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How politics of winner takes all weakens Nigeria’s democracy, by Eyinla

Chief Technical Adviser to the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) Chairman, Prof Bolade Eyinla has attributed the desperation by politicians to win elections at all costs to the winner-takes-all nature of Nigeria’s democratic system, insisting that it was inappropriate for a multi-ethnic country.

He also picked holes in the way Nigeria’s presidential system is being operated, describing it as a major challenge for the Commission.

Speaking on what he considers the most difficult challenge facing the Commission in an exclusive interview with INECNEWS, Eyinla said Nigeria’s politicians do not yet possess the temperament necessary to run an effective presidential system. He said: “I like this statement that the Chair made or is it a question, asking whether INEC is actually an election management body or a democracy management body. When I reflect on it, based on my various international experiences, I think the conclusion I come to is that INEC is a democracy management body, saddled with so much responsibilities that sometimes, it may lose focus of its main mandate, which is the conduct of fair, credible and transparent elections.

“I think a major challenge is the way and manner in which our democracy and the political system works within a presidential system, wherein we really do not have the kind of culture, temperament and attitude to actually run a presidential system of government.

“Another challenge is the question of infrastructure. It was Dr Nuru Yakubu, a former INEC National Commissioner who says that we are operating a 21st Century election technology on 10th Century infrastructure. There has to be a deficit somewhere along the line.

“But in spite of it, I think the Commission has done its best to manage its constitutional responsibilities. But of course, one would have liked to see a situation where the Commission is concerned basically with its core mandate of the conduct of free, fair, credible elections.”

Eyinla is also of the opinion that the do-or-die attitude to politics in Nigeria could be reduced, if the country adopts certain aspects of Germany’s political system. Recalling his experience on a recent visit to Germany in company with the INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, Eyinla said: “The trip to Germany was at the instance of the German Foreign Ministry and it was to provide the Hon. Chairman with the opportunity of studying the electoral procedure in Germany. This was in particular reference to the election in the state of Berlin.

“The trip was specifically designed for the Chairman and was actually postponed twice, given the deep involvement of the Chair with the Edo election and the need to successfully see the election through. The Chair decided to undertake the trip only after it became very clear, due to factors we all know about, that the trip will not impact in any way whatsoever on the Edo Election. The trip was an eye opener in the sense that, well, for the Chair who was coming from a largely educational management background, it enabled him to actually experience first-hand, the election terrain and environment as it ought to be. Not like it is here in Nigeria.

“It was a very intense seven-day programme, in which the Chair, myself and a (former) National Commissioner were taken through the whole gamut of the German electoral system. There was an introductory lecture on the German political system, which is quite unique. We were at the polling station on the Election Day and observed the whole electoral procedure which was rather amazing. Then, we met with several officials concerned with the conduct and administration of elections at national and state level.

“We also took time out to visit the Nigeria Embassy in Berlin, which organised a lunch reception for us in which the issue of Diaspora voting came up in the discussions. We also had an interaction with the constituency office of a member of the German Bundestag (parliament) to have a feel of how German parliamentarians undertake their constituency engagements. We also visited the office of the Election Forecasting Institute that works in collaboration with the second German National TV station in terms of exit vote and electoral behaviour.

“We were also at the agency for Civic Education that undertakes the political education of Germans from age of 6 years on their civil rights and responsibilities and the importance of democracy and a democratic system, given the German history of authoritarian dictatorship under the Nazi regime. One thing that the Germans take very seriously is political socialization and the entrenchment of democratic values, culture and behaviour in the citizenry across the age divide.

“In terms of some real details, a number of things were quite instructive. Now forget that I did my Ph.D. research in Germany and I was familiar with the system to a large extent, but the trip was still an eye opener for me. The first thing that was quite instructive is that the Director and Chief Statistician of the Federal Office of Statistics is statutorily the country’s Chief Returning Electoral Officer during federal elections. Furthermore, the federal electoral board is composed of members of political parties in parliament, in proportional representation.

“In effect, therefore, the Chief Returning Officer is a civil servant and the Chief Statistician of the country. This was quite surprising to us and we asked if it is possible for an occupier of the office to be neutral and apolitical given the fundamental right of freedom and association in the German Basic Laws (Constitution). The incumbent Director and Chief Returning Officer informed us that two of his predecessors were actually registered members of a political party. Yet, nobody raised any question or doubt about their honesty, ability and credibility to discharge their statutory function and responsibility as the Federal Chief Electoral Officer.

“Another instructive thing is that in spite of being one of the most advanced countries in the world, with a world acknowledged capacity to invent and deploy cutting edge technology, all the electoral procedures in Germany are manual. The ballot paper was produced from newsprint and there are no security personnel or party agents at the polling stations. Most of the polling staffers are civil servants. They only get paid €30 (Euro) for lunch and are given a day off for being at work on Sunday. Beyond that, they get nothing, as they are all volunteers. So unlike in Nigeria, no time is spent on sourcing and recruitment of ad-hoc staff and the huge amount of money paid out as honorarium to electoral officials during elections is definitely not there. The brouhaha of restricting movement on Election Day or of security presence to accompany the deployment and retrieval of sensitive electoral materials is not there. These are all issues that are strange to the Germans because of the amount of trust they have in the functionality and credibility of their electoral system.

“There are about eight to 10 electoral officials at each polling station and they work in a relay. The voter register is extremely simple and highly accurate because it is generated from the civic registration and identity card system, whereby every German has a known address in a particular residential area. So, when election is coming, you receive a letter indicating your polling station and the rules guiding the election and that’s it.

“And then, there was this incredible system that after thumb-printing your ballot paper and want to drop it in the ballot box, a guy charged with the custody of the ballot box will allow you to drop your ballot paper and then tick off a number on the tabular paper in front of him. So as you drop your ballot paper in box, he keeps a tally. At specific periodic intervals of three hours during the elections, he will receive a call from the election administrator asking about voter’s turnout. He would respond by reeling out the number of people who have voted in comparison to the number of registered voters in the polling station. If voter turnout is low, efforts would be intensified through the electronic media to urge voters to go out and vote. This is a very good system of tracking voter’s turnout and the result is that if you look at most German elections, voter’s turnout is always more than 60 percent.

“What is also instructive in the German political system, which I have been trying to think through is the electoral system which is a product of German history. The question I ask myself here, based on the lesson learnt from the German system, is whether the winner-takes-all, first to pass the post political system is the right thing for a multi-religious, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural country like Nigeria, given our state of development? I think the Germans found a solution to that, based on their own history. The system is designed in a way that it is very inclusive and no single political party can solely form a government by itself based on its seats in Parliament. The system is such that there is a list of candidates that stand for elections by themselves and a party list with names of candidates. Furthermore, any political party that is able the garner five percent of the votes is assured of representation in parliament through the party list. In essence, this system of proportional representation provides a sense of inclusiveness and nobody tries to bring down the system, as everybody has a stake and sense of belonging. This is very much unlike in our system, especially when it is considered that in the 2015 presidential election, only about 2.57 million votes separated the winner from the loser. Let’s assume that this translates to a magnitude of around 54 percent to 45 percent in terms of percentage, it means the 45 percent are supposedly losers and largely denied representational access to governance for four years.

“When I was in Ghana in June 2016, I actually raised this issue with Kofi Anan who recalled that it was the ability to build an inclusive government involving the ruling and opposition parties that resolved the Kenyan logjam after the violent 2007 election. I would have thought that a government of national unity, such as this would become a model whose practicability can be explored to create a situation of no total victors and no total losers.

“I remember very well, the December 2012 presidential election in Ghana, when John Mahama won about 50.7 percent of the votes to Akuffo Ado’s 47.7 percent. This means that 47 percent of the population will stay in opposition for four years. Whether you like it or not, that segment of the country will have little or no access to government for four years which will of course result in tensions and conflicts within the system.

“So, I think the Germans, based on their history, have found a solution to this. This is the kind of thing we should be thinking about as Nigerians to advance our democracy for good governance and to promote national unity and socio-economic development.”

On what went through his mind when it dawned on him that the job of Chief Technical Adviser to the INEC Chairman had fallen on his laps, Eyinla said: “In all honesty, this was not the position that I was looking forward to, hoping for or thinking about. But you know, there is a phrase that I learned from my faith, which says, God works in inscrutable ways. And I think that was what happened in this instance. We found ourselves here and we are trying to do our best to settle down. When I say God works in inscrutable ways, it’s a very serious statement.

“I was with the UNDP/DGD II (Democratic Governance for Development) Project as an Election Expert in 2014 and half of 2015. I was first on sabbatical leave and then leave of absence from the University of Ilorin. I was in charge of the INEC component of the DGD Project and we did all we could to ensure the success of the 2015 general elections.

“During that time, I interacted quite freely with most of the top echelon in INEC, including the National Commissioners, Resident Electoral Commissioners, as well as most of the directing staff on the basis of confidence and mutual trust. I guess it must be this UNDP/DGD II background that attracted the Chair (of INEC) when I first met him. I actually met him in for the first time in December 2015 when I was consulting for the European Union Delegation (EUD) on identification and formulation for the Democracy Support Project in the 11th European Developing Fund (EDF).

“The interaction was necessary because we needed to know which direction INEC was going to go, what would be the priorities of INEC and what would be the innovations that INEC will be introducing under his watch. This is to enable us formulate appropriate response and support programme from the EUD through the National Authorising Officer. It was after the interaction that he actually asked me whether I would consider working with him.… In fact, the question he asked me was, “Prof., what are you doing now?” I told him that I’m back to my University, because at that point, I have been away for about two and half years and needed to be back. He then asked if I would be interested in supporting his office to which I said not immediately. I recall that at that time, I was committed to ECOWAS to serve as a Long Term Election Observer in the Republic of Benin and at same time, I was undertaking this consultancy work for the EUD based on a condition of availability until April of 2016.

“What’s interesting is whether there is something the Chair saw or knew about me that I’m not aware of. Subsequently, we communicated now and then until we eventually worked out my joining INEC as his Chief Technical Adviser with support from the European Union Delegation.”

Describing his experience in the last one year, Eyinla revealed: “At a personal level, I used to describe myself as an outsider, looking into INEC when I was with the UNDP/DGD II Project. But now, I am an insider looking inside and there is definitely a difference between the two because there are internal intricacies and dynamics that I know now, that I didn’t know when I was outside.

“Another thing, which is also different, was that when I was with the UNDP/DGD II Project, I had the power of the purse, in terms of the ability to support INEC activities. That’s a good position to be. For example, I drove the additional EU support to INEC for the Civic and Voter Education Campaign, especially after the postponement of the (2015) general elections through the surfeit of adverts, both in print, electronic and other diverse platform, ending with “supported by the European Union through the DGD II Project”. I was the major force that drove that process in collaboration with Mr. Oluwole Osazi-Uzzi, the INEC Director of VEP (Voter Education and Publicity) at that time. It’s quite satisfying that we contributed our quota to the success of the 2015 general elections by that singular act.”

Eyinla obtained both his Bachelor and Master of Arts degrees in History from the University of Ibadan (UI) in 1984 and 1986 respectively. He acquired another Master of Science degree in International Relations from the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile Ife, Osun state in 1988; and a doctorate in History and International Studies from the University of Ilorin in 1995. In addition, he obtained a postgraduate diploma in International Relations and Development from the Institute of Social Studies, The Hague, Netherlands also in 1995.

The University of Ilorin Professor of History has served at various times as election expert/observer in several West African countries and at international organisations.