Muhammad Lawal Nalado is the immediate past Chairman of Inter Party Advisory Council (IPAC), and a two term chairman of Accord party, in this interview with Peoples Daily, he faults the criticisms against INEC by European Union Observer Mission in Nigeria over the conduct of 2019 Presidential elections. Excerpts:
According to many observer groups, including the EU mission in Nigeria, INEC performance in 2019 general election was a decline from the experience of 2015, what caused this?
The 2015 general election is not comparable to the election of 2019, if you can remember, how many political parties participated in the 2019 elections and how many of them participated in the 2015 elections. This is the first time our election management body has dealt with such a complex situation in the history of conducting election in Nigeria, where ninety one political parties participated in the general election, and over seventy candidates appeared on the ballot papers for the presidential election. Though INEC anticipated that it was going to be like that because they registered many parties before the election, but sincerely speaking, the expansion in the number of participation by political parties contributed in why some people are thinking that the performance of INEC in that election is below average. But for me I don’t think it is below average. They did very well to manage ninety one political parties in an election; it is not an easy thing. So I think we cannot use the 2015 general election as a yardstick to judge the performance of INEC in 2019 because they are not the same in terms of expansion of participation. You know, INEC has to be very cautious because the electoral rule says that where there is an omission of any political party or candidate, that election must have to be retaken again. So to avoid this, INEC has to spend a lot of time trying to make sure that the names and logos of all the political parties appear on the ballot papers, so it is not easy. So, I can only say that Nigerians and the European Union Observers mission should appreciate INEC for conducting a very successful election and doing it so violence free.
But it is evident that there is an overwhelming outcry against the commission for not being transparent in conducting the elections?
That could be because more voices have spoken than we heard in 2015 general elections. And you know the nature of elections in Nigeria, whoever loses must have to complain, so many people have lost, and many of those losers have spoken complaining about the outcome of the election. I think because there are many people who have lost in the elections, so there are many people complaining that the election was not transparent because they have lost the election, which is what those people who are assessing the outcome are looking at. But think of it, if the election was not transparent as the European Union and some others are saying, it would have resulted in full violence all over the country. But this is the most peaceful ever we have witnessed in the history of this country, where we had an election without much violence. So, the only way you can know that there is a problem after an election is through the reaction of the people in negative ways. I think people are just saying what they want to say. If you look at the litigations, how many people went to court, especially in the presidential elections, if the elections were not transparent, many people would have gone to court seeking for redress, I don’t think that what people are saying that the election was a decline from what happened in 2015 is not proper. I think they should say that INEC has done very well managing ninety one political parties and for having for the first time, seventy three presidential candidates on the ballot papers and there was no report of omission. Nigerians should understand this, there was no single report of omission anywhere, or that names of a candidate of a political party was omitted somewhere. So Nigerians should commend INEC rather than condemn it and encourage them so that they can give us better elections in the future. Now we are facing Kogi and Bayelsa governorship elections, we should commend INEC and anticipate improvements because I am sure they have gained some knowledge base on their experiences of 2019.
You recall that midnight to the commencement of the general elections, INEC suddenly announced postponement by one week, how did this sudden shift impact on the participation level and credibility of the election outcome?
It is all about democracy and INEC is about the people. There were some calls from the states that due to some reasons, they needed this election to be shifted forward, and INEC felt that they are out to serve the people and they have to consider this demands, so what is wrong with it. There were consultations and when INEC announced the dates, these people from the states came with their own view and registered their appeal to INEC that they should please postpone this election so as to give them more days because of some activities that were going to take place in their states. Because of this INEC put their demands into consideration and called the commissioners and all stakeholders to look at these demands. So it was not only the commission that took that decision, it took that decision with the consent of all political parties. All the ninety one registered political parties were fully involved in that decision to shift that election and other decision in the 2019 general election. People should stop blaming INEC. You see, it is all about democracy, and democracy is about the people, so the people believe that INEC should give them more time and the commission felt that the demand was not going to be against the Electoral Act or the Constitution, which was why it shifted the election to a time where it will be convenient for everybody to participate. Everybody was carried along, there is no action ever taken by the INEC chairman at any time in which all the political parties were not given due consultation. We do have quarterly meeting with the commission to discuss the way forward, and if there is any plan in their calendar, they will bring it to the notice of political parties and the parties will make their own input. You see, that is why when people accuse the INEC chairman about conducting inconclusive elections, it is because they do not understand how we work, because no decision will be taken by INEC without carrying the political parties along. Inconclusive election is brought in to take care of the situations where there is violence and INEC does not want to disenfranchise the people, especially where the number of those who did not vote will be enough to make a difference in the margin of victory. So, these are new innovations created by the current INEC chairman to improve the management of our elections. But people have misinterpreted it.
Could the refusal of President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the Electoral Act amendment Bill forwarded to him by the parliament, which made it impossible for INEC to electronically transmit results and use only card readers for accreditation, be the reason for many outcry against the outcome?
I think we have been having elections in Nigeria even before this idea of electronic transmission of result came to the front burner. The 2015 general election is considered one of the most transparent and peaceful election in the country, but the results was not electronically transmitted. In addition to that, INEC said it repeatedly before the 2019 elections that it was not going to do anything that will be against the Constitution or the 2010 Electoral Act. If INEC had gone ahead to transmit the results electronically, when it has not been signed into law by the President, that can even nullify the whole election. So for the commission to do anything, it has to be backed by the Electoral Act. Even if the President had assented to the Electoral Act amendment that time, the commission has to go back and alter its procedures to avoid problems at the end of the day. Moreover, the time was too close to the general election, so if the President had assented and INEC says it will transmit the results electronically without putting it on test, problems could manifest and people will start doubting the credibility of the results. That was why INEC decided to use the means by which they had conducted previous elections to conduct the 2019 polls so that Nigerians will have confidence on the outcome. It has been conducting elections and bring in innovations, but for the commission to create something new very close to the election, especially when managing ninety one political parties, this will bring doubts in the minds of the people, and some will think they are trying to help one political party to win the election. I can remember that there was a function where the INEC chairman told the political parties that it was not going to transmit the election result electronically, he said it. I think the election was credible enough. Was the 2015 election results transmitted electronically? They are making progress, and I think we have to start somewhere. Now that we have staggered elections in Kogi and Bayelsa, maybe INEC can start putting it to test, we should not rush.