"Nigeria now ranks among the leading democracies in Africa and in the Commonwealth 20 years after it began to experience uninterrupted democratic culture."
Today, it is exactly 20 years since Nigeria transited from military to democratic rule, which has remained uninterrupted. It's been 20 years of uninterrupted democracy!
And with the above words, President Muhammadu Buhari, while speaking as visitor during the 50th convocation ceremonies of the University of Lagos held recently, captured how he feels about the nation's democracy.
President Buhari, who was represented by the Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission, Prof. Rasheed Yakubu, noted that with the 2019 general elections concluded, the nation had reiterated its choice of democracy as the system of government by which it hopes to imbibe all-round development.
The president said, "Our administration is committed to ensuring that the sacredness of that choice is preserved. With this policy enunciated and every programme instituted, we shall ensure that our democratic culture takes firmer roots and legacies further consolidated.
"Let me reiterate that my administration will not waver in its commitment to following due process, preserving the sanctity of the rule of law, battling grand corruption, securing the lives and property of our people and rehabilitating or upgrading our critical infrastructure."
President Buhari promised to be unrelenting in enthroning hard work and honesty, and in placing the welfare of citizens above everything else.
Aside from Buhari who is sounding very cheery, his allies and co-travellers in the presidency have also been very positive in their commentaries about what has happened to the country under their master.
The presidency is quick to note that the Nigerian economy has not only fully recovered from recession but has since been growing robustly. The "consistent growth" in the agriculture and solid minerals sectors, the "consistent fall" in inflation and "the doubling" of the nation's external reserves to its highest level, all under the Buhari administration, are some achievements being highlighted.
There are also strides reportedly made in infrastructure investment and development, with reference to the transport, power and health sectors; the improvement in the Ease of Doing Business and the launch of a Social Investment Programme, described as the largest and most ambitious social safety net programme in the history of the country.
These are besides the achievements claimed in the security architecture of the country.
It is often said that critical development efforts cannot succeed without a legitimate and democratically elected government that is responsive and accountable to its citizens.
However, as the Buhari administration winds down on its first four-year mandate, Nigerians have remained divided as to how it has fared, especially in terms of how well the president has been responsive to the yearnings of the people and upholding the tenets of liberalism under a democracy.
Specifically, there have been dissenting views on virtually all aspects President Buhari said the administration has excelled.
For instance, while the President speaks glowingly of how well the just-concluded elections were conducted, there seems to a be consensus among stakeholders, largely populated by the opposition, rights groups and international observers and agencies that the electoral process needs to be reformed.
With increased number of election petitions going to the tribunal, with election offenders still roaming free without prosecution, with the independence of the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) still being largely questioned, among many other issues, there have been renewed calls for the implementation of the Justice Mohammed Uwais report.
The belief in many quarters is that the Uwais Report has far-reaching recommendations that can transform Nigeria's elections and make the outcome transparent, credible and acceptable.
Senior Legal/Programme officer, Human Rights Law Service (HURILAWS), Collins Okeke, in his suggestions on the need to rebuild Nigeria's electoral processes and institutions using the Justice Uwais Report, said though many aspects of the Uwais Report influenced the Electoral Act 2010, there are yet many aspects of the report that were abandoned.
According to him, certain Amendments to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 were reactions to the Uwais Report.
"It was felt in some quarters that the adopted portions of the Uwais Report provide adequate legal framework for elections in Nigeria," Okeke said. "Regrettably, that has not been the case. The outcomes of 2011, 2015 and 2019 general elections in Nigeria have been far from acceptable."
Okeke said the Uwais Report, if put into use, would take care of some major issues that characterised the 2019 general elections by addressing INEC's inefficiency, modernising Nigeria's voting and collation process, and restoring confidence in the election petition tribunals.
"The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) by virtue of Paragraph 15 Part 1 of the Third Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) is saddled with the task of conducting elections, carrying out voter's registration, preparing logistics for the elections, registration of political parties, among other functions," Okeke continued.
"INEC, as presently constituted, is overburdened, ill-equipped and lacks the required manpower to effectively deliver on its mandate without hiccups.
"In the 2019 presidential elections, INEC, yet again, did not efficiently deliver election materials across the country.
The Uwais Report addressed this challenge by recommending the creation of the following special commissions: the Political Parties Registration and Regulation Commission, the Electoral Offenses Commission, a Constituency Delineation Commission and Centre for Democratic Studies. This was primarily to unbundle INEC and refocus it strictly on conducting general elections while the new bodies would be saddled with pre- and post-elections matters.
Sadly, the recommendation was not incorporated into the Electoral Act of 2010. In view of INEC's continued dismal performance, it is imperative to reconsider the Uwais Report Recommendation to unbundle INEC."
On how to positively change the voting and collation processes, Okeke observed that Nigeria currently operates a semi-electronic voting system where registration of voters is done electronically but voting and collation of results are done manually.
"The use of card reader machines for authentication of voters has not significantly improved the credibility of the election process," he maintained.
"The present method of voting is the Open Secret Ballot System (OSBS) in which the prospective voter goes through a process of accreditation, receives a ballot paper from the appropriate poll official and thereafter makes the confidential thumb impression in favour of the political party of choice in a secret voting compartment before dropping the ballot in the box positioned in the open, in the full glare of officials, security and party agents.
The collation of election results is also done manually. It is incrementally done at polling booths, electoral wards, local governments, states and federal for the presidential election. This process is ridiculously slow and cumbersome."
Okeke stressed that there was an urgent need to introduce electronic voting to drastically reduce the time it takes to vote, collate and release election results. He opined that it would limit the involvement of persons from accreditation to result release and increase voter participation.
He said, "A voter can register in one part of the country and vote in another. The Uwais Report recommended a gradual introduction of electronic voting. The report was submitted in 2008. Eleven years after, Nigeria is ready for electronic voting. The Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) does not make express provision for electronic voting.
Rather, Section 52 (2) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) gives INEC the discretion to determine the procedure for voting. It was on the basis of Section 52(2) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) that INEC introduced card reader machines.
What is unclear, however, is whether INEC's discretion in 52 (2) extends to introducing electronic voting. The Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2018 as amended now includes electronic voting and any other methods of voting INEC determines from time to time.
"Regrettably, the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2018 was not signed into law by President Buhari before the 2019 Elections. The president claimed the 2018 amendment was too close to the 2019 elections but promised to give effect to the law after the elections. It is important President Buhari gives effect to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2018 as promised."
BESIDES the manner in which elections were conducted and their outcomes, there have also been scathing criticisms of how government has failed in some critical aspects of governance to the people. Elder statesman and Afenifere chieftain, Ayo Adebanjo's pointedly said President Buhari's time in the saddle has been quite sordid.
"The administration has brought more woes to the nation than it has ever experienced," he said.
Prior to Buhari's election, Adebanjo had openly opposed his candidature, saying that having never been a democrat, there was no way a Buhari presidency could achieve all he promised in the run up to the 2015 general elections. Four years on, Adebanjo beats his chest, saying the president has failed and that he has been vindicated in his criticism of inability to conduct himself as a democrat.
"President Buhari has failed and disappointed Nigerians on virtually all fronts," he insisted. "I am, however, not surprised because I cried out before his election that the man has nothing to offer the nation. All those who saw my action in bad faith at that time, including former president Olusegun Obasanjo, now know better. President Buhari has exhibited all the traits I highlighted when I openly opposed his election."
Obeying the rule of law was a cardinal tenet President Buhari promised to uphold in government. But there have been quite a number of court pronouncements, which the administration has failed to obey. This has been a source of concern to many Nigerians, including Adebanjo.
"This administration's disrespect for the rule of law is alarming and must be disturbing to those who believed in him and elected him or pushed for his election," he reiterated. "I said it openly that the greatest mistake Nigerians were going to make was to vote for Buhari. It is on record. Those who elected him should look at all the fears I expressed at that time and allegations I raised against the president, that I have not been vindicated on."
Adebanjo also discounted the achievement claims in the area of security, especially with regards to the decimation of the terrorist group, Boko Haram by the administration.
According to him, while the administration is making the frivolous claims, there are killings and kidnappings across the country and supposed herdsmen are still having field days.
He added, "In certain parts of the country, because of these mindless killings, people can no longer go to their farms for fear of herdsmen. The administration suggests that the killers are mere criminals. But if they are criminals, are they impossible to arrest? How many of those that have been arrested have the administration prosecuted to show Nigerians that, indeed, they were not herdsmen but criminals as being suggested? Who are they fooling? We are not morons in this country. Today, these Fulani men that we are talking about go to places raping and assassinating innocent citizens. How many have been brought to prosecution?"
In the same vein, the Executive Secretary, Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), Ezike Ibuchukwu, said the Buhari administration's respect for people's rights has been shockingly abysmal, considering its blatant abuse of the human rights of many Nigerians.
Recalling how certain Nigerians' rights have been repeatedly violated, Ibuchukwu described government's stance on the Shiites group and their leader, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky as a sore thumb for the administration.
He said, "If somebody does something wrong, what you do is to take the person to court and consequently you obey the court's directive. All over the world, citizens can protest the activities of government that they believe are not in tandem with respect for their human rights or which offends their personal beliefs. On several occasions, Nigerians have protested the activities of this government and they were arrested. And when the court directed that some of those persons be released, this government refuses to honour the court pronouncements and remains recalcitrant."
Using former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, as an example, Ibuchukwu recalled how the court ordered his release many times, but he has remained in detention to date. He also cited how some Igbo youths protested against the policies of government based on the belief that government was no longer giving them opportunities in accordance with their will power.
"Their protests did not offend the laws of this land," Ibuchukwu said. "They possessed no arms and killed nobody. Yet, agents of government viciously killed them. Those who committed these atrocities have not been brought to book. Another instance is the killings ongoing across the country by herdsmen. The government has done nothing to curtail the activities of these people nor has it prosecuted any of the perpetrators. As we speak, many homes and communities have been raided and destroyed; people's farms have been destroyed and lives cut short. Government has done nothing.
"The government also promised to totally check the activities of Boko Haram. Unfortunately, this has not been achieved. Instead, all we see is campaigns of calumny against those who say the government has failed to do what it promised the people. If we begin to discuss the human rights violation by this government, we would get to the hopelessness and hunger pervading the land. If you have right to life and do not have such other rights to food, accommodation, health care services, good water and other things that sustain life, you unfortunately do not have right to life."
Obeying the rule of law was a cardinal tenet President Buhari promised to uphold in government. But there have been quite a number of court pronouncements, which the administration has failed to obey. Its disrespect for the rule of law is alarming and its respect for people's rights has been shockingly abysmal, considering its blatant abuse of the human rights of many Nigerians.