Barrister Festus Okoye, Executive Director, Human Rights Monitor, has observed that for the 2019 general elections to be free, fair and credible, the leadership of the country must commit to zero tolerance of political brigandage.
“The first lesson from the 2015 general elections is that a strong and professional electoral management body with a strong leadership is indispensable in ensuring credible elections in Nigeria,” Barrister Okoye noted.
Speaking on the theme, “2015 Polls: Reminiscence, Lessons, Challenges and Projections” in Kaduna on the NUJ national colloquium on elections, corruption and roadmap to 2019 organized by Kaduna State chapter of the Nigeria Union of Journalists in collaboration with the Pax-Community Partnership Projects, PCPP, Barrister Okoye noted that it was important to sustain the gains of the 2015 elections by advancing the country’s electoral process to meet and or conform to regional and international standards.
He suggested that there was the need to advance the electoral process to the level where elections would be seen and taken as a normal civic responsibility that will not lead to unnecessary anxiety, loss of lives and destruction of properties.
Barrister Okoye regretted that the production, collection and distribution of Permanent Voters Cards before the 2015 elections were contentious and chaotic, stressing that the issue of insecurity in the North East of Nigeria, the political, ethnic and religious slant given to the issue of distribution and collection of the Parmanent Voters Cards became a serious challenge to the conduct of the elections as scheduled.
He added that some of the Political Parties breached the provisions of section 87(b)(I) and (4)(I) of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) in holding their party primaries elections to nominate their governorship and National Assembly candidates outside the state capitals and outside the Senatorial districts and federal constituencies.
According to him, the training and recruitment of ad-hoc staff for the conduct of the elections faced hitches in some states, pointing out that some of the Resident Electoral Commissioners and Electoral Officers allowed persons with vested interests to hijack the process of recruitment and training of ad-hoc staff.
Due to the heightened rhetoric by the Political Parties, he explained, the near balance of power and balance of terror by the two Political Parties, the threats of violence, the ethnic and religious slant given to issues in the campaigns, the fear factor to some extent disrupted the recruitment and deployment of some members of the National Youth Service Corp trained as Presiding Officers, stressing that some parents prevented their sons and daughters from serving as ad-hoc staff.
The media, according to him, accepted advertisements loaded with hate and vile that threatened the peace, stability and unity of the country. “Some of the parties went overboard and lost all sense of civility. The rrgulatory agencies could not do anything and became muted trumpets,” he stressed.
The Smart Card Readers, according to him, failed or were made to fail in some of the States of the federation during the Presidential election. “This resulted in the unimaginable use of incident forms and manual accreditation that undermined the anticipated benefits of the Card Reader technology. It also resulted in the late commencement of elections in some states of the federation.
“The fear of large scale electoral violence loomed throughout the period of elections. Electoral violence was nevertheless witnessed and recorded in some of the States of the federation but not on the scale and magnitude previously envisaged,” he observed.