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The round table brought together Chief Mrs. Sarah Jibril, the special advicer to the President on Ethics and Values, representatives of the Nigerian armed forces and other law enforcement agencies like the judiciary, independent observers and experts from local NGOs. The different political parties had representatives who actively presented their views on the matters discussed. The development of the existing state of electoral events in the country from independence to democracy in ’99 up until now generated ideas, strategies and recommendations that can be useful to overcome the challenges faced by the country.
The seminar included two sessions of paper presentations, keynote addresses and panel discussions on the roots and sources, consequences and implications of violent elections as well as identifying issues on campaign ethics in Nigeria.
Inputs were given by several speakers, which included Mr. Echezona Asuzu, president of the Alliance for Credible Elections (ACE); Rev. Fr. George Ehusani, clergy and executive director of Lux Terra Leadership Foundation; Barr. Stella Odife, former deputy governor of Anambra State; A. D. Umar, lecturer at the Kaduna State Polytechnic; Prof. Tajudeen Akanji, resident of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Ibadan and most notably Dr. Mrs. Sarah Jibril.
The speakers presented the audience with practical experiences, insights, and views both at organizational level and national level. The participants representing a broad range of institutions in the public as well as private sector brought to the event a valuable mixture of experiences and perspectives.
The feedback of the participants confirmed that the seminar was very much appreciated as well as that there is a pressing need for practical approaches and for more opportunities to discuss the many issues and the prospects for a common ethical stability, which in electoral processes in Nigeria would lead to peaceful elections in the future.
Proceedings and Contents of the Discussion
The seminar was opened by the KAS country representative, Mrs. Hildegard Behrendt-Kigozi, who offered a welcome note to the participants and gave an excellent introduction to the seminar and overview of the scene, she further stressed the importance of issues like this to the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung by giving a brief background of the work of the foundation. She thanked the speakers and participants alike for finding time out of their busy schedule to take part in discussions of this nature. She extended gratitude to those who traveled from throughout the region and within the country to exchange ideas. This was followed by another welcome note from the co-organizers; Prof. David Ker, a board member at Women Environmental Programme (WEP) and former Vice Chancellor of Benue State University and VERITAS University. He pointed out that WEP has been actively involved with several issues surrounding elections and political violence among youths in Benue and Taraba States; he further expressed gratitude at partnering with KAS in organizing this seminar.
The floor was thrown open for the key note address of the Chief Mrs. Sarah Jibril. She started by thanking the KAS and WEP for the initiative in putting together a topic of such importance up for discussion. She also thanked the president of the country for reestablishing the office of Ethics and Values. The special adviser to the president discussed the need for positive transformation. She traced the roots of the problems to the obvious lack of constitutional set up that allows the politicians to stay naïve about their duties and also maintained it was imperative for the communities to realize the purpose of their leaders. The leaders in turn need to know they shouldn’t be “political pollutants”, the advicer also called on parents to culture the right values in their children as the youths are most vulnerable in election violence, because some politicians might use them as thugs to intimidate opponents. In conclusion of her address, Mrs. Jibril announced there has been a proposal to affix to the constitution the celebration of a National Ethics Day on the 21st March.
Comrade Echezona Asuzu thanked the organizers for the opportunity afforded him to participate in discussions like this. In his paper presentation on “Violence and Ethics in Nigerian Electoral processes” he majorly blamed the military era for the decline of ethics and the appearance of electoral violence in Nigeria and opined that the lack of ethics and electoral violence in the fabrics of politics in the country are like Siamese twins. In his words “the aggregation of ethical abuse ultimately builds up to election violence”. He stated that the ethical challenges in the electoral processes could be viewed from issues in the macro environment and the micro environment. He highlighted political crisis, institutional crisis and economic crisis among others as some of these issues. In his recommendations, he spoke on the importance of increased public education and an imperative for a far reaching electoral reform.
Rev. Fr. George Ehusani of the All Saints Church and the Executive Director of the Lux Terra Leadership Centre was next to take the podium and he presented the roles of religious leaders and institutions in Ethics and avoiding political violence. He pointed out the unfortunate fact that the politicians in our society today have become more desperate in retaining power and less tolerant to opposition and criticism leading to the majority of them resorting to ruthless means. “Most Nigerian politicians have ‘small armed forced’ at their beck and call” he said. Most of the people responsible are the persons occupying the front row in our churches. Where citizens and politicians ignore the rule of law, there’s bound to be anarchy. Concerning the roles, religious institutions have to play, Rev. Ehusani opined that religious leaders must make sure to tell their followers that violence and all other election vices is not only a crime but also a sin and that they constitute an evil force in country.
Dr. Naomi Akpan –Ita’s paper was presented by a representative from IMPACT, Mr. Valentine Kwajime. He started by identifying insecurity as the biggest challenge in the country as a democracy. He maintained that there was a two way relationship between elections and violence in Nigeria and that the security agencies must play a crucial role in the management of electoral violence. They have to ensure a neutral political environment free of intimidation, coercion or violence. He split these duties between the Nigerian Police Force and the Nigerian Army and they included ensuring a level playing field for all political parties and candidates before, during and after elections and also suppressing insurrection and act in aid in civil authorities to restore order when called upon.
The roles of politicians, governors and government to avoid political violence were presented by A. D. Umar, lecturer of Political Science at the Kaduna State Polytechnic. In his paper, for any election to be legitimate, credible and democratic, it must provide and ensure fairness in competition and must guarantee basic freedom for equal contest with equitable distribution of resources amongst the contestants. Electoral violence in the past has actively transformed to political tension and crisis, consequently wrecking all efforts made by Nigerians to sustain democratic governance. In his recommendations, he proffered that politicians refrain from invoking religion, ethnicity or indigene status to build political support or erode opponents. He also stressed the importance of preventing public institutions like the federal police from being used by individual politicians seeking to advance their own political interests. The impartial deployment of sufficient security forces to ensure security for voters is necessary.
After his presentation, there was a short remark from Mr. Heinrich Bergstresser, a guest from Germany, who has close links to Nigeria for more than 20 years. Thereafter, the discussion with the participants was opened. They contributed by asking questions and making suggestions on how to improve the situation. Most remarkable was the contribution of a representative from the Ghana High Commission. He stated that the average American or German isn’t more law abiding but those institutions responsible in these countries work. The only way forward will be to make sure that the institutions in Nigeria are made to work to maximum standards. “Let the institutions work” he concluded.
Prof. T. A. Akanji contributed to the discussion by asserting that “We once had it good and lost it a point…” therefore we have to go back and find out where we lost every ethical attitude. Ethics he said is not about preaching but about acting accordingly. The discussion closed with a short tea break and an opportunity for the participants to meet each other and share opinions.
The second session of the round table was moderated by Doris Ikpeze. The two final panelists were Professor Tajudeen Akanji, from the Centre of Peace and Conflict Studies at University of Ibadan and Barr. Mrs. Stella Odife, former deputy of Anambra State and the executive chairperson of Women Organization on Gender Issues (WOGI).
Prof. Akanji in his paper titled Ethics and violence in Political parties, stated that there was a growing convergence in the use of concept and terms among politicians. These concepts are merely used as slogans signifying nothing. Political parties in Nigeria say the same thing in the same way and have hardly internal democracy, low discipline and no ideological concepts. These anomalies have resulted into cross-carpeting and tussle within the parties. He also pointed out that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is limited in its authority to curb the excesses of these political parties. He therefore traced the roots of most political problems in Nigeria to the bad organization of political parties and lack of ideological basis. He maintained that political parties have to clearly stand for something and serve the interest of the ordinary citizen. In conclusion, he postulated some facts that can help in remedying the political situation in Nigeria. All hands must be on deck to evolve a new political and legal structure which will anchor party politics on the demands of the constitutional government, ethics, sound moral values, accountability, tolerance in diversity and the rule of law.
Barrister Mrs. Stella Odife presented her paper titled “Situation of Women in Political Parties in respect to violence”. She started by citing different ways in which women suffer political party violence. They include cultural violence, physical violence, emotional violence and financial violence and are carried out through discrimination, marginalization and exclusion. According to her, the participation of women in politics is restricted to the fringes, leaving the centre dominated by men. The nature of the Nigerian political party structure also makes it difficult for women to actively participate. She cited an example with the National Working Committee of the ruling party Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP). In this structure of about 12 offices, only one position is held by a woman. With this structure, decisions are approved by a simple majority. In her suggested solutions, she stated the need for women to demand for equal representation in the party structure of all parties. The establishment of fast track court to handle political violence cases as well as other abuses against women is also necessary.
The next discussion session, led by the moderator Mrs. Doris Ikpeze collected recommendations and proposed solutions from the participants. These will be sent to all presenters and participants for a follow-up.
In conclusion, the Resident Representative, Mrs. Hildegard Behrendt-Kigozi thanked everyone for coming and announced that the discussion will be continued within a smaller group in order to find further ways to improve the situation.