Nigerians Losing Faith In Our Elections —Moghalu
By Saheed Salawu
A former presidential candidate, Professor Kingsley Moghalu, has called for a reform of the electoral system in Nigeria for the citizens to believe in the nation’s democracy. Delivering the 2019 Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) of Nigeria Ltd’s Nigerian independence anniversary lecture, Moghalu described electoral reform as Nigeria’s “job number one.”
“Electoral reform is job number one for Nigeria because we have chosen the path of democracy, and so far, our record as a democracy in which the will of the people determines electoral ones is a sorry one. Our elections since 1999 have been trailed by a culture of rigging, electoral violence, voter intimidation, and more recently, direct vote buying.
“Nigerians are losing faith in our country’s electoral process because they believe, with significant justification that their votes do not and will not count. To quote the Russian dictator, Josef Stalin in the early 20th century, “It is not those who vote that count, but those that count the votes”. It is no surprise that voter apathy is high. A total of 84 million people were registered to vote in the 2019 elections. Only 27 million people voted. Given the generally poor performance of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) which as confirmed by the reports of independent election monitors was a retrogression from that of the 2015 elections, we are likely to see even worse levels of citizen and voter apathy in the 2023 elections without fundamental electoral reforms.
“Electoral reform because Nigeria is simply not practising real democracy if we are to be honest with ourselves. Without electoral reform we cannot elect good and competent leaders because broadly corrupt and governance-incompetent politicians who have captured the system will continue to emerge as our “elected’ leaders. Nigeria cannot attain real development on this trajectory.
“We need reforms in four major areas. First, the whole process of registering to vote and voting is onerous and burdensome. Voter registration and voting must be made easier for citizens. Second, we need to create an informed, educated electorate in order to achieve better electoral outcomes. Illiterate and poor citizens form the bulk of voters in Nigeria. We cannot expect them to assess political parties and candidates in an independent and informed manner. The result is that they vote for the same parties and politicians that have kept them poor. Here, I must note that our educated elite and professionals are the most politically apathetic citizens. This must change. Your personal success is increasingly meaningless in a sea of kidnapping, killer herdsmen, poverty and unemployment. We cannot permanently fence out the poor and desperate from our high walls and gated mansions.
“Third, the voting and collation of results must be made more transparent. There is too much room for fabrication of voting results under our current electoral system. The best answer is electronic/ digital voting, backed up with blockchain technology to manage the risks peculiar to this approach.
“Fourth, INEC as an institution, and the Nigerian Constitution and the Electoral Act needs to be amended and brought into alignment. The independence of INEC needs to be guaranteed by removing the power to appoint the Chairman and Commissioners of the Commission from the President, and placed in the hands of a judicial body such as the National Judicial Council,” Moghalu said.
He also called for what he called “constitutional restructuring” if the country would witness true and sustainable development.
“Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution has put a ceiling on our country’s possibilities to strive and thrive as a nation. We are a federation in name only, because constitutional powers, including over natural resources and fiscal revenues therefrom are excessively concentrated in the federal government, with 68 items on the Exclusive Legislature List of the Constitution. Politics in Nigeria is thus all about control of central power and its resource rents. Regional fiscal autonomy will spur more rapid development. Most large land-mass, high-population and ethnically diverse nations practice federalism, a form of government in which constitutional powers are shared and balanced between national and sub-national units. Examples include USA, India, Brazil, and Canada.
“I recommend a constitutional arrangement of Nigeria based on geopolitical/geo-economic zones, with devolution of powers including “resource control”, abolition of local government as a constitutional tier of government (regions should create local government structures) and full separation of religion from the state. Regional governments should contribute a portion of their revenues, say 40 percent (including from mineral resources) to the federal government. This arrangement, closer to what obtained under the 1963 constitution, is what is best for Nigeria. It will enable the regions grow at their individual paces and competitively too. Key functions such as the military, foreign affairs, and the central bank, will remain the responsibility of the federal government. A regional structure will also have the advantage of economies of scale in manufacturing, trade and other economic activities.
“Nigeria needs leadership that faces the future and not our past which should only serve as lessons on what we should avoid or strengthen. We need leadership with a worldview, a national ambition based on which we can build unity of purpose without which we cannot strive, let alone thrive. Without fundamental electoral reform, it will be difficult for this kind of leadership to emerge in our country.
“We often speak of leadership failure, but we as citizens also have a responsibility to engage actively in the political process to ensure the emergence of visionary, competent leaders. This is precisely why I sacrificed my personal resources and comfort, at the risk of life and health, to run as a candidate for the Office of the President in 2019. All too often, our citizens have failed to do their part, but spend much of their time complaining about the status quo while empowering its continuity. It is thus true that every nation gets the leadership it deserves,” he said.