How would you react to the level of violence that characterized the last general election despite the belief that Nigeria’s electoral process has grown beyond such?
We had cases of voters’ suppression in places like Lagos, where some thugs were seen on video threatening Igbo people not to vote if they are not voting for the All Progressives Congress (APC) and we also saw a woman who was injured. I think she was stabbed and she went and got her self-treated and still came back to cast her vote, which made people shocked. Election could not hold in some places due to thuggery. In places like Rivers State, a youth corps members were assaulted, brutalized, ballot boxes where snatched, forceful thumb printing and forcing of INEC to declare manipulated results.
The violence was so widespread; voters’ oppression and intimidation, manipulation of results, among others. These were quite outrageous and we say the case in Abia State, where they tried to inflate results and we had a Returning Officer who was determined not to allow it happened. In other places, when the presidential election was been collated, we say the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) representatives telling the INEC chairman to halt the process and look at the complaints coming from everywhere but he went ahead and announced the results. But during the governorship election we saw how the Returning Officer had to stop the process to find out that there were errors and corrected them.
Does it mean that the Peace Accord signed by all the political parties before the elections was of no effect?
It was simply to get them to commit and get them comply with Electoral Act and play by the rules of the game but you find that in spite of signing the accord about two or three times, they still behaved as if the accord never existed. So, it shows desperation. The greatest problem we have in elections are politicians because is desperation that drives them to do what they want to do. I’m sure you also know that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) acted corruptly in this election and it was the politicians that got them corrupted in their desperation to win by all means.
For every measure taken to overcome the challenges, they tried to device new ways to counter them and come up with new strategies to tamper with the electoral processes and that was why I think that INEC and other stakeholders should continuously stay ahead of these politicians. We talk about transparency at the polling unit but they find ways to circumvent it and tried to manipulate results. That was why in many cases, most of the results were not completed in time but I think basically, politicians are the ones constituting electoral obstacles we have in Nigeria.
Do you think election violence affects women’s participation in politics?
Women are the most affected because ordinarily for being women, they are already marginalised, especially when there is vio- lence. Look at the woman that was injured during election process. In conflict situations, women stand a chance of being raped simply because they are women. They are seen as weaker vessels; women bear the greatest bond of every form of violence whether it is electoral violence or communal violence. So, when some women start thinking about the violence they might not want to go for positions and they might not want to even vote. It actually closes the door for them and the political space shrinks for women. In terms of the process involved, how many women are independent enough to afford the huge amount political parties require, even when they said they reduced the money for women, at the end of the day, it still remains the same.
There are other factors that make it difficult for women because they feel that it is a man’s world, so a lot of deliberate steps need to be taken to encourage them. That is why in many countries, they introduce measures to enhance the chances of women known as the affirmative action. If you take a count of candidates that ran for elections in Nigeria and those that won election into different assemblies, how many women won as governors, deputy governors, House of Representatives or Senate? There are lots of limitations for women and those limitations need to be removed both cultural and economically to enhance participation for women.
What do you think is the solution to election violence?
Election violence is caused by the desperation of politicians, who want to win by all means and they do that over and over again because there is no consequence. So, if we increase the risk of involving in electoral malpractice by making it nearly 80 per cent that someone will incur consequences, it will reduce because people will be deterred. But we have continued to witness electoral violence because there are no effective measures to check the desperation of politicians and make sure that those who go outside the Electoral Act pay for it.
Do you think political parties do not keep to the peace accord because they know there won’t be any punishment of flouting it?
Yes, because one of the key issues in election is the need to set up panels like Electoral Offences Tribunal that will try electoral offenders. There has been reluctance to set up that tribunal because the regular courts don’t have the capacity to deal with such issues. Most of the judges would be focusing on election tribunal, so there is even no special body and judges to deal with electoral offenses. So, electoral offenders go scot free because there is no accountability. So, I think it is key we punish those who are involved in electoral misconduct. The panels that dealt comprehensively with electoral misconduct came up with reports and recommendations.
Some of the reforms we see INEC today are from that Justice Electoral Reform Committee. It was late President Umaru Yar’Ydua, who set up that panel when he came to power and admitted that the process that brought him was deeply flawed. That was how he set up the Uwais panel that looked into elections and came up with that report known as Uwais panel report. What we have is that even though election tribunals say that certain elections were marred by violence, they don’t go as far as recommending those responsible for prosecution. For me, we need a body like that, so that people cannot continue to violate the Electoral Act and get away with it.