Bayelsa, Imo,  Kogi elections integrity test for INEC- NIIA’s Osaghae

Professor Eghosa Osaghae

Prof. Eghosa Osaghae, Political scientist and Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), speaks on how to curtail incessant impeachment of deputy governors, off-cycle elections, and Nigeria’s image in the international community. He expressed optimism that in the Bayelsa, Imo and Kogi elections will be an integrity test for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)

Staggered or off-cycle polls have come to stay. Is there any need to correct this as being canvassed by some politicians?
These off-cycle elections have not come by way of scheduling. In other words, we have general elections every four years. The development came to our political firmament because we had judicial intervention of a kind that has prolonged or shortened the term of some incumbents. Therefore, we have to hold elections in between the general elections. It is not only for executive positions but also legislative positions. The off-cycle elections are backed up by the law. It is the exigency of tribunal and court judgments. I think it is good for our system. I’m sure many of us would have seen that INEC performs better when we have isolated, off-cycle elections because they are able to concentrate on one election at a time. They don’t overstress their capacity, as they tend to do during the general elections. During general elections, INEC conducts elections across 36 states and 774 local governments. However, during staggered polls, they are able to concentrate. Foreign observers would agree that INEC has always performed better during off-season elections. The staggered elections came by default, not by design.

Governorship elections will hold in Bayelsa, Imo and Kogi states this weekend. What are your expectations from the polls?
Coming in the aftermath of the highly contested general elections that we had earlier in the year, we expect some voter intensity, because there are those who think that opposition parties will probably get another opportunity to have a better showing than they had in the general elections. There are those who think that the election provides the opportunity for the ruling party to further consolidate its hold in the states and so on. I expect that the election should go well. As I said, INEC is likely to be better prepared. It is talking about IREV and so on. The INEC itself would have learnt a lesson. We expect that they will correct those things that went wrong in the general elections. Altogether, I expect the election will have some intensity but I don’t expect serious problems

There has been a plethora of impeachments of deputy governors occasioned by rifts with their governors. How can the country overcome this snag? 
We first have to understand the context within which governors and their deputies emerged and have relationships. I think the position of the deputy governor is similar to what America calls elongation of the governor ticket. In other words, even though we think that the ticket is not complete without the deputy, the deputy is a spare tyre that exists at the discretion of the governor.

So, there is a lot that goes into being a running mate. He or she is running first before he becomes the deputy governor. To that extent, it is the governor who is absolutely in control and in charge and exercises executive powers in the state. Whether he decides to delegate duties to the deputy or not, it’s entirely at his discretion.

From the experiences we have had in our country, not only in this Republic but also in the earlier civilian dispensations, we might need to take a second look at that kind of framework and fashion out a relationship that is encouraging. One in which the deputy governor will not be solely at the pleasure of the governor. If the governor decides that he doesn’t want the deputy to remain in office, he engineers his removal.

However, this is very important, if the state Houses of Assembly were strong enough to stand as a separate arm of government and exercise the kind of oversight that has been assigned to them in the constitution, then there is a possibility that maybe members of the legislative assembly can intervene and help to steer the ship of the state.  Know full well that the ultimate weapon that is always used against the deputy governor is impeachment, which is also available for the governor. But the point is that, so far, we have not seen a deputy who tries to unseat the governor using the legislature.

So, going forward I think the constitution makers and legislators have work to do. One thing is to give statutory, legal, and constitutional duties and roles to the deputy governors. This is by giving some kind of immunity to guarantee responsibilities that a governor cannot overturn entirely at his discretion.

They must have a cordial relationship to be able to navigate the waters. The good thing is the adversarial relationship between the governor and their deputies is the exception rather than the rule. Many governors and deputies have managed to stay together. There are also some lessons to learn from that.

Many scholars describe Nigeria as a weak state due to the weakness of its institutions. How can Nigeria strengthen its political institutions? 
You can’t build institutions outside of the context of its overall location. Some of those institutions are new and undergoing reforms. They need to be fully grounded in our political culture and our own understanding. This is because when you have reforms, you need time to settle down and adapt to the new challenges that come with those reforms. Our institutions, unfortunately, have been really challenged by photocopy and by the kind of thing you find permeating the totality of society.

For example, the strength of incumbency, the fact that it is people who matter more than institutions. In other words, you can have a chief executive who turns around and almost makes the institution according to what he wants. We must have checks and balances to prevent such excessive behaviour.

And offices and institutions are about legal, constitutional provisions and not about individual interpretation and intervention. I think in our country we need to have a political culture that identifies the sanctity of the rules, regulations and constitutional provisions that will make them impersonal. We need to insulate our institutions from personal intuition at all levels.

In Nigeria, this is not limited to public institutions, even in the private sector; the chief executives are so powerful that they can almost redefine the whole establishment and organisations if the rules no longer matter. I think it is the behavioural and cultural dimensions that we need to address.

The wave of ‘japa’ is strong in Nigeria. Many are of the opinion that it represents neo-colonialism and imperialism. What is your take on this?
All over history, human migration has always been determined and influenced by what we refer to as push-and-pull factors. Within Nigeria, we have patterns of migration that see people moving from less developed to more developed parts of the country. Imagine a world without borders and restrictions across boundaries; I’m sure that there will be navigation on the part of many human beings in search of greener pastures. So, it is not different, that people have moved from less endowed to endowed areas, from more challenging to safer areas.

But people talk a lot today about economic migrants, brain drain and the fact that we are losing a lot of our skilled manpower. It is a certain stage of development trajectory given the fact that the world has become more globalised than ever was in history. When the world is this globalised and connected, when there is the Internet, people are more aware of the happenings in other parts of the world, and that kind of migrating process is one of the things to expect. But don’t look at migration in isolation.

Think of how music produced in Nigeria by Nigerian youths has become a major game changer in the world. Think of how Nollywood has projected Nigeria. In other words, there is reciprocity between people who are living there and those who are here. Think of great countries in the world, they move around in search of opportunities. The Jews, Indians, Chinese and others are all over the world. That is their strength.

Even Europeans themselves had migrated, seeking greener pastures and better opportunities. That was what bailed many of them out of the doldrums. It is of multi-dimensional considerations rather than lamentation. I’ll rather see it as a part of our development processes that are well located across the countries.

Will you agree with the notion that Nigerian foreign policy is weak and not well defined to make a meaningful impact in world politics?
That can’t be true. It is inconceivable that Nigeria’s leadership will not be sought in West Africa, Africa or in the United Nations, or in any multilateral organisation when it comes to deciding or determining what the Africa position will be. Nigeria has a strong voice. It has always been there. Those who said there is lack of intensity in foreign policy must understand that the global system today is not the same as it was, especially in the days of the Cold War.

Now, the global system is in a state of slush. The war in Israel and Ukraine and many other wars around the world, the energy crisis, the struggle over the ocean, the fight in the Gulf of Guinea and others have made the world much more complex than before. There are very few countries in the world today that still have those kinds of assertive policies such as they had in the past. But they must recognise that very few countries continue to be looked up for positions on pressing global issues. Nigeria is clearly one of those countries. When there is a problem in West Africa everybody looks the way of Nigeria. When there is a problem in Africa, everyone looks the way of Nigeria.

*Continue reading from the source: The Guardian