A former Head of State and Leader of the Congress for Progressive Change, Maj-Gen Muhammadu Buhari, has accused the leadership of the Independent National Electoral Commission of being deep in corruption.
Buhari, in a lecture he delivered at the African Diaspora Conference in London, said only wholesale changes in the top echelons of INEC could could cure it of the malaise.
A copy of the lecture at the Monday conference was made available to The PUNCH on Thursday.
According to Buhari, INEC, as currently constituted, “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, who also did not spare the Judiciary for its role in previous elections in the country, said that it was appalling that the electoral body had developed a very cozy relationship with the Executive and Judicial arms of government that its impartiality is totally lost.
To butress his claim, the Katsina State-born general stated that in the run-up to the last elections, INEC requested (and received with indecent haste) in excess of N80bn (about Ł340m), 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.
Buhari then went ahead to mention two 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.”
Buhari lamented that in 2011, all pretences at legality and propriety were cast aside by INEC.
He claimed that in the South-South and South-East, INEC put voters turnout at between 85 and 95 per cent even when reports showed low participation in the poll.
According to him, the electoral body recorded 46 per cent turn out in the zones where opposition parties had large followers.
He said, ” 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.”
Lamenting the absence of Rule of Law in the country, Buhari argued that “elections in Nigeria since 2003 have not been free and fair.
To Buhari, 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.