Opinion

An Open Letter To Prof Mahmood Yakubu The INEC Chairman

By Nya-Etok Ezekiel

AN OPEN LETTER TO PROF. MAHMOOD YAKUBU, THE INEC CHAIRMAN

Dear Mr. Chairman,

I pray this letter meets you well.
I have the dual privilege of having a personal relationship with you, and being a participant in the 2019 electoral process as a candidate.

It is in my place, as a patriotic citizen, to let you know that all was not well with the last elections -not withstanding the great efforts you made. While I have no hesitation in giving you credit for improvement that your commission has achieved with every election that you have conducted in the area of logistics, there are policy, systemic, and institutional challenges that you must be made aware of.
These are the areas that I intend to focus on:

1. Compromise of INEC staff and officials:
Offers to some election officials that handle sensitive tasks like the collation officers, are now at levels where such staff would rather be fired than reject such offers. Imagine your staff, for instance, who earns less than N250,000.00 a month, being offered more than N25m to alter figures in a result sheet to favour a particular candidate. This is more so as there are no serious consequences, legal or otherwise, for such an act of compromise. You may therefore wish to consider the case of punishment for electoral crimes to be as weighty as capital crime.

2. The Party
I will spend a little more time here.
By the way of background, I’ve been involved in party politics almost from inception of the Third Republic. The ward and local government structures of the party are the most important structures. To have been made the Chairman of the Ward and Local Government Congress Committee to one of the states while I was in the PDP speaks to the level I had reached in the National Leadership Structure of the PDP. I thereafter contested the governorship primaries, in 2007. I then resigned my membership of the PDP and became non partisan before co-found a party (YDP), in 2015 where I served as its Pioneer National Chairman, and served for one year before handing over to the ‘younger generation, under my “Responsibility Transfer To Our Youths” policy.
I subsequently contested as its governorship candidate in Akwa Ibom State in the just concluded 2019 election.
I will, on account of the foregoing, be writing from an informed standpoint.

Today, we have 91 registered parties, with tons and tons of requests awaiting processing for new parties.
Mr. Chairman, the reason for this is as simple as can be – THE BUSINESS OF POLITICAL PARTY ‘OWNERSHIP’.
Parties have become instruments for political financial gains and bargaining through:
A) Sales of nomination forms
B) endorsement negotiations with major candidates
Every party – including the major parties, are effectively dormant until it is election season when the major party activities revolve around sales of nomination forms.

Towards election period, there is usually the flurry of endorsements of serious candidates by “merchant” candidates. This has become the new business where parties fields governorship and presidential candidates solely for the purpose of endorsements bargaining.
A clear example is in the 2019 election in Akwa Ibom State. We were 45 candidates but only 4 of us went to the ballot, while the other 41 did their business and went away with a minimum sum of N5m per candidate. For someone who did not print one poster or hold one rally or even spend a kobo and yet got paid N5m, it cannot but be considered as good business.

Likelihood, therefore, is that come 2023, all 91 parties will each have governorship and presidential candidates.

Ballot Sanity:
The proposed de-registration of political parties will do our political evolution process irreparable harm for several reasons. In the first instance, it will effectively make nonsense of the highly celebrated “Not Too Young To Run” Act for obvious reasons. With, say, less than 20 parties, no young person, no matter how popular or acceptable, will be able to meet the demands of wrestling the party nomination ticket. This would effectively become the properties of the high and might. Today Ifeanyi Uba is a senator because after being blocked by the ‘big party’ he took a hitherto unknown party and was able to prove that general election is different from delegates elections. Secondly, we are yet to address why the smaller parties do not have at least councillors. What is INEC planning to do with fraud of 100% sweep of local government elections by incumbent parties in virtually every state?
There is very strong evidence to the belief that smaller parties stand good chances of winning seats at the local levels if transparent elections are conducted by the state electoral bodies. It is this belief that has prompted the national outcry that state electoral bodies be scrapped and the responsibility of such elections handed over to INEC.

This brings me to my proposal for your consideration.

Selecting Parties for the Ballot
For legal considerations, and for the good of democracy, it might not be wise to deregister parties. However, INEC can introduce measures that ensure that only serious parties are on the ballot. I, therefore, propose that 20 parties be screened to be on the ballot through the following process:

1. Every party will be mandated and obligated to have a register of membership in three categories:
a) Active voting members
b) Active nominal members
c) Nominal members

A) Active voting members: These are members who are registered voters that are financially up-to-date by way of payment of membership registration/monthly fees as stipulated by the party.
B) Active nominal Members: these are registered voters with no financial commitment to the party.
C) Nominal Members: these are non-registered voters but are members of the party. This group includes junior party members -the children.

INEC should provide a platform where these members with PVCs synchronize with the INEC platform to ensure that no person registers with two different parties.
The members in category A will form the delegates at primaries. By this method, direct primaries will become the accepted primaries for election of candidates, while any indirect primaries will be strictly based on requests to INEC and approval on peculiar circumstances. By this, parties will be compelled to undergo active membership drive.

Parties for the Ballot: Mid-Term Elections.
About 18 months to the general elections, INEC will publish a date to conduct “Mid-Term Elections”. The essence of the elections will be to select parties (say 20), that will be on the ballot for the general elections. The voting portal will be opened by 8am and closed by 2pm. During this period, all registered voters from all the political parties will indicate their preferred parties to be on the ballot. This exercise will be limited strictly to Category “A” party members, and not the general public. INEC would already have such people on their portal.
The top 20 parties will be the parties that will be allowed to be on the ballot for the elections, while others continue on membership drive so as to qualify in the next election cycle. If a party is unable to come among the top 20, putting them on the ballot is unwise.
This process will cost INEC next to nothing as voting will be done via the phones of prospective voters. It will be a good introduction to eventual electronic voting.

Parties For The Debates:
To have the most competent candidates on the ballot, and to compel parties to take their manifestoes serious, debates will be made compulsory, mandatory, and obligatory for Presidential and Governorship Candidates. To have all 20 parties at the presidential or governorship debates will be ineffective. INEC will therefore have a second round of ballot to select the top 10 parties in the format of the previous. However, this time the voting will be open all registered voters.
This will mark the beginning of electing competent leaders as no party will field a candidate that will disgrace the party at the public debates. There will be strict sanctions for failing to show up in less than two of possible three debates.

These are my humble suggestions which I respectfully request for your kind consideration, dear sir.
Please accept the assurances of my highest esteem.

Arc. Nya-Etok Ezekiel,
2019 YDP Governorship Candidate (now in ADC), and
Visioner: Social Governance Ideology.

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