Hassan Saliu, a professor of Political Science at the University of Ilorin, is the president of the Nigerians Political Science Association (NPSA). He speaks to DARE ADEKANMBI on the performance of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the last election, suggests steps to be taken by the incoming administration, among other issues.
The first leg of the 2023 elections has been concluded and the second leg followed yesterday. How would you generally assess INEC’s performance?
Well, I have two main perspectives to share on INEC. One, INEC, maybe in an attempt to win over the confidence of Nigeria, had over-promised with respect to the presidential and national Assembly election. Most of the fantastic things that the commission promised, some people will argue, did not happen. Therefore, one will be tempted to advise that it is better to promise moderately and deliver in a bigger way than to promise in a bigger way and deliver so little. The second perspective has to do with the fact that INEC is part of the Nigerian society. So, whatever problem we have in Nigeria, definitely, such a problem will find its way to INEC. So, it will be unfair to expect INEC to be totally extraordinary in its performance of duty when the country itself is wobbling and fumbling along the way. What do you expect? Naira redesign policy came along the way which makes cash to be scarce. INEC complained loudly before some steps were taken. Definitely, this must have affected INEC’s planning and logistics in terms of being able to get access to money and pay those who render some services. So, if you ask INEC, they will tell you the disappointments that it faced with respect to logistics. So, by and large, I will say INEC has tried, but certainly the commission could have done better than what it did. We are hoping and praying that the second leg of the elections will be far better than the first.
Which areas would you like to see improvement in the conduct of future elections?
To begin with, I would say INEC needs to understand that much of what it does is fieldwork, not office work. Therefore, staying in Abuja and be relying on information from Residents Electoral Commission has not helped. Now, INEC said it reconfigured BVAS before the second leg of the elections. But what attempts have been made to test-run the machines? After reconfiguring the machines, there ought to be one or two steps before deployment. So, we are still likely to face some problems until some people change their orientation from perceiving the work of INEC as an office work, whereas it is fieldwork. Some of the strategies you want to use, you have to test them; screen the personnel that will use BVAS. How many of them are conversant with computers? What amount of training did they receive before they were deployed? Maybe it is too late to expect any fundamental change, but in the future let’s look in the direction of people who have the competence in terms of organizational skills. You can’t sit down and be receiving promises from your field officers. You have to go and test the thing and be sure yourself. INEC training, from what I gathered, should be for two or three days. But let’s ask: what aspect of the training was done for two or three days? During the first leg of the elections, some of the ad hoc and permanent staff of INEC could not operate BVAS. Why would that be when INEC had four years to prepare for the election? But as I said, INEC is a product of the society and so whatever is worrying the society will also worry INEC.
You said the country should look critically for people who have better organisational skills to run INEC. Are you saying these professors who have been in charge have not lived up to expectations and we should look at retired judges or even lawyers from NBA as has been suggested by some people?
You got me wrong. I am not opposed to a professor being appointed as INEC chairman. I am saying that we need to look more critically. Some professors are fine scholars, but they may not be fine administrators. So, mere being a professor is not enough to be appointed as INEC chairman. We have to look at the antecedents of the person to be appointed, the potential the person has. I have nothing against Professor YakubuMahmood or Professor AttahiruJega. They have tried their best. But I am saying that in moving to the next level, even if they want to appoint another professor, let us ask questions and see who can deliver. The problem is not with the law. So, we don’t need to go in the direction of a retired judge or a senior lawyer. The problem of INEC has to do with planning and logistics and if you like, execution. There ought to have been trials and trials before the actual deployment. That is the point I am making, that whoever has taken up the task of being INEC chairman must be prepared to be an activist in terms of monitoring what is happening and recognising the need to do trials before actual deployment. Like I have told you, we have been told they have re-configured BVAS, after that there ought to be trials to ascertain the functionality of the machines. But everybody is at sleep now and only to be told that after reconfiguring, we ought to have done this or we did not do that. I am saying that until the day of deployment, trials and trials must continue so that where a problem is encountered, solution will be quickly worked out. That is the nature of INEC. The main task of the commission is ability to plan ahead and work towards effective execution. But when you plan and go to sleep and expect miracle to happen, that miracle will not happen. Whatever you put in is what will come out. But I want more vigilance and more appreciation being given to carrying out trials before the day of actual deployment. That is what I am saying. I am not opposed to professors being made INEC chairman.
A new government will be in place in May this year. What would you consider to be the immediate task of that government?
Our association is working out an agenda for the next president. Since you have asked me, I will volunteer a bit of information. But before I do that, we need to recognise that democracy is built on law and due process. You can’t have democracy when these two ingredients are not available. The due process in this case entails that whoever is aggrieved about the outcome of the election can go to court. Now that they have gone to court, we are awaiting the judgment of the court. I commend the efforts of those who have grievances for using democratic means to resolve democratic problem. All the roadshows and protests are not provided in the law.
Concerning what the incoming government should do, I think the immediate problem we have which to me is one that has given birth to other problems is the problem of national unity. How do we build confidence among Nigerians? Talking about insecurity, we have not seen the end of it because most Nigerians have no confidence in the government. If we are talking about economic situation, we know most Nigerians have lost confidence in the government. So, the incoming government needs to work hard to restore the confidence of Nigerians in government. How do you do that? Let your appointment be fair to all. You can balance it up. Engage people from every geopolitical zone of Nigeria. To say the government can’t find competent people in all parts of the country is stupid.
My first advice is that the government must win back the confidence of Nigerians. The first two or three steps in office of the incoming administration will show whether we want to take a break from what we have been used to or we want to continue with the status quo. I want to advise the next president to look critically at some of the issues, such as appointments and be fair to all: Christians, Muslims, Yoruba, Igbo or Hausa or Fulani. He should balance things up. If he does that, most of our problems will just disappear. But as long as people have the feelings that they are being considered as second-class citizens, hardly will you be able to mobilise them for national attainment.
The second advice is about the insecurity in the country. As I said, there is one problem that has given birth to others and that is lack of faith in government. Government should stop seeing Nigerians as enemies. How can you see your citizens as enemies because they disagree with you? The essence of a government is to look back and see what it can take on board in the views that have been expressed by Nigerians. It is not to be doing as if you they are a military dictator. Look at the currency issue which has become an embarrassment to the government now. Whereas, if the government had listened much earlier, some of the complications that later developed would not have been there. So, I will advise the new president to be ready to serve Nigerians and take Nigerians as equal with no discrimination in terms of religion, ethnicity or region. All of us are Nigerians. It is we who can make Nigeria better or destroy it. So, the president has that first responsibility of building confidence among Nigerians.
Look at the electoral geography of the country after the last election, what does it suggest to you to have a president elected by less than 35 per cent of the voters?
For me, I see it in a positive light, just a way for asking the president that has emerged from the process to put on his thinking cap and work for the interest of Nigerians. They are divided now. It used to be PDP and APC. But now, Labour Party has come in. What that means is that our democracy is developing. Yes, there are certain disturbing signs: people using religion for politics. As an African country, we can’t totally avoid all these fault lines. The question is: what is the next president bringing to the table? They have shown that the three gladiators won in their areas. Each of them has come to the table with votes coming from their areas. But now, the time for election has passed. What remains now is governance and governance entails not to be too excessively partisan in the choices made in running the affairs of Nigeria. So, I would say that I like the idea that we have three major parties now against two. What remains now is that whoever is going to come in as president has his job already cut out for him in terms of welding Nigeria together because elections have divided us. What remains is for governance to unite us. I hope the next president will have the capacity to do this.
Where do you stand in the clamour by some people that the time to restructure Nigeria is now that we have a president from the South because the clamour for a re-engineered Nigeria is from the South?
I won’t like to argue along that line. The man who has been elected has been voted for by major parts of Nigeria. Therefore, anything he wants to do, he has to gauge the mood. He is not going to be a southern president, but the president of the entire country. I am not opposed to restructuring, but the president-elect, Senator Bola Tinubu, has to approach it tactically. He has to build consensus around it. There are some Nigerians who don’t like the word restructuring. So, it is now left for him to sustain the aggregate support he has by introducing the concept and getting the buy-in of all segments of Nigeria. But for him to say he will do it because he is a southerner, that will destroy his government. I would not want him to delve into that now. He should build a consensus around it before he does anything.
Do you see Buhari leaving any legacy?
No situation is terribly bad. There are always two sides to any situation you may consider. Buhari may have his own good side, but obviously the currency redesign and fuel issues will affect his rating by Nigerians. But I am not equal to all Nigerians. Why can’t I allow Nigerians to rate the government in their own way? But I do know that there will be a downward slide in the rating of Buhari by Nigerians because of the last two critical issues that troubled the citizens, especially his policies.
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