By; PATRICK TITUS, Uyo
Towards strengthening the Nigeria’s democracy through credible polls and institutions, Barr Effiong Akwa has called on the National Assembly to re-assess the electoral laws to close all loopholes and address endless litigations to ensure integrity and credibility in the nation’s electoral process and governance.
Akwa, who is the Sole Administrator of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) made the advocacy in the keynote address he presented at the 2021 Press Week of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Akwa Ibom State Council, Uyo on Monday.
The NDDC Boss, who applauded the National Assembly for initiating reforms in the electoral laws, however said that the reform must also extend to pre-election litigation.
According to him, all pre-election matters must be concluded or become statute barred two months to the election date, stressing that a situation where voters go to election, unsure if the candidature of the person they voted for would be overturned later by the courts undermines the integrity of the electoral process.
“The integrity of the electoral process is the fundamental bedrock of democracy. Every Nigerian owes his nation a duty to make a contribution to strengthen it. This integrity journey must start with closing all the loopholes in our laws to deal with endless litigations which distort the outcome of elections.
“Let me commend the National Assembly for their courage in initiating reforms in our electoral laws. This reform must also extend to pre-election litigation. There must be an end to litigations. My recommendation therefore, is that all pre-election matters must be concluded or become statute barred two months to the election date. A situation where voters go to election, unsure if the candidature of the person they voted for will be overturned later by the courts undermines the integrity of the electoral process.
“The rule that all elections matters must be dispensed with within 180 days from the date of the election has brought sanity to post election litigation. The combination of pre-election and post-election litigation reforms will guarantee the sovereignty of the vote and by implication, the integrity of the electoral process. Whoever the people vote for is the one that will be in office.
“The next point on this journey towards achieving credible elections is the integrity of the umpire. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) must be seen to be independent, must be perceived to be independent and must be observed to be independent. An umpire that cancels, manipulates and doctors election results to favour or undermine some candidates is like a midwife who strangles the babies she brings forth. It will only be a matter of time before expectant mothers will lose faith in such a midwife.
“We must also deal with the quality of those elected into office. While the existing requirement for a school certificate should be maintained for those born before 1970, the minimum qualifications for elections should be raised to a university degree (or equivalent like, HND) for those born after 1970.
“The reason for this is that school certificates, pre 1970 could as well be seen as sufficient for any political office but that cannot be said for school certificate of today. We must raise the bar especially as the world is evolving into a knowledge-based economy, requiring modern technological tools to address society’s challenges,” Akwa opined.
NDDC Boss, whose keynote address centred on the theme of the 2021 Press Week, “Politics, National Unity and the Quest for credible elections in 2023: The Role of Journalism”, stressed the need for journalists to be objective,independent, balanced and fair in their reportage because they are eyes and ears of the society through whom the society perceives reality.
He observed that a situation where journalists/media organisations adopt candidates or have sympathy for a particular political organisation will definitely undermine the quality of their reports.
Earlier in his address, the Chairman of the State Council of NUJ, Comrade Amos Etuk said the theme of this year’s Press Week, “Media, Politics and National Unity, The Quest for Credible Election in 2023: The Role of Journalism”, is borne out of the Union determination to reflect on the upcoming election and prepare its members for the role expected of them in times like this.
Etuk noted the 2023 general election in the Country as unique in many ways, and coming at a time the nation is facing very challenging political, economic, and especially, security situations.
As Journalists, he said, “we are a vital component in preparing our people for this all-important election through our news reports, political analysis and setting economic and social agenda that would drive campaigns in a more peaceful and enlightened way.”
The event which was day 2 and featured Lecture presented by Mr. Dayo Aiyetan, a seasoned Journalists and Director, International Centre for Investigative Journalism, was chaired by Nigeria former Ambassador to Russia, Ambassador Assam Assam, SAN.