By Sesugh Akume
There hasn’t been more relieving news coming from the National Assembly, or the government, than the news of the Senate authorising the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct elections as they deem it best. Precisely, to transmit elections results electronically as they are cast and collated at the polling centres.
Election results tend to be different from what voters expect. Because, most often, what is counted and recorded at the polling centres differs from the votes from various polling centres collated, counted, and reported. The process of announcing the winner usually isn’t transparent. It then becomes difficult to establish that the election results were tampered with and the wrong person is then declared elected.
This is a significant cause of voter apathy. The dangerous outcome and long term result of this will be that the system of government we practise in Nigeria, a kakistocracy government by the worst and least qualified persons.
Probably if Nigeria had the right people in public office with the competence, capacity, character, courage to do the right thing, and conscience to serve as best as they can, we wouldn’t be where we are.
Hopefully, with INEC empowered to transmit election results electronically, the people can have a better say in determining who occupies public office. As a result, better quality persons would be elected in office, and we can journey towards having a more functional Nigeria.
Consequently, issues like diaspora voting, etc., will need to be looked into and implemented as soon as possible, but this is a great start.
Importantly, kudos should be given to INEC for staying the course on electronic transmission of results. Also, to the Nigerian people for insisting against the National Assembly standing in the way of transparent elections.
Next to credible elections is the issue of a constitutional amendment.
If democracy is a government of the people and by the people, for the people then, they should be able to participate by determining who serves them. They should also, very importantly, determine the laws by which their society is regulated.
Also, they should decide what is most important to them and how they want their society to be regulated. Critical issues shouldn’t start and end with the 469 representatives at the National Assembly. Instead, the people should be directly involved and own the processes. This is how to build a country and a nation.
Furthermore, there is a critical need for room to be made in the Constitution for a referendum—a means whereby the people can vote and decide on important issues. As of now, the Constitution doesn’t provide for one. But it is essential it does.
Various suggestions have been offered on making the country work by amending different sections of the Constitution.
Most of these are never considered in the numerous constitutional amendments done every four years since 1999. The people have not been heard or given room to express their interests. Therefore, many of these suggestions remain unimplemented. Not implementing these make the problems grow more prominent and get more complicated.
Consider the issue of security and policing. In refusing to listen, the government commits or endorses illegality in an attempt to solve this problem. As a result, outfits like Amotekun, Hisbah, Livestock Guards, Ebube Agu, and other security agencies set in. These security setups by the states are unconstitutional and illegal because the Constitution says that States cannot make laws concerning security. But is this workable, is it sustainable, is it what the people want?
There are numerous instances of where the Constitution stands in the way of progress as against enhancing it. A referendum provides an opportunity to hear the people out and provides a channel for them to ventilate. Such engagement eases tension and angst in the land. It gives the people a sense of ownership.
After all, the Constitution itself says sovereignty lies in the people from whom the government itself derived its authority. Why then can’t the people be listened to directly? Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda, South Africa, and many other African countries have this provision in their Constitution and exercise it. Why shouldn’t Nigeria?
Suppose there is one more thing this 9th National Assembly can do, further to empowering INEC to carry out the electronic transmission of election results. In that case, it is to provide for a referendum in the Constitution, among other amendments they hope to carry out this time.
But, this won’t happen if the citizens keep quiet. So, the people have to organise and keep at it until this too is done. Thankfully there are platforms where citizens can get the attention of the National Assembly to include a referendum in our Constitution. For example, the online Petition by FixPolitics for the amendment of Nigeria’s 1999 constitution to provide for a referendum. The Petition is in collaboration with OrderPaper Advocacy Initiative and 100 other organisations of like minds. All citizens need to do is sign the Petition, share, comment, or even chip in a little amount to push the campaign further.
Please sign the Petition on change.org: https://www.change.org/p/petition-to-amend-nigeria-s-1999-constitution-to-provide-for-a-referendum.
Sesugh Akume, a public policy analyst, writes from Abuja. He can be reached via email: email@example.com.