In this exclusive interview with Channels Television’s Ladi Akeredolu-Ale, Senior Advocate of Nigeria and human rights lawyer Femi Falana, talks about major issues arising from Nigeria’s general election.
From the menace of ballot snatching, through the role of the military in the electoral process and the number of political parties in the country, the debate over electronic voting and more, Mr Falana explains what should be and what should not be. Excerpts.
What is your general impression about what has happened in 2019 with the general elections; what has been your impression about the process?
Well, you know there are many actors and many actors are involved in the process. At the level of the political parties, the use of thugs across board, the attempt to derail and manipulate the electoral process, the illegal deployment of troops, as well as bombing of INEC offices, destruction of election materials, snatching of ballot boxes and general terrorisation of voters… we thought we had gone past this level.
For INEC, apart from the postponement of the presidential elections, which was avoidable if we were more organised and if election materials are printed in Nigeria – shamefully, we either had to go to South Africa or Belgium to print the materials that’s why we are in this kind of embarrassing situation – I think INEC discharged its statutory duties to a large extent commendably, but there were saboteurs, electoral officers that were compromised.
At the end of the day, INEC has been able to operate independently and, happily, the two leading parties have been accusing INEC of bias either in Rivers or Bauchi or whatever, so I think that’s okay for INEC.
Unlike in the past when election results were taken to Abuja when the local situation resisted rigging, and that was the practice for 16 years under the PDP, now, with the innovation of technological methodology in conducting elections, it is no longer possible to go to Abuja to announce results of elections. Results are now announced at the unit level. We still have problems in a few areas where the collation was hijacked, but generally, what happened in 2019 was some improvement, except that we are too forgetful.
What bothers me as a Nigerian is the fact that the political leaders and some of my colleagues in the human rights community who were pressuring President Jonathan to deploy troops for the 2015 elections, now believe it is illegal to deploy troops for elections. Those who engaged in ballot snatching, now pontificate to some of us on how not to rig elections. They now come around to teach us about the beauty of democracy. Those of us who were asking INEC to conduct a do or die election, are now the heroes of democracy, the teachers of democracy. But the Nigerian people are the victims of electoral manipulation, of electoral violence. Attempts can be made but Nigerians have refused to be provoked into a major catastrophe. In some countries where the degree of provocation was not as serious, people have gone to wars. People have fought wars in defence of their franchise so the Nigerian electorate have tried not to be provoked but we could have done much better.