Nigeria’s former head of state Muhammadu Buhari, has called for the sack of the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Attahiru Jega, and other top officials of the commission, saying the electoral body, as presently constituted, cannot be trusted to deliver on credible elections.
Speaking in London at the 4th British-African Diaspora conference held at the British House of Parliament on the theme “Stable Democracy and Nigeria’s Economy,”, Mr. Buhari said sacking Mr. Jega and his lieutenants is a good starting point for fixing Nigeria’s broken electoral system.
“All the present indications are that INEC as it is presently constituted would be unable to deliver any meaningful elections in 2015,” the former head of state said. “INEC’s top echelon is immersed deep in corruption and only wholesale changes at the top could begin to cure its malaise.”
He said for future elections to be credible and hitch-free, government needs to do a clean sweep of the personnel at INEC, replacing them with Nigerians of unquestionable integrity.
“What is required is a group of independent minded people, patriotic, incorruptible but with the capacity to handle such a strenuous assignment of conducting elections in Nigeria. It is not difficult to find such people but whether the Government and the National Assembly have the inclination to do so I am not so sure.” Mr. Buhari added.
He accused the Jega-led INEC of having developed “a very cozy relationship with Executive and Judicial arms of government that its impartiality is totally lost”.
Mr. Buhari recalled that in the run-up to the last elections the electoral body “requested (and received with indecent haste) in excess of 80 billion naira (about £340m.) a hefty sum by any standards, so that it could conduct the elections including organizing bio-metric voters data specifically for the 2011 elections”.
He said that but when opposition parties “challenged the patently dishonest figures it announced and subpoenaed the bio-metric data in court, INEC refused to divulge them on the laughable excuse of “National Security”.
Mr. Buhari also spoke on a wide range of issues from state creation to zoning system, poverty and wealth creation as well as the 2015 general elections. He said the scourge of corruption is deeply rooted in the nation, which puts the fight against the menace beyond the capacity of any government.
Reiterating the view expressed in a recent interview by the Chairman, Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, ICPC, Ekpo Nta, that “there is no political will (by government) to fight corruption in Nigeria”, the former Presidential flag bearer of the CPC underscored the need for cooperation by all Nigerians in the campaign to rid the country of corruption in all its ramifications.
“Until serious efforts are made to tackle corruption, which is beyond the capacity of the government, economic growth and stability will continue to elude us,” he noted.
He, however, acknowledged Nigeria’s capacity to emerge as an economically competitive nation if the wrongs of political and economic corruption are corrected, adding that “democracy” cannot function optimally without a certain level of economic attainment.
According to the CPC chieftain, there is no short cut to poverty eradication other than to get people to work and earn their living, pointing out that there was need to ensure that agriculture thrives throughout the country through the provision of adequate incentives, like fertiliser, pesticides and small-scale credits to farmers.
He identified agriculture as one area that would greatly boost the growth of Nigeria within five to seven years, adding that the massive drift from rural to urban centres would be greatly reduced if proper attention is given the sector by government and other stakeholders.
He said attention should also be paid to the revival of employment generating activities through the small and medium enterprises, notably in the textiles industry and other land and forest resources-based industries to absorb the huge urban labour, in the drive to tackle poverty, reduce crime and boost economic growth.
A former minister of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Nasir El-Rufai, who also spoke at the event, said Mr. Buhari was persuaded to return to active politics even though he had earlier said he would never contest for the presidency after losing in the 2003, and 2007 elections.
On age limit for presidential aspirants, Mr. El Rufai said he believed strongly that the issue was not about age, but about (Buhari’s) “combination of the wisdom of the old, and dynamism of the young to move the nation forward.”
The conference, organised by BEN TV, was launched last year as part of efforts to engage the Diaspora on developmental issues in Nigeria.