Opening address by the Senate President, His excellency (Dr) Abubakar Bukola Saraki, at a one-day public hearing on Vote Buying and Improving the Electoral Process in Nigeria, held at the National Assembly complex, Abuja, on Monday, December 10, 2018.
1. I have the pleasure of welcoming you all to this One-Day Public Hearing on Vote Buying and Improving Electoral Processes in Nigeria, organised by the Joint Committee on Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
2. The period we are in now puts Nigeria in a delicate situation where Africa and the entire world is looking forward to what happens in our coming elections. This is understandable when you consider that our President is the Chairman of ECOWAS. Moreover, the Chairman of our INEC is the head of Electoral Commissions in West Africa. With these positions, it is clear that we cannot afford to conduct an election that will not be credible, peaceful, free and fair.
3. It is instructive that in 2015, we set an enviable standard that encouraged more countries in Africa to democratise. In 2019, we cannot lower the standard. We must up the ante, because whatever we do will have impact on the continent and serve as a representation of Africa on the global stage.
4. That is why I enjoin the leadership of both chambers of the National Assembly to come together and review all issues concerning the 2019 elections dispassionately and patriotically. Vote buying and election rigging by whatever means, remains one of the contemporary challenges that mar our electoral process. We must deal with them in such a manner that does not detract from the credibility and legitimacy of the coming 2019 Polls.
5. Let me, at this point, mention that our major concern should be entrenching global best practices in our electoral process, and ensuring that these are backed by legislations to make them sustainable and permanent. For example, the use of Incident Form to bypass the lawful process of accreditation and voting is not good for the country. We must do away with it.
6. This is one of those issues concerning which, whether there is a law or not, all of us who are stakeholders should come to agreement and address the anomaly. At the very least, this is one minimum condition that we must meet as we move towards 2019 Polls. All stakeholders should demonstrate the fact that a credible and transparent election is far better and more important than who wins that election.
7. We cannot afford to send the wrong signals with our actions or inactions as we prepare for the next elections. The world must take positive cues from us that we are ready to improve on our process, and make our electoral process more transparent and commendable. This is because perception matters, as you all know. Perception is, in fact, the reality.
8. At this point, it does seem to me that the onus is on INEC to demonstrate its independence. It should be pro-active and take bold decisions. And this is necessary because the responsibility to conduct a credible poll is solely that of The Commission. This is elemental to retaining the confidence of the electorate.
9. All of us who are gathered here have the responsibility to contribute ideas based on our experiences and insights on how to cure the ills of vote buying, subverting the popular will and delegitimising the outcome of our elections. Furthermore, we need to make suggestions on how to curb the unlawful interference by security agents in the voting process.
10. It is all too clear that security agents are beginning to emerge as major clogs in the election process. Reports of collusion with political actors to disenfranchise voters is very worrying indeed. We cannot under any circumstances militarise elections, because that defeats the purpose of free, fair and credible polls. In an election, access to the polling units for the purpose of casting one’s vote is the bare minimum. Once a voter is denied the opportunity to vote through bullying, intimidation and other forms of harassment, then vote rigging and electoral malpractice have free reign.
11. The security agencies work for INEC as the electoral body is the one charged by the constitution and our laws to conduct election. INEC must therefore set the rules for their engagement during elections, which they are to follow. The Commission should further seek the co-operation of the respective security agencies to ensure strict compliance. It is that way that Nigerians can trust the process, and it will be clear to all that the right steps have been taken with regard to the involvement of security agents.
12. I expect many more issues and suggestions to be raised by participants here today; and it is my hope that at the end of these proceedings, this Public Hearing will make tremendous impact on how the 2019 Polls will be conducted and the expected successful outcome.
13. Accordingly, distinguished colleagues and stakeholders here present, I now formally declare open the Public Hearing on Vote Buying and Improving Electoral Process in Nigeria. I wish you successful deliberations, and look forward to your recommendations.
PRESIDENT OF THE SENATE