With 2019 elections less than two and half years away, a former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Chidi Odinkalu, on Wednesday raised the alarm over the level of preparation for the poll.
Mr. Odinkalu, who was speaking in Abuja at a town hall meeting and presentation of the findings of a post- 2015 elections research conducted by ActionAid Nigeria, said going ahead without proper preparation may result in crisis and deaths.
Although he acknowledged that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) recorded some gains in 2015 elections, Mr. Odinkalu said 2019 may be different.
“Today, the executive has gone into lax mode; judiciary has become lawless; National Assembly is lacking in credibility; INEC is troubled; politicians have gone unruly. Government says it has no money to run the economy. Every element that made 2015 is currently missing,” he said.
“There is absolutely no reason why the executive should allow the number of vacancies we have in INEC to be. By next month, INEC will have 28 vacancies among RECs (Resident Electoral Commissioners) and seven commissioners. The Executive is carrying on as if this normal. It isn’t.
“Citizens are carrying on like: ‘We will tweet it on social media’. We should do more than that, because our country is at stake. The way we are carrying on, 2015 is history; 2019 may not happen, if we don’t reset. We‘ve got to take our country very seriously. There will be no elections in 2019.
“I’m sorry to sound alarmist. But, continuing the way we are going, we will not be able to have elections in 2019. If it happens, there would be too many broken heads and dead people.”
Lamenting the role of the judiciary, Mr. Odinkalu, a lawyer, frowned at the corruption in the profession, particularly on recent rulings on electoral cases in the country.
“The judiciary has gone rogue and destroyed everything that was supposed to guarantee fairness in the 2015 elections,” he said. “Judges are speaking from too many sides of their mouth. There are no underlying principles.
“Judges come out with decisions they know are manifestly bought, and the profession is saying nothing. Citizens are behaving like it is normal for 20 judges to come out with 20 different orders on the same subject matter from different parts of the country.
“The jurisprudence on the PVC is irresponsible. When a country appropriates for a measure, and has it backed by law and voted for by the citizens, the judiciary cannot outlaw it the way the judiciary dealt with the PVC (permanent voters card). The judiciary reacted to the PVC in a way that effectively licensed electoral violence,” he said.
The executive director, Policy & Legal Advocacy Center, Clement Nwankwo, in his presentation, agreed with Mr. Odinkalu, expressing sadness at the existing vacancies in INEC.
He said the issue should be addressed as a national emergency situation to avoid fears expressed about crisis in 2019 elections becoming a reality.
“It is totally unacceptable that we we do not have a full complement of members of the electoral commission less than two and a half years to a national election. If those who hold the reins of leadership in the country today do not act as urgently as in emergency situation, we will lose this democracy,” he said.
He emphasized the need to re-engineer the electoral process to get citizens to be active participants in electoral process in 2019.
Country Director, ActionAid Nigeria, Ojobo Atuluku, said the organisation’s concern about citizens’ participation in the electoral process informed the decision to undertake the project on “Strengthening Citizens Engagement in Electoral Process, to deepen its work..
Mrs. Atuluku said the project allowed ActionAid to work with 180 communities across 10 states, to mobilise citizens to understand and engage the electoral system.
She said the findings from the research would help document citizens’ experiences across the country on the elections, to help shape the agenda for reforming the electoral process for improved citizens’ participation in future.
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