Former Head of State, perennial presidential candidate and the leader of the Congress for Progressive Change, General Muhammadu Buhari, has accused the leadership of the Independent National Electoral Commission of being mired in corrupt practices.
In a lecture which he presented at the African Diaspora Conference in London, the opposition politician said that only wholesale changes in the top leadership of INEC could rid it of this disease.
In a copy of the lecture which was obtained by this correspondent, Buhari was quoted as saying that the current composition of INEC would be unable to deliver any meaningful elections in 2015.
He said, “INEC’s top echelons are immersed deep in corruption and only wholesale changes at the top could begin to cure malaise. 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.”
Buhari also took shots at the judiciary for the role it played in the last elections, saying it was appalling that INEC had developed a relationship with both the executive and the judiciary that he described as ‘too cosy’, which has led to it losing its impartiality.
As evidence of his claims, the retired general who hails from Katsina stated that in the run-up to the last elections, INEC requested (and received with indecent haste) in excess of N80bn (about £340m), a hefty sum by any standards, so that it could conduct the elections, including organising biometric voters data specifically for the 2011 elections.
“But when opposition parties challenged the patently dishonest figures INEC announced and subpoenaed the biometric data in court, INEC refused to divulge them on the laughable excuse of ‘national security,”’ Buhari said.
Buhari narrated his experiences as a participant, in the 2003, 2007 and 2011 presidential elections and criticised the commission and the judiciary for stunting the growth of democracy in the country.
“In 2003, INEC tabled results in court which were plainly dishonest. We challenged them to produce evidence for the figures. They refused. The judges supported them by saying, in effect, failure to produce the result does not negate the elections.”
He added, “In a show of unprecedented dishonesty and unprofessionalism, the President of the Court of Appeal read out INEC’s figures (which they refused to come to court to prove or defend) as the result accepted by the court.
“The Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, said this was okay.
“In 2007, the violations of electoral rules were so numerous that most lawyers connected with the case firmly believed that the elections would be nullified.
He then gave two specific examples of such violations – the neglect of one of the core provisions of the Electoral Act 2006, and results that were prepared one or two days before elections were conducted in 2003 as well as April 31, a day that does not exist on the calendar.
He said, “The Act stipulates that ballot papers shall be serially numbered and voters result sheets must also be tallied on serially numbered papers. INEC produced ballot papers with no serial numbers and also used blank sheets, thereby making it well nigh impossible to have an audit trail.
“In 2003, the courts rubber-stamped this gross transgression of the rules. Some election returns confirmed by INEC stamps included, April 28, two days before the election, April 29, a day before the election and astonishingly, April 31, a date which does not exist on the calendar, illustrating the farcical nature of the election.
“The Supreme Court split 4-3 in favour of the government.”
He lamented that in 2011, INEC put aside all pretences of legality and propriety, allocating a voter turnout between 85 and 95 per cent in the South-East and South-South even when reports showed low participation in the poll; while in zones that were opposition strongholds, a voter turnout of 46 per cent was recorded by the electoral body.
“In the South-South and South-East states, turnout of voters was recorded by INEC at between 85 per cent and 95 per cent, even though in the morning of the election, the media reported sparse attendance at polling booths.
The rest of the country where opposition parties were able to guard and monitor the conduct of the presidential election turn-out averaged about 46 per cent .
“In many constituencies in the South-South and South-East, votes cast far exceeded registered voters.”
These, according to him, “bring us to the need for an impartial judiciary in a democratic setting.”
He lamented the absence of rule of law in the country, saying that no election in Nigeria since 2003 has been free and fair.
He went further to say that an independent and impartial judiciary would have overturned all the presidential elections since 2003.
He alleged that since 1999, the Federal Government, under the control of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, had “successfully emasculated the judiciary and turned it into a yes-man.”
He said that in recent elections in Nigeria, many voters had to be guided – like blind men and women – as to which name and logo represent their preferred choices or candidates to vote for.
He added, “When one does not know what the thing is all about, it is difficult to arrive at a free choice. It will be even more difficult to hold elected office holders to account and throw them out for non-performance at the next election. Under these circumstances, democracy has a long way to go.”
Buhari argued that “for democracy to function perfectly, a reasonable level of ethnic, linguistic or cultural homogeneity must exist in a country.