Erudite Professor of political science at the Bayero University, Kano, and former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Attahiru Jega, on Tuesday suggested the proscription of cross-carpeting by politicians as the act undermines the fundamental essence of democracy.
Professor Jega also advocated the unbundling of INEC, which he noted had been saddled with too much responsibility, as well as a more transparent appointment of the Chairman of INEC and the management team.
He further recommended the creation of a threshold for people to participate in presidential and governorship elections instead of the all comers affair is presently is.
These were the critical issues that Jega, a consultant for the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies, (NILDS) canvassed at a Citizens’ Town Hall Meeting On Electoral Reforms held in Abuja, facilitated by Yiaga Africa, a frontline non-profit organisation promoting participatory democracy, human rights, and civic engagement.
Though he acknowledged the 2022 Electoral reforms as the best Electoral Act in the history of the Country, he insisted that there was still a lot of room for improvement.
Jega said it was very important that “If we want to improve our politics, deepen our democracy, and improve electoral integrity, it is necessary to proscribe cross-carpeting by politicians from one party to another”, stressing that “the reason why it does not seem to be appealing to our legislators to do that is because the challenges they face in the primaries, force many of them to move to other parties where they think they would find a platform to contest.
According to him, “when they cross-carpet, they move in most cases, in the legislature, to the ruling party. But it undermines the fundamental essence of democracy”.
He said: “People have elected you under a platform; under a programme, and it is really unbecoming to my mind for somebody to abandon that mandate that has been given to him or her to now move to another party. And we have seen this not just in the legislature; now even executive governors that have been elected are abandoning their mandate mid-way, and moving to another party.
“And the law is very, very clear; If you move, unless there is a crisis in your party, obviously, you have to vacate that seat and a bye-election needs to be conducted to fill the vacancy. So, I believe that we need to ensure that in the Electoral Act moving forward; we proscribe the issue of cross-carpeting.
“If you cross-carpet, then it is a matter of principle; then you should be able to vacate your seat and go for another election if you want to go again. I think it’s a very, very important issue that we must address because it’s one of those things that really destroy the essence of democratic electoral politics in our Country”.
Speaking further, the 66-year-old academic said he strongly supported the recommendation that the appointment of the chairman, the national commissioners, and the Resident Electoral Commissioners of INEC should be reviewed, asserting that there was need to avoid “The conventional method in which the president nominates, and invariably, what the president nominates does not go through rigorous screening and is basically supported by the legislature”.
Professor Jega submitted that “We need a transparent process; we need to ensure there is full screening. In particular, we need to ensure that the legal provisions about non-partisanship; about the integrity of the people nominated, are actually taken very seriously”.
On the need to unbundle INEC, the former election umpire argued that “INEC is saddled with too much responsibility and this is affecting other core responsibilities of INEC. So, the unbundling of INEC needs to be given a serious attention”.
On participation in presidential and governorship election, Prof. Jega suggested the review of how people stand to contest, in particular, the presidential, and maybe the governorship elections too.
He said: “I think Nigeria is one of the few countries where anybody can form a political party and run for presidential elections which create very serious problems in terms of the logistics of appropriation, wastefulness with regard to the resources deployed for elections.
“I think we need to create a threshold. A political party cannot field a candidate for president until they meet certain threshold. This is done in many other countries and we need to begin to pay attention to that in this country otherwise we begin to have these problems where in an election, we have 20 Candidates.
“At one time, we had almost 73 Candidates on the Presidential ballot paper; and except for about two or three, most of them hardly get even one per cent of the votes so you wasted a lot of resources which you have to moderate”, Jega said.