In a compelling speech delivered at the 2023 law week programme organized by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in Edo state, renowned legal expert Femi Falana, a senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN), urged the association to exert pressure on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to rectify the inconsistencies observed during the recently concluded 2023 elections. Falana specifically highlighted concerns regarding the delayed arrival of staff and the malfunctioning of the bimodal voter accreditation system (BVAS) machines.
Falana expressed deep concern over the diminishing faith of Nigerians in the nation’s democratic process, citing statistics that revealed only 22 million out of the 93 million registered voters participated in the last presidential election. This disheartening figure underscores the urgent need for addressing the flaws and challenges in Nigeria’s electoral system.
During his keynote address titled “General election in Nigeria 2023: A review of the nation’s political culture and electoral integrity,” Falana called upon the NBA to assume a central role in safeguarding democracy and upholding the fundamental rights of citizens. He emphasized the importance of collaboration between the legal profession and the judiciary to develop necessary amendments to both the 1999 constitution and the Electoral Act, thereby establishing a framework that ensures the conduct of credible elections across Nigeria.
With his impassioned plea, Falana implored the Nigerian Bar Association to take proactive measures in championing electoral reforms, engaging INEC in meaningful dialogue, and ultimately fostering a democratic system that inspires public trust and confidence.
“INEC must also address insecurity at some polling units, including violent attacks on voters and officials, voter intimidation, snatching and destruction of voting materials, significant cases of vote-buying, and limited access facilities for persons living with disabilities,” he said.
“The Benin branch of the NBA should prevail on the national body of lawyers to convene a national summit to review the 2023 general election as soon as the curtain is drawn on the election petitions by the various election petition tribunals, the court of appeal and the Supreme Court.
“The NBA should ensure that the summit is attended by the representatives of all relevant stakeholders. At the end of the programme, the NBA should collaborate with the judiciary committees of both houses of the national assembly in drafting amendments to the constitution and the Electoral Act with a view to institutionalising credible elections in Nigeria.
“Even though we cannot comment on the petitions that are pending in the court of appeal and the various election petition tribunals due to ethical restrictions, we are not precluded from reviewing the recent decisions of the apex court that have redefined the nation’s electoral jurisprudence.
“The NBA must defend the democracy and human rights of the Nigerian people which have been recognised and enshrined in the Nigerian constitution 1999 [as amended] and in several human rights treaties such as the international covenant on civil and political rights and the African charter on human and peoples’ rights to which Nigeria is a state party.
“With the total control of the political arena by money bags, democracy has since been replaced by plutocracy. As if that was not enough, armed thugs unleashed violence on voters who did not vote for certain political leaders.
“The violence that marred the elections in many parts of the country claimed the lives of 137 people. The electioneering campaign was not based on the socioeconomic problems confronting the people but on religion and ethnicity. Instead of expanding the democratic space the national assembly members empowered INEC to deregister political parties that fail to win any seat in the parliament.
“Having hijacked the democratic process, the members of the ruling class have completely excluded the majority of the people from the democratic process.
“Since the ruling class will not peacefully relinquish power to the people it is suggested that mass-based organisations be mobilized to participate in politics. It is the only way to end the highly expensive and violent winner-take-all presidential system which has made a mockery of democracy in Nigeria.”