petition Tribunals and courts have always been clear on timeframe for bye-elections or reruns to fill vacancies occurring in the National and State Houses of Assembly, “it took two separate resolutions by the Senate to compel the Independent National Electoral Commission to fix a date for the remaining rerun elections in Rivers State”.
He further regretted that “whereas Section 14 (2) of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, provides for a Resident Electoral Commissioner, (REC) for each State of the Federation and the FCT to ensure that INEC performs optimally in delivering credible elections, as I speak, 28 States of the Federation have no RECs”.
Meanwhile, Senator Ekweremadu has slammed the nation’s primary elections and campaign processes. He said, “the primaries are rushed, campaigns are shallow, and conversations are mundane, while some parties and their candidates shun debates outright, hence the electorates are unable to sound candidates out on their mouth-watering campaign promises, especially how they intend to fulfill them”.
He made a case for the United States of America and Ghana examples where primary elections are staggered, direct, and begin quite early, ahead of the general elections.
He explained: “Article 11 (2)(b) of the constitution of the National Peoples Party, NPP, Ghana, provides that parliamentary candidates shall be elected at least twelve (12) months before the National General Election, while Article 12 provides that presidential primary shall be held not later than twenty-four (24) months (two years) from the date of the national elections.
“Such early primaries allow the candidates enough time to raise adequate funds for the bigger contest and avail them and their parties sufficient time to campaign in every part of the constituency or country. The people are also in a better position to initiate and define national conversations and debates about the identity, direction, defining ideologies, manifesto, and character of candidates and political parties”.
Ekweremadu further stated that in furtherance to 2010 amendments to the Constitution, which provides for the time limit for disposal of election petitions, the Senate was also working to ensure that pre-election litigations were concluded before the general elections.