Wednesday, 28 August 2013

The Anambra Elections, progress of the electoral process and prosecution of electoral offenders. Interview with Barrister Chidel Onuora, Senior Partner, Chidel Onuora and Co.



Good afternoon Sir, it is a pleasure to interview you today. 

It is my pleasure too.

Could you please start by briefly telling us a bit about yourself?

As you rightly said I am a legal practitioner. I practice law in Abuja where I am resident. I am also interested in the affairs of my environment. I like to contribute my quota to national development.

Looking at the state of the Nigerian electoral process, how would you say that Nigeria has fared so far taking into consideration developments since 2011?

I must tell you very seriously, Nigeria is on the move. The journey to our development is seriously on and so far Nigeria has done well. I must also admit that a lot more has to be done so that we can make faster progress. With the hindsight of the history of other developed countries, Nigeria should really take advantage of this history, understand and learn from their failures, correct them and move faster than those other climes had done in their own time. It is conceded though that this is an evolutionary process and every society must develop at its pace given its peculiar history and circumstance.

In 2011, Nigeria showed itself to the world as being able to conduct elections properly and that also was recognized and commended across the globe as a free and fair election. The courts and tribunals had dealt also with the several election petitions and the results had largely vindicated the process as free and fair. It must be pointed out however that no election anywhere in the world is full proof. There were many things, which were responsible for that. One of them was the determination of Mr President that the electoral body had everything necessary for it to conduct a free and fair election. Another was Mr President’s decision not to interfere with the process, a clear departure from the past and in that, submitted himself as a guinea pig in the attempt to recreate a process that will genuinely permit the choice of the people to emerge at its leadership. Because of the critical nature of the electoral process, particularly as it relates to good governance, it must be taken care to ensure that the process is not only transparent but fair as well. That way those who get the mandate are more likely to be responsive to the needs and aspirations of the people who voted them or otherwise be shown the way out through the periodic election which is the hall mark of constitutional democracy. Again, all the issues that arose in the 2011 elections for example, providing updated and credible voters’ register, the inability to access the riverine areas to conduct elections, delay in bringing electoral materials to polling centres etc need to be addressed before the 2015 general elections. Once this is done, I assure you that the 2015 elections will be perfected and will be acceptable to the Nigerian public and then Nigeria will also continue its march to national development, so that it takes its rightful place amongst the committee of nations. This will also enable the nation to effectively take its position in the sub-region and will in consequence be morally justified to play a leadership role not only in the conduct of free and fair elections in the sub region and even in Africa as a whole but other affairs in the region.

As an indigene of Anambra State I am sure that you are aware as most Nigerians are that Anambra will be holding its local government elections in October this year and its gubernatorial election on November 16 this year as well. Could you kindly enlighten us about the state of the polity in Anambra state?

I am from Anambra and therefore naturally will be interested in knowing what is happening in my state. For that reason I have followed Anambra State election issues and hope very seriously that we get it right. It is public knowledge that most of the political gladiators of the first and second republics in Nigeria were mainly Anambraians. The likes of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Nwafor Orizu, Alex Ekwueme, Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu etc were vibrant political actors at the time. Incidentally also the state is regarded as the light of the nation. It is the commercial nerve centre of the South-East and in fact Nigeria and even for the West African sub-region. So it is clear that the development of Anambra state is critical to the development of Nigeria and West Africa as a whole. Because of Anambra’s place in the South-East, it is important that things go right in the state.  For this reason, I would wish that in determining who becomes the governor of Anambra State in November, we must be mindful of very important issues such as looking out for persons who will be determined to turn things around, reduce crime, recreate the moral values of Anambra State and redirect them to issues of national development. It is also worthy to note that Anambra is not for sale so people planning to use their wealth to hijack the state should reconsider. Those are things of the past. We must be careful to elect such a man or woman who will be mindful to make Anambra State to be a better place for all of us. In doing so several factors must be considered. Firstly, how ready are these persons? What are their politico-social and economic programmes for the Anambra State people? What capacity and plans do they have to turn things around and make Anambra state take its place of pride in the political affairs of the South-East of Nigeria. These are very critical issues for us. We want such a man who will be capable of mobilisng the people effectively for positive change in our society. The reason why I refer to Anambra taking it place of pride is because the state is endowed seriously with the gift of technology and commerce. It makes one wonder why such a state has not been able to galvanise its potentials to such a point where it begins to handle very critically, those issues of development that will assist the people and Nigeria as a whole. I mean creating a productive and expanded economy that will cater for its people and Nigeria. That is why whoever wants to come in as governor of Anambra state must show that he is ready to do all these, ready to tap into the state’s potentials and then make sure that he mobilises the people positively to achieve this goal. That is the man we seek in Anambra today.

You may be aware that Anambra state has not conducted local government polls for over seven years but just recently Anambra State Independent Electoral Commission announced that it would be conducting LG elections in October of this year. What is your perception of this?

It could be as a result of calls for the recognition of LGAs as a critical component in the development of the nation. It just might also be a political strategy by the ruling political party APGA to use the opportunity to mobilise its people towards the November 16 gubernatorial election. Whatever reason it is, I do hope that it will yield positive results and lead ultimately to the benefit of the people.

INEC has stated that there are over one million electoral offenders from the 2011 elections alone with only about 250 of them having being successfully prosecuted so far. As a lawyer how do you think that INEC can tackle this legal albatross?

Firstly we must identify the failure to prosecute electoral offenders in a timely fashion as a major hindrance to getting our electoral process right. To this end it is important that an independent commission be set up quickly to deal with these matters expeditiously. A free and fair electoral process is sine qua non to good governance. Being so, a state of emergency is identifiable in this area and any positive thing we can do to get it right is welcome. In order to speed up prosecution of electoral offenders, INEC could obtain a general prosecutorial fiat from the Attorney General of the Federation and give these matters to lawyers on their payroll and could liaise with credible civil society groups to assist, particularly in the provision of funds and manpower.

Thank you so much for your insightful contributions.  

It is my pleasure to offer my humble opinion.



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