Former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega, yesterday said that the 2019 general elections were a setback to the “positive gains the country had recorded in its electoral process.”
He made the submission while delivering a keynote address titled, “Electoral process in Nigeria: Safeguarding the people’s will for democracy to thrive” at a conference organised by the management of Tell magazine to mark 20 years of democracy in Nigeria.
Agreeing that there had been ‘incremental positive changes’ to the country’s electoral system since 2011, Jega, however, pleaded that all hands must be on deck to avoid further “setbacks in future elections.”
He went on: “I believe what has happened between 2011 and 2019 is better than what we have seen in the past like from 1960 to 2007.
“From 2011, there were incremental positive changes but the problem is that by 2019, we were beginning to see a reversal, especially in the governorship elections where incumbent governments influenced security agencies to manipulate the outcome of the polls.
“We also thought that instead of using civil servants of lower grades for the elections, we opted for corps members. Many of these corps members indeed played very constructive roles in bringing integrity to the electoral process both in 2011 and 2015.
“But by the time we got to 2019, we began to see a trend where politicians began to put pressure and intimidate the corps members to compromise the process. We have a number of cases and evidence of these intimidations. Many of these young men succumbed to the pressure. This means politicians are beginning to compromise an innovation we thought was adding value to the electoral system.”
The former vice-chancellor of Bayero University, Kano (BUK) warned that if measures are not taken ahead of the 2023 general elections, Nigeria might begin to witness a “major reversal in terms of the integrity of the electoral process.”
He, therefore, called for reforms in the electoral agency, adding that the protection of the commission’s independence was key to ensuring the integrity of election management in the country.
Jega defended the heavy deployment of security agencies for polls, saying: “Nigeria is faced with systematic security challenges that need such to secure its electoral environment.”
The don added: “In Nigeria, like few other countries in the world, we are faced with systematic security challenges and when you have this, you need to get security to secure the electoral environment and make it conducive for voters’ participation.”