An Independent Judiciary Crucial for 2015 Elections
I am concerned about the political condition of the country going into 2015 elections. With the glaring desperation of politicians across parties; I fear the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will be overstretched and the Judiciary will yet again be the only hope in ensuring stability of the country pre and post 2015. The Judiciary very likely will be called upon to decide with finality the eligibility of the President to contest the 2015 elections and several other pre and post election issues that will arise. To effectively do that the Judiciary must have political and financial capacity.
The Real Injustice in the Anambra State Governorship Election
A lot has been said about the November 16th Anambra State Governorship Election mostly out of emotion; a feeling of disappointment with the performance of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The disappointments are not misplaced considering the amount of resources and time put into preparing for the election. INEC deserves all the opprobrium it has so far received. But the way forward is not to sit in despair or predict apocalypse in 2015 as some are already doing. What we can do is try to understand what went wrong and work to prevent a reoccurrence.
Having reviewed most of the reports and results of the election, what is particularly disturbing is the level of participation. Anambra state based on the 2006 census figures has a population of about 4 million people; according to INEC, about 1. 7 Million Voters were registered for the 2013 Governorship election. Of the over 1.7 Million registered Voters, only a little over 400 thousand voted. Without going into the debate of who is responsible, whether INEC or the political parties; I believe there is something fundamentally wrong with 400 thousand deciding for 1. 7 Million. An election that allows for whatever reasons a minority of registered voters to decide for the majority cannot produce a fair result.
The condition for declaring a candidate winner in a governorship election is provided for in section 179 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended. I have read section 179 and feel very disturbed that it emphasizes votes cast and not registered voters. For ease of reference I will reproduce 179 especially subsection (2). It provides - “A candidate for an election to the office of Governor of a state shall be deemed to have been duly elected where, there being two or more candidates – (a) he has the highest number of votes cast at the election; and (b) he has not less than one-quarter of all the votes cast in each of at least two—thirds of all the local government areas in the State”
From the above provision it does not matter how many citizens or registered voters participate in the election. What appears to be important is that there is an election and the votes cast for the winner are evenly distributed in at least two-thirds of all local government areas in the state. This requirement I believe explains the general lack of interest in voter turnout and complaints about disenfranchisement. It is irony that sections 69 and 110 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended which provides conditions for recall of federal and state legislators emphasizes registered voters. Section 69 for instance provides - “.A member of the Senate or of the House of Representatives may be recalled as such a member if – (a) there is presented to the Chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission a petition in that behalf signed by not more than one-half of the persons registered to vote in that members constituency alleging their loss of confidence in that member; and (b) the petition is thereafter, in a referendum conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission within ninety days of the date of receipt of the petition, approved by a simple majority of the votes of the persons registered to vote in that member’s constituency”.
The cornerstone of elections is participation; the ability of citizens to determine freely how they are governed or who governs them. It is a right guaranteed by article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) “(1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through chosen representatives”; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) article 25 every citizen shall have the right and opportunity to “ to take part in periodic elections.....;to vote and be elected at genuine periodic elections”; the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) article 13 “ every citizen of a country shall have a right to participate freely in the government of his country, either directly or through freely chosen representatives...”
I imagine that some may argue that political participation is not obligatory. In other words, a citizen can choose to participate or not participate in a political process. That may be true, but if elections are not mere rituals and the object of elections is participation of citizens, then, there should be sufficient participation as threshold to a valid election. The sparse voter turnout as in Anambra state cannot be sufficient participation. The National Assembly needs to urgently review the constitutional requirements for elections especially for the presidential and governorship elections in Nigeria (specifically sections 134 and 179) and replace the words “votes cast” with “registered votes cast”. That way, the voter can be god again – Vox populi, vox Dei.
Senior Legal/ Programme Officer, HURILAWS