Despite some shortcomings recorded during the conduct of the 2019 general elections held on February 23 and March 9 respectively, the Coalition of Democrats for Electoral Reforms (CODER) has called on Nigerians to use the occasion of the swearing-in of elected officials scheduled to hold on May 29 to also celebrate 20 years of interrupted democratic rule in the country.
The group hinged its call on the fact that this is the longest democratic rule Nigeria ever witnessed since it obtained Independence in 1960.
In a similar vein, a former lawmaker who represented Epe Federal Constituency in Lagos State, Mr. Lanre Odubote, and erstwhile chieftain of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who recently defected to All Progressives Congress (APC) in Oyo State, Professor Taoheed Adedoja, who spoke separately with The Guardian on the telephone yesterday, said it was important for Nigeria to celebrate the 20 years of uninterrupted democratic rule along with the swearing-in ceremony. They said such decision would not only be significant but also symbolic.
While addressing a press conference in Lagos yesterday, Executive Director/Chair, Transition Committee of CODER, Dr. Wunmi Bewaji, urged President Muhammadu Buhari to formally put in motion every arrangement necessary to use the occasion of the May 29 not just for swearing-in of elected officials but to deliberately and wholeheartedly celebrate the joyous occasion of the 20th anniversary of uninterrupted democracy in the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
He said it was imperative for Nigerians to celebrate themselves despite the challenges in the democratic process, saying the celebration should include the voters, all the security personnel, the electoral umpire and all those that contributed to the success story so far.
While conceding that the exercise was not perfect yet, CODER said 20 years is a milestone, noting that in spite of the failings and shortcomings on the part of all stakeholders "it is CODER's firm verdict that the 2019 general elections were relatively free, fair and credible."
In the observations and recommendations of the 2019 polls, Bewaji said, "The said elections were observed by CODER's field observers as well as volunteer observers throughout the 36 states, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, and our findings, observation and recommendations upon a critical and thorough analysis of the data presented by our field observers shows poor human resource, which indicated INEC's failure to develop and enhance its human capital, the umpire's gradual degeneration into a grandiose/obsolete moribund bureaucracy with no appetite for growth and innovation, poor logistics, inconclusive elections, postponements and others."
The group, however, recommended that the commission needs to retrain, retool and reinvent itself to be able to meet the growing challenges posed by population explosion for it to be able to perform its task as a 21st century electoral body whereas it must also move from its archaic culture to technology-based operations, saying electronic voting is imperative so as to cope with the growing population and the huge challenges likely to pose to future elections.
The group also expressed concern over voters' apathy, particularly in the last exercise, saying the data was alarming.
"Millions of PVC's remain uncollected till date," Bewaji said. "Data suggests acute apathy especially in urban centres particularly amongst the elites."
It recommended that to safeguard our democracy, there is the instant need to explore voters' preregistration and incentivization of franchise with the introduction of a Voters Participation Certificate (VPC), with attendant benefits and consequences.
For example, possession of a valid VPC could be made criteria for employment/promotion in the civil service, for postgraduate admissions, participation in NYSC, to obtain drivers license, international passports, for registration of companies etc.
It also notes with concern the reckless and rampant use of fake news by political gladiators in the 2019 elections, stressing, "Deliberate, shameless attempts were made by some political actors to destroy the very institutions of our democracy: INEC, the army, the police and our security agencies in such manner as could undermine our democracy and people's faith in the ballot box."
It also recommended urgent review of the judiciary.
Meanwhile, Adedoja said while it is worthy of Nigerians to celebrate its democratic rule whatever the shortcomings, there must be deliberate and determined efforts to address the grey areas of the process.
According to him, "We have been experimenting with our democracy and very soon we would perfect and make it better like those of the advanced nations. The critical area we need to focus on is education. As long as we get this aspect right, our democracy would improve. This is what I think Mr. President should use his second term to address."
Odubote said there was nothing bad in celebrating 20 years of democratic rule. He said, however, the country must quickly put measures in place to fine-tune the electoral process especially in the idea of inconclusive elections that crept in the electioneering experience.