Nigeria doesn’t need professor as INEC chairman — Sowore

The presidential candidate of the African Action Congress (ACN) in last Nigeria’s general elections and pro-democracy campaigner, Omoyele Sowore, has said the university professors should not be appointed again as the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), saying the majority of them who have occupied the office and those appointed as returning officers in the past general elections did not live up to public expectations and the integrity of the high status of their academic attainment in the discharge of their electoral roles.

He also expressed great displeasure over the weak state of Nigeria’s electoral process and judiciary, saying both have been grossly compromised and are doing the country great harm.

Sowore made this remark on Thursday at a one-day seminar organised by the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) in Lagos.

The event, with the theme of “National Seminar on Targeted Electoral Reforms and Enhanced Judicial Integrity in Post-Election Litigation,” has many right-wing lawyers, including Ebun-Olu Adegoruwa, some professors, former lawmakers, and civil society groups, presenting papers.

According to Sowore, there is no need again in Nigeria to appoint a professor as the chairman of INEC, more so that Nigeria’s constitution does not preserve the office for only professors.

The reason is simple, and it is the fact that most of the professors who have been appointed to serve either as Chairman of INEC or returning officers in past elections have not been able to prove that their actions and inaction in that capacity satisfied the will of the electorate and the generality of Nigerians.

He, however, pointed out that the attributes that occupiers of those high electoral offices require are good character and integrity to be able to stand by the truth as expected of their roles.

He said, that a situation whereby professors are partisans and manipulate the results of the elections in favour of one candidate against the others, as most of them do, according to him, has rubbished the high academic status they attain.

Sowore, who also argued that the judiciary had done great havoc on Nigeria’s democracy over the years, expressed great doubt that nothing good can ever come out of the judiciary system, particularly as regards post-election litigation in the country.

According to him, most Nigerian judges are too corrupt, such that they pervert justice and subvert the will of the people with impunity.

He said it is too late to talk about judicial or electoral reforms again in the country, as the various reforms carried out in the past to enhance both institutions have failed to achieve positive results.

In his presentation, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN, who spoke on “Politicisation of election disputes in Nigeria’s courts: Key Provisions of the Electoral Act and the Challenges of Technical Interpretation,” said it is a pity that almost everything about Nigeria is politicised.

According to him, it is not only the judiciary that is politicised but also the civil society groups, the security, the electoral officers, and every other segment of society.

He advocated that while genuine reform is required in the judiciary in Nigeria, he noted that it would be better to limit post-election litigation only to election results and not on issues like candidate qualifications, either concerning academic certificates or ages or any other matter.

He said those types of concerns were supposed to have been raised and resolved by interested opponents before elections would take place.

He also said it would be better for INEC to be neutral in any election litigation and not be on the side of any particular candidate or political party, and that judges who handle electoral litigation should be specially trained for the purpose.

In his welcome address, Executive Director, CISLAC, Auwal Ibrahim Musa Rafsanjani, said the essence of the seminar was to change the narrative concerning Nigeria’s democracy and judiciary, saying both institutions have been seriously threatened by systemic challenges.

He said it was not that various legal reforms had not been carried out on them before now, but the conduct and outcomes of the 2023 general and off-cycle elections have questioned the direction of Nigeria’s democracy as the one taking one step forward and 10 times backwards.

He pointed out that “we are not unaware of the undemocratic actions of the political class, who are bent on capturing power at all costs for their aggrandisement and at the detriment of the collective good, which remains a growing challenge.

“These unpatriotic political groups appear with the determination to sabotage the integrity and backpedal progress in our legal and institutional reforms targeted at the electoral system and process, as well as any other thing that stands in their way. This has had devastating effects on citizens’ trust in the Electoral Body and the judiciary.

The growing commercialization of the electoral process has deprived many decent Nigerians of the opportunity to compete favourably in primary elections across political parties. Money politics constitutes a threat to a credible and inclusive electoral system in the country.

“Political financing has become a profitable investment in the country. Despite the limits to campaign donation and finance as stipulated by the Electoral Act, in the 2023 general and off-cycle elections, there was no control over political spending, as whopping sums were expended on party primaries, electoral campaigns, vote-buying, and vote-trading, which consequently defeated the essence of electoral integrity.

“So, we need a great reform for this narrative to change in the interest of the generality of Nigerians.”

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