Nwankwo seeks reform to save Nigeria’s democracy from collapse

By Ivie Emmanuel

A constitutional lawyer, and Convener of the Civil Society Situation Room which monitors elections in Nigeria, Clement Nwankwo, has suggested the dissolution of the country’s electoral body, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and the creation of a new one in line with the recommendations of the Justice Mohammed Lawal Uwais Committee report on electoral reforms.

Nwankwo. Executive Director, Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre, who was guest on Arise Television programme, Prime Time, spoke against the backdrop of the just-concluded off-season governorship elections in Imo, Bayelsa and Kogi States, which had been widely criticized as badly flawed.

He described the elections as worse than the general elections in February and March 2023.

Assessing the elections, Nwankwo said the verdict of the Situation Room was very unequivocal that it was a “huge disappointment”, stressing that “We had thought that given the disappointments with the 2023 general elections, that there would have been some efforts by INEC to do a better job.

“But apparently, this is a worse job; and I think for all of us, it is extremely sad to see elections conducted this way in this Country. It brings to question how this democracy will continue; or how this democracy would thrive if we cannot give citizens the option of deciding who rules them.

Raising the alarm that Nigeria’s democracy is on its tethers and could drop and collapse soon, Nwankwo accused the political class of desecrating every sacred institution in the Country.

He however regretted that President Bola Tinubu evidently is not in a position to save the nation’s electoral system considering how he had appointed partisan elements into the INEC.

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According to Nwankwo, “I think what we have today as an electoral commission needs to be set aside in a legal way. The National Assembly needs to be brought into this conversation, and the president needs to go back to the several of the reports, and set up a Committee that has people, stakeholders, who will sit down and decide which aspects of these past recommendations that need now to begin to be implemented. And most importantly is the method and process of appointment of election management team. And I think that you have to go back to the drawing board to start this process. I do not think that the election management team as it exists today can take this country to the next elections.

“We need to have a new system that creates a new electoral commission; that creates a new election management team, and follows the processes that have been outlined in various recommendations that have been made, especially the Uwais Committee report that has indicated how you can appoint an INEC chairman; how you can appoint INEC national commissioners.

“Indeed, we have to go back to the question whether you indeed need the resident electoral commissioners because where governors send names of nominees to be appointed Residents Electoral Commissioners, RECs, or where a political party does so, what it does is just destroy the system, and that is why you have the Resident Electoral Commissioners acting with arbitrariness, without responsibility and without accountability”.

Speaking with a sense of urgency he said “We have to do this even before the next off-cycle elections. But certainly, we can’t go on with this type of election management body, and we can’t go on with this sort of abused electoral process. This democracy will collapse very soon if we don’t check the nature of election management system that we have in this Country because citizens have lost faith totally in elections in this country”.

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On why he has no confidence in President Tinubu to reform the electoral system, Nwankwo cited recent nominations of state resident electoral Commissioners which he noted was approved “within a few minutes” by the plenary at the National Assembly.

“Now, those nominations, several of them should never have been made because of the political taints of some of those that were in that list. And for me, that is a very sad signal”,according to him.

He however insisted that “whether the administration likes it or not, whether this President likes it or not, I think it’s important that he listens to what Nigerians are saying, which is that this system has failed.

“If this system has failed, and you still have a couple of off-cycle elections – about four or five – leading up to 2027, it’s only going to get worse. And in 2027, I don’t know whether it can be called elections.

“It certainly won’t be if this trajectory continues. And at that stage, it would become clear, even to the president at that stage that this Country’s democracy is on its tethers and will drop and collapse. But certainly, what we have today cannot take us to the next general elections”, he asserted.

Nwankwo posited that Civil society organizations and Nigerians in general must speak out against the collapse of the country’s electoral process.

Calling on Nigerians not to be quiet, he said, “I think that we in civil society, we as citizens of this country, must raise our voices to say that this electoral system has collapsed. We can’t trust those you have appointed into office.

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“You have appointed your political acolytes; you’ve put them into management of elections. So, we don’t trust the electoral system anymore. We don’t trust your officials, we don’t trust the commission, and we don’t trust that this process will help us save our democracy. And to save this democracy, this administration must come to the realisation that citizens have no more confidence in our electoral system”, Nwankwo

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