Mr. Auwal Ibrahim Musa Rafsanjani, presently a delegate at the ongoing National Conference is the executive director at Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC). He told KAMAL TAYO OROPO that the readiness of the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) for the February 2015 general elections is yet to be seen.
How ready does INEC appear to you in preparation for the 2015 general elections?
INEC has always assured Nigerians of its readiness only for the people to be disappointed and the commission will start apologising and offering all manner of after-thought excuses and telling the people over and over again that they are going to improve on things.
But from what we have seen in Anambra State and the voters’ register in Ekiti State, it shows that there is still a lot to be done in order to boost the confidence of Nigerians that the umpire is ready.
And secondly, we have not seen much of civic education coming from INEC and even the political parties. This is a big lacuna. Many Nigerians still make a lot of mistake in terms of campaign themes and issues, knowing and following procedures on electoral process. And that is where we expect INEC, through its public education department, to really come to town to sensitise and educate Nigerians.
This is why it is important to start making the effort and waking the commission to its duties. Like I said, INEC has not been able to convince anyone that it has been active in civic education and enlightenment. And the civil societies have limited resources to do some of these things and to get the electorate to get to comply with electoral procedures. If the political parties and INEC have not been doing what they are supposed to be doing; we in the civil society are expressing serious concern.
Again, the commission has not been seen to be taking a very firm stand on erring political parties, who have engaged in serious violations of the electoral act. For example, the Special Adviser to the President on political matters has allegedly written a letter to all the ministries and parastatals to contribute certain amount of money to the re-election bid of President Goodluck Jonathan. This is a gross violation of the Electoral Act and a calculated attempt to steal or divert public fund. INEC, to the best of my knowledge, has done nothing to caution those who are busy undermining the Electoral Acts in this brazen manner.
Truth is that the commission has hardly inspired confidence in many people that it is ready for this coming election. We look at the February 2015 election as if we are talking of an event in a distant future, but like I said, the election is tomorrow. INEC’s role has gone far beyond just waking up on Election Day, conduct election and going to bed. They have to realize that they are the regulatory body of the electoral system, ensuring that the rules of the game are adhered to and the procedures are not compromised; unfortunately, we have not seen that coming from INEC. This extortion the agents of government are doing in the name contributing to the president’s re-election is an issues the commission should have taken a very progressive and firm action against.
But if you keep quiet because it is the ruling party or you would be seen as being partial, you are just setting a very bad precedent. Definitely, one day the table will turn.
There are certain things the commission must ensure are not condoned, no matter whose horse is gored. Indeed, there is so much left to be done by INEC and if we just allow things to go the way they are going, the whole system may boomerang on the faces of all; Nigerians would continue to be disappointed by the INEC and the commission will continue to tell the people that they had a very short time to do their work.
How comfortable are you with effort made so far on update of voters’ register?
This is part of the problem we have been talking about. The voters’ register is supposed to be updated and at very regular basis. Somebody may be 17 years last year and under our laws he or she will be eligible to vote by now, but if the document is not being updated to capture this, would that not amount to willfully disenfranchising a certain category of persons?
We should not see this election as if it is just an event. It is a process, a procedure and a continuous exercise. INEC work is not tied to only conducting election on election day. It is a continuous exercise that we are supposed to be doing. Unfortunately, that has not been the case. This time around when you conduct election, you are going to need a lot of people doing the right thing at the right time. INEC has not also done enough to clean the voters’ register after some people registered twice or more. We have not seen that demonstrated properly. The sanctions against electoral malpractices are too poor to deter any would-be electoral offender.
Looking at the security situation in the Northeast, do you think that part of the country will be ready for this election in 2015?
The sole responsibility of the government is to ensure protection of life and property of the citizens and if the government should flounder in that responsibility, we should hold the government accountable; and responsible for whatever that is happening in that part of the country.
It is clear that a lot of what is happening in the name of insurgency has got many Nigerians worried about the true state of things. People are beginning to wonder, and frequently so, if security agents are not involved in the insurgency. Many are now convinced that it is not ordinary people that are doing what they (the so-called Boko Haram) are doing. These people are acting with a lot military precision, only acquired through military training.
Is the election good to hold by February in some of these troubled zones?
Election is very possible because it is the role and responsibility of the government to ensure that election holds and that wherever there is a problem, such problem is confronted headlong. You don’t wait and allow the situation to deteriorate to the extent that when it now comes to election time, you would come up with the excuse that you cannot conduct election because there is insecurity; when you had all the time in the world to put a stop to the insecurity. It is dereliction of duty.
As far as we are concerned the government is responsible for ensuring that election holds even in this trouble spots. We can see clearly that this is not an act from children who do not know how to hold guns but people who are trained. What’s more, it is not everywhere you have the challenge of insecurity in the Northeast; it’s some pocket of places and these are done through active connivance of some security people. The government must assure Nigerians that this is not part of the calculated attempt to rig election or make sure that some part of the country would be unable to exercise their electoral franchise.
As a delegate at the national conference, some have argued that the conference was put in place to distract attention from the general election. Why can’t the national conference be postponed till after elections?
What I see about the national conference is that it is an opportunity to voice out concerns and worries about the state of the nation. The outcome of this conference, hopefully, would assist in the constitutional development of the country.