Prince Adewole Adebayo is a presidential aspirant on the platform of the Social Democratic Party (SDP). The constitutional lawyer-turned politician has been at the forefront of the campaign for free, fair and credible elections in the country. He shares his views on the newly signed 2022 Electoral Act and other sundry issues. Excerpts
Q: As a known advocate of credible elections, with the signing into law of the Electoral Act, 2022? Can this sanitise the electoral process?
ANS: I’m relieved and pleased, relieved on behalf of the country that we shouldn’t start with uncertainty, that is what I’m relieved about. Will the President sign or will he not sign. The electoral umpire, INEC was unable to publish its timetable because they did not know if they were going to work under what they likedbecause I think INEC prefers this scenario now to the earlier situation where all the burden will be on them, last-minute rush, the parties will take forever to conduct their primaries and when they did conduct, they will do it in such a shoddy and controversial manner that instead of INEC getting clear nominations, they will be inundated with court cases and disputations.
So, I am relieved on behalf of the country. I’m pleased personally as an aspirant that the investment of time, resources and the mobilisation of Nigerians all have a better chance of the people’s will being reflected. It gives confidence to those of us who are coming in to play clean politics, it gives us a very good opportunity to talk to others who may say it doesn’t matter, they will not allow the will of the people to be shown or that the ruling party is bent on rigging. So you can imagine what it would have been like if the President did not sign, this will just give life to such suspicions.
Q: One of the significant components of the new Electoral Act is the use of technology. Do you think the country’s electoral process is ripe for the deployment of technology?
ANS: Our entire life is exposed to technology now, so I don’t think we should make a fetish out of this anymore. We use technology to do every transaction, no one who is ill now will not want to use technology to cure himself, we use technology to fly all over the place, we use it to communicate. There is nothing mysterious about elections, just a voter going to the appointed place, taking a ballot paper and putting it in the box. So if bankers use technology to transfer money and even courts use technology to hear cases, I don’t see any reason there should be any mystery regarding usage of technology in election matters, it is suitable, it is about data collection, just like any other data collection and the transmission of that same data. It is just that the stakes are high, so people are worried about whether the technology would favour them or not.
So that is where the problem is, there is nothing wrong with technology, it will work, it may have the same problem as every other technology, and the backups should be the same as when any technology fails. So there isn’t anything mysterious about it. And as far as technology is concerned, there is no difference between a rural area and a city because, with satellite-based technology, the whole earth is the same.
So I think we should just make it clear that people should embrace it. Am even surprised that it has not been embraced before now.
Q: Most of these amendments were aimed at addressing identified gaps in the previous electoral process. What areas do you think the 2022 amendment will address?
ANS: The Act tried to address many of the known sharp practices and fault lines of the past but there is no law anywhere in the world that can change the human heart. There are four problems affecting our elections. Legislations can address manifestations of these problems. But the intention to make these problems occur can hardly be addressed by law. It has to be addressed by other value systems and people’s investment in it. For example, from my experience, we used to have a situation where the first problem was the party in power adopted ta do-or-die approach to electioneering such that if it Loses a single councillorship seat or House of Assembly election or House of Representatives, it was like the party was going to die, it was like the leaders were not performing. So to some leaders, it was perceived as their moral duty to maim, kill, rob, trick and do whatever to win so they could convince their parties that they were strong in their jurisdiction. That was what we started with and even the leaders of the country go around to say it is a do-or-die affair, you must win.
So if we have that, there isn’t much you can do with the law because that will lead you to the next level.
The next level is that the leadership and the operation of the electoral commission were meant to reflect the do-or-die mood of party leaders such that even in the selection of commissioners in the operation of their commission and the measures and activities they were putting in place, it was interpreted as whether they were loyal to the government in power. So if INEC was to do anything likely to engender popular participation, it was like you are betraying the person who appointed you. So, that mentality of looking for someone who is going to be loyal to you, who is going to carry out your do-or-die wishes made the Commission have that attitude where they were brought within the Commission booby-traps for themselves. That’s the second part.
The third part is the participants, politicians were putting too many high stakes in the election. You would have noticed politicians selling their houses, borrowing money from banks, doing all sorts of things. So the stake is not about letting the wish of the people be done, it was a battle that could have been fought with guns and tanks now being fought through the ballot. So it made everyone desperate to a point where they could pay any amount of money to any official of the Commission, they could arrange with law enforcement agencies.
So this war-like approach could not have been addressed by the amended Electoral Act because even with the Act every stakeholder believed and behaved as though all was fair in war.
The fourth problem was a point where the people reached and they stopped being stakeholders in their democracy, at a time when these politicians become a troublesome lot During elections they come and scatter everywhere and once they win they take all the money and benefits to themselves. So we reacted in two ways. One is apathy. We became uninterested, just stay at home and if you are a young man and you are associating with politicians, your parents will ask you to keep away from politics. It Is not a good thing, if you are a pro professional, doing well in your profession and you indicate interest to serve the public, people will question your sanity.
Another is that the few who have interest, have a parochial, I-before-others kind of interest. They will say let me go and make my money, let me sell my vote, let me be a thug and collect something because it is a money-making venture. All these intentions, we may have had improvements but some still harbour them. So in this situation, what the Electoral Act has done is to pick examples, lessons from activities in the past that represented these fundamental mindsets that I have explained but it has not addressed the mindset being law cant can go to the minds of the people and say if you are in government, you are serving the public, forget do-or-die affair, you can’t do anything, you can only say do-or-die people in government tend to do this or that, then you make the law so well written that it can stop them from carrying out their worst excesses.
Okay, you administer the oath of neutrality on INEC officials, you strengthen the law against bribery, you remove the anthropomorphic aspect from it where human contact is replaced with technology, all ideas of trying to adopt technology is to remove temptations from INEC functionaries, whether full-time or ad-hoc, because if you have election result declared at the polling unit, you can use your finger to count the result but between the polling unit and the collation centre, you see that people complain that these numbers have been tampered with, people are hoodwinked and fake results are announced, the courts have to now choose between two liars, the one lying a little and the one lying a lot. So that’s how the election tribunals have to get involved and in some instances, the tribunals get compromised or get misled or make honest mistakes and they will go on appeal and eventually we have all these problems.
So the use of technology is aimed at helping us to eliminate the possibility that someone can use his/her discretion or mischief to change something.
Q: Still on legislation, we have seen sponsors and perpetrators of electoral malpractice walk away with their victory, without strong laws to bring them to book and they are taking advantage of this to subvert the process. What do you think should be done?
ANS: It is like this, you remember when you were in the primary school a pupil will be appointed by a teacher to write names of noisemakers. That list never reflected on anybody’s result because it wasn’t taken seriously because sometimes when the teacher returns the pupil who was asked to write the names of noisemakers may be the worst culprit or write the names of people who did not give him part of their lunch or who didn’t pay enough homage. So it was on a rare occasion you found someone doing it.
The people who are supposed to enforce the law are the people who are the offenders themselves. That is why it hasn’t worked because if you read elections petitions, I have spent twenty years of my life filing petitions, defending petitions and all of that. In fact, in one of the presidential election petitions, the party that lost wrote that some Police officers thumb-printed ballot papers, that Police personnel killed people, that some Police officers snatched ballot boxes. Who is supposed to enforce the Electoral Act? So if the Police are the offender, if the Attorney-General is a stakeholder, if the INEC Commissioner, who is representing the Commission, is accused of fraud, if the REC is said to be working with the governor or something. So this is an elite crime and all over the world, elite crimes hardly get punished, that is why a person is more likely to be jailed for stealing a bicycle than for mismanaging a bank.
So because electoral offences are elite crimes it is only when the people are in control of the polity that they can force the elites to punish one another for their crimes. So don’t let us go to the backend, which is electoral offences, when it happens, how to punish it, no. What you should do is to prevent the crime from being committed to start with and this Electoral Act 2022 going more of prevention, and it is also given evidence. But what I tried to do for INEC, was I wrote their first Electoral Offences Draft Bill and I still have a copy with me. I wrote it for them in 2006, it was meant to allow for prosecution of electoral offences the way an individual can prosecute election petitions. So if I can allege in an election petition that somebody snatched a ballot box or somebody altered Form EC8 or someone committed one crime or the other, if I can allege it in an election petition and I am allowed to lead evidence, it is just that I have to lead evidence, meets the threshold of a criminal conviction, it cannot be by a balance of probabilities, which is what the civil act requirement is, I have to do it and prove it beyond all reasonable and I can do that, why will I not be able to obtain automatic statutory fiat to prosecute anyone who is found to have committed an electoral offence. So if you want to do that, once you know that if you go to a community and you snatch a ballot box and you run away, you’re caught on video and there are witnesses, any person who is a contestant in the election can automatically rely on the Act and have you prosecuted. Then the perpetrators will not have the monopoly of prosecution and the second leg of it is that the Commission itself would have, like the EFCC, a prosecution department.
The problem with that is that for INEC to be able to do that, they have to rise above board because, in many judgments of courts of record, there are indictments of INEC officials and INEC itself. So it is like asking one of the co-offenders to prosecute the others, so this is the conundrum that we have when it comes to the issue of prosecution because you also have to guide against the weapon being weaponized against contestants that they don’t like so that while it is more of preventive measures in the Electoral Act, makes it easier to use unbiased technology. So all of these measures will not excuse the most important component, which is the people themselves have to demand a clean election and have to invest their minds, time and energy in ensuring that they contribute to making that happen. But where something is a crime in the book but is socially accepted, it cannot be a crime in real life.
Q: The issue of endorsement of people seeking public offices by a cabal has become synonymous with our electoral process. When will elections reflect the power of the electorate?
ANS: This is the way I understand it, in a democracy, there are many stakeholders and in a participatory democracy there are many shades of opinion. Campaigning requires you to consult and exchange ideas with different shades and in matters that are ideological or based On principles or based on interest and sentiments. There are opinion leaders known by the people as aggregating their consciousness and there are in classes. So if for example, I have certain radical views, as I do have, and am a new person, those who have vested interest in the country, industrialists will say we are concerned that this young man who is just fifty years old, maybe he doesn’t understand the efforts we made to put all of these things in place in the country and he is going to come impatiently and scatter what we are doing, he may not know what we put in to run these industries, he may come up with fiscal or monetary policies that are going to disrupt productivity. So I can go to the Chamber of Commerce and talk to the leadership, I can go to the stock exchange and talk to the market, I can go to the bankers’ committee and talk to the bankers and I can go to Nigerian Manufacturers Association (MAN) and talk to them. So when you are doing this, they will explain to their members that they have met with you and that you understand our position and he knows the risks attendant to their industry and our contributions to the economy, his policies are not against the market. If there are political leaders who aggregate the feelings of certain categories, you go to them and talk to them as well and say this is what I want to do.
Specifically, in our case where we have diversity in ethnicity, in religious beliefs and these issues are on the front burner, then for me and my personal experience, even things that you think you know, when you meet with these opinion leaders, you will understand why they are leaders to start with. Why do people allow them to be their leaders, to you who don’t belong to that group, you don’t know what that particular leader is doing for his people and they need him, everybody should be able to pray for themselves, so why do they need the Bishops, the Sheiks and so on but when you come across these leaders, you would understand the concerns of their members and the data that they collect daily on issues that can easily be assuaged by simple explanation but which nobody is offering any, they have to be the ones comforting their members.
So when you interact with them, you can see that as a leader, I can solve these problems easily because now I am aware of them and many people who have been in office don’t get to be aware of these issues until after they have left or it is too late. So when you are talking to former leaders of the country, you want to learn from them why it was difficult for them to succeed in what looked so simple because I ask more questions than I ask them to do anything for me. I was with General Gowon at a book lunch and I looked at it, this is a man of peace, how did a man of peace end up with a civil war, what went wrong. This was a man that had everybody with great ideas, from Awolowo to Aminu Kano to Shehu Shagari to Anthony Enahoro and so on, working with him. These were the brains of Nigeria who contested against one another in the First Republic, they were all under him (Gowon), he presided over them but what happened, he was a man who was reluctant to take office, he had to be taken to rule at gunpoint but he had to be chased away at gunpoint too.
So these are all the things that we go to learn because to be President of Nigeria is a complex thing, it is not the way people look at it. The Presidency of Nigeria is a very steep responsibility, it is a very weighty responsibility, it is an office of sorrow and tears, even outwardly, it looks like pump and ceremony because every decision you take has a consequential effect and affects millions of people for a long period, and any mistake is an opportunity lost for generations unborn. So it is not a place you go to with a gap in your mind, you should minimise the surprise that you will find there and you also have to remember that you are human and the frailty of humans has affected other people, why would you expect your own to be an exception. So you must quickly learn from them, where arrogance led to hubris.
Q: Recent elections have been marred by voter apathy which has been attributed to loss of confidence in the electoral process by the people. With the recent amendment to the Electoral Act with dint of promise to protect the process, what is your message to Nigerians?
ANS: My message to Nigerians is for everyone to be a participant, I know it is hard but you have to be a participant and the most powerful people are the voters, even though they don’t realise it in many cases, but what makes you know that you are very important is that when all the noise-making are done with, rallies have been held and all kinds of jamboree have taken place, on the day of the election, everything is quiet, it is now left to the voter and their conscience. So if our people start to participate from the beginning and start to interrogate politicians, I know it is easier to say these things but very hard to do it, but we have to do it because once you do it, you have peace. People have to by themselves desire a free and fair election, it has to be one of their prayers points because how I get to know that Nigerians want something is when they put it in prayer. So when free and fair election becomes the prayer point of Nigerians and they demand it, and to be free means to be free from violence, disruptions and all of that. To be fair means that you give each person an opportunity to play by the rules and some of the rules are in the hands of the government, like the Electoral Act which President Buhari could have refused to sign, or the National Assembly could have refused to pass, those are governmental actions. The government may decide to starve INEC of funds or even send unworthy Commissioners to the place, all are in the hand of the government. The next is in the hand of the party leaders because some of the greatest criminals in Nigerian politics are party leaders. They operate with criminal intent most of the time, they do not work for their parties, they become blackmailers and racketeers and collect money from all shades of people, miscarry their primaries, have it lopsided in one person and do all sorts of things and right from the primaries, the problem starts. Then the politicians themselves, many know they are not popular and they have lost hope of being popular but they want to use the money to do it, not just money to campaign but money to cause mischief, to buy the security agencies, to buy some INEC staffers and all of that. Now, the last set is the people. To be honest, even though am seeking votes and I need to be respectful and gentle to the public, we have to say the truth. The man who is saying I have my PVC and am going to sell it is also a criminal because it is against the law and such a person cannot say, well it was hunger, whatever situation, a Policeman will say the same thing if he allows you get away with the excuse that it was hunger, he can say well I haven’t paid my children school fees, so I collected money too and the INEC official will say the same thing and the politician will say I borrowed the money so I need to win at all cost.
So we need to talk to our people and what I have observed in recent elections is that a lot of people went to sell their votes, so if the people who are the least powerful individually but most powerful collectively, throw away their power and sell it for N3,000.00, why will you go and blame the politician then. So I think that same way people will be reluctant to sell their children, reluctant to sell their school certificates, the same way they should be reluctant or even rule out the idea of selling their votes. So if we have all of these desires, then we are going to have a much improved electoral outcome and it is not just for the day of election or the day after when the result is announced, it will send signals to politicians that come what may, whatever you do, the people desire a good government, so while they are in office, they will not say steal all the money because it doesn’t matter if you do the project. After all, you can always buy the votes. They will say look nobody is going to accept your money, you will have to show that you have done well and it will help us to do well. It will also improve the quality of people who come to contest because some people, like us, can never buy votes, that word never is in capital letter, because we are not going to commit a crime to get into office So it will encourage more people like me if they know that they have an electorate that is ready to accept them or reject them based on what they present, they will come out and give it a chance but if it is a bazaar, an auction, they are not going to come out because many people who have good ideas don’t necessarily have the money and many who have the money have worked hard for the money honestly and they have lived honestly up to the point of running for an election. They are not going to ruin their character and legacy because they want to win an election and go and serve the public.
So if these stakeholders, the government, the electoral commission, politicians, party leaders and the membership of the political parties and the contestants and finally the people, all desire and work towards a clean election, we will have a clean election, even without this Electoral Act, we could have had a clean election but with it now, whatever we desire to do is being facilitated for us by this Electoral Act. It makes it possible for those who are willing to work for a clean election to do so, it also removes the excuses of those who were cynical, who will say am not trying because even if I tried the hardest, it will still not work. It also gives the judiciary teeth because many of the amendments arose from studying judgments of various election tribunals when a Judge will say well what has been done is bad but our hands are tied because the Electoral Act did not say we can do anything about it. And this Card Reader is an INEC innovation but it was not backed by law. But now everything is backed by law. So the judiciary has no excuse to miscarry justice because as a practising lawyer I can tell you that on many occasions the judiciary has miscarried justice by obeying the law and you cannot blame the judiciary because they are to do justice according to the law and not justice according to the truth. So they’ve been doing justice according to the law, the law now is closer to the truth.
Q. If you win and emerge the Nigerian President in 2023, where will be your take-off point?
ANS: First, once elected, even before I assume office, I will carry out the three functions accorded to me. The President of Nigeria has three mandates, he is a missionary with three missions. He has the Head of State Mission because we don’t have another Head of State or ceremonial president, the President is the Head of State, unlike the First Republic where we had a Prime Minister and a President, so his first duty is to be a father to the whole nation. So even before the inauguration, I will make sure that I consult with every shade and opinion in the country so that the tension and division that we have now will die down, I will meet with every stakeholder, regional, ethnic, religious, class, group so that they know that their joy is my joy and their pain is my pain and that every person has a stake and access to my presidency.
Secondly, is to get myself ready as the chief executive, ready to take office from day one so that half of my presidential initiatives for the four years will be inaugurated on the day of my inauguration, very short inauguration and straight to the office to work for the first twenty-four hours without stopping to ensure that I have my cabinet list ready and on that day Nigerians will know their portfolio if they pass screening and clearance