The vice president, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo has declared that the drive for a cashless policy in the country would go a long way to curb illicit election financing in the country.
Osinbajo’s remarks came just as the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) appealed to banks and members of the public to cooperate with the apex bank to enhance the cash swap policy ahead of the fresh deadline for the return of the old N200, N500 and N1,000 banknotes.
This was just as the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations and Chair of the United Nations Sustainable Group, Ms. Amina Mohammed, yesterday charged the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to ensure the success of the 2023 general elections.
Mohammed, who gave the charge in a keynote address she delivered at the State of the Nation Dialogue, also tasked the umbrella body of lawyers in the country, to device mechanism that would effectively manage conflicts that may arise from the conduct of the elections which commences on February 25 with the presidential and National Assembly polls.
Also, the Chief Observer, European Union (EU) Election Observation Mission (EOM) for Nigeria’s general election, Mr. Barry Andrews, yesterday appealed to stakeholders to ensure that the upcoming elections were peaceful, free and fair. He also disclosed that 40 observers would be deployed by the mission to observe the forthcoming elections in all the states of the country.
Osinbajo submitted that when fully operational, the cashless policy being introduced in Nigeria could help stem the surge of illicit election financing by making it possible to track funds.
Speaking yesterday, while playing host to a delegation of the European Union Election Observation Mission led by Andrews, who is also a member of the European Parliament, at the State House, Abuja, Osinbajo noted that so much money could be spent without it being tracked under the current election financing system in the country.
According to him: “I think that what we should be looking at is to provide more infrastructure. The cashless thing has been really advantageous and helps with tracking. That sort of infrastructure is useful for more financial inclusion and the more financial inclusion you have, the easier it is to track.”
While noting the serious difficulty in controlling election financing because of cash transactions, the vice president stated that there were still infrastructure issues required to be in place to ensure an efficient cashless system in the country.
He observed that with cash transactions, it was still difficult to seriously control election financing.
On the issue of electoral offences, Osinbajo pointed out that there was the Electoral Offences Commission Bill at the National Assembly and, “we hope that it will begin a new regime of dealing with electoral offences which would be helpful.”
He emphasised that by and large, one shouldn’t expect the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to be the investigator of electoral offences.
“I think that law enforcement agencies should be responsible for arresting and prosecuting offenders, state by state.
“Electoral offences are always seen through a political prism; people will always feel that they are being prosecuted because they belong to a certain party.
“What is more important is that we have to find a system where the police could have a special unit for offences during the course of elections. The Federal High Courts could also have a special jurisdiction to deal with offences and not extend beyond the Federal High Courts,” he added.
Commenting on the role of the judicial system, the vice president noted that more attention should be paid to the monitoring of tribunals and their outcomes, calling for more scrutiny from the National Judicial Council.
He disclosed that there were discussions in the past concerning malfeasance on the part of some judges, saying those found guilty should be brought to the fore.
His words: “There should be sanctions and that way, we would be able to clean up and correct some of the problems”.
In his remarks, Andrews disclosed that the Observer Mission would be monitoring the elections coming up next month, saying he anticipated a peaceful and fair electoral process.
According to him, “this is the seventh time INEC is inviting the EU Mission to monitor the elections,” adding that the team has been in the country since 11th January and would be here till the end of March, 2023.
The EU EOM Chief Observer urged authorities, candidates and political parties in Nigeria to ensure that the upcoming general elections are peaceful and further election-related violence is prevented. Every voter has the right to cast their ballot in a safe environment free from intimidation and undue influence.
“We encourage the authorities, candidates, and political parties to commit to peaceful conduct prior to, during and after election day. Cooperation between all institutions and parties participating in the elections is crucial. The presence of a level playing field, freedom of expression, assembly and association, respect for human rights and a neutral and independent election management body at all levels are all essential for democratic elections.”
Andrews said the mission would also study the new electoral law and interact with the stakeholders on the challenges ahead.
He said the 2022 electoral act which introduced new measures aimed at enhancing various aspect of the conduct would be closely followed to monitor its implementation.
The Chief observer explained that the mission had met with the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC and had so far seen that Nigeria was prepared for the 2023 election
He noted that the Electoral Act 2022 has introduced new measures aimed at enhancing various aspects of the conduct of elections. As part of its overall analysis, the EU EOM would closely follow its implementation. For the first time in Nigeria, the mission has a dedicated Election Technology Analyst who is assessing the use of technologies, especially the verification of voters and the transmission of results. A media analyst and a social media analyst are also undertaking an assessment of the role of the traditional media, as well as social media and digital communication during the process.
The EU EOM started its work nearly three weeks ago with the arrival of a core team of 11 experts with competencies in various aspects of elections.
Since 29 January 40 long-term observers in teams of two follow the electoral process in all the states of Nigeria. Seven Members of the European Parliament, together with some 40 locally recruited observers from 25 EU Member States, Switzerland, Norway, and Canada’s representatives in Nigeria were expected to join the mission shortly before election day.
In total, around 100 observers would observe the voting, counting, and tabulation procedures on 25th February and 11th March, he disclosed.
The EU EOM would issue a preliminary statement two days after each election day and would remain in Nigeria until the completion of the entire electoral process including complaints and appeals processes, and any possible second round of the presidential election.
The EU EOM has been deployed by the EU following an invitation from INEC.
All mission members are bound by a code of conduct, which requires strict impartiality and non-interference in the elections.
Other members of the delegation included Ambassador, EU Delegation to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Ms. Samuela Isopi and Deputy Chief Observer, EU Election Observation Mission, Mr. Thomas Boserup.
CBN Harps on Cooperation of Banks to Enhance Cash Swap
The CBN has called for the cooperation of banks and members of the public for effective cash swap policy.
The CBN Director of Corporate Communications, Osita Nwanisobi, made the appeal while fielding questions from journalists in Umuahia, after touring Abia hinterlands to monitor the availability of the new banknotes through cash swap.
Both urban and rural dwellers have been facing difficulties accessing the new notes as banks still load their ATMs with the old notes while cash swap agents were not receiving adequate amounts of the new notes for the rural people.
“We need to understand that this is our country and it is incumbent on all of us to make this thing(currency redesign policy) work.
“A situation where we have over N2.76 trillion or 84.5 per cent of money in circulation outside of the banking system is not healthy for our economy,” Nwanisobi said.
The CBN spokesman emphasised that the cooperation of bank staff in particular was needed, “because the success of this policy depends on their attitude and how they conduct themselves.”
“We don’t want a situation where they hoard the new notes and then give to priority (special) customers,” he said, adding, “Nigerians have the right to have access to the new notes.”
The CBN team had at the weekend intensified the awareness campaign in the rural areas of Abia State focusing on cash swap which was targeted at making the new notes available to people with no access to banking services.
Operating in four teams, the CBN officials went into the local governments of Abia and monitored the cash swap implementation while also distributing hand bills and posters to further create awareness of the new notes.
The teams also met with the agents and encouraged them to ensure that the abide by the directives of exchanging the old notes for the new ones and not to use cash swap as an opportunity to make more money at the expense of the people.
Ensure Success of 2023 Polls, UN Charges Lawyers
Meanwhile, Mohammed, yesterday charged the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to ensure the success of the 2023 general elections.
Speaking at the State of the Nation Dialogue, she also tasked the umbrella body of lawyers in the country, to device mechanism that would effectively manage conflicts that may arise from the conduct of the elections which commences on February 25, with the presidential and National Assembly polls.
The State of the Nation Dialogue which is a maiden program of the NBA, had as focus: ‘Security, Economy and Administration of Justice,’ and also had in attendance experts and professionals from relevant fields as well as seven presidential candidates.
According to Mohammed, INEC has made a giant stride in ensuring a credible, free and fair election in the country.
She assured of the United Nations’ commitment to ensuring a credible election in Nigeria, just as she made case for increase in the number of women in the politics of the country.
In his remarks, the National President of the NBA, Mr. Yakubu Maikyau, on behalf of lawyers in the country admitted failing the nation in the area of providing direction and leadership for Nigeria, a situation which he said was responsible for the unfortunately situation the country finds itself presently.
Maikyau, while noting that lawyers were first and foremost called to serve the cause of justice, lamented a drift to pursuit of fame and money.
While apologising to Nigerians for failing over the years to ensure right and quality leadership in the helms of affairs, Maikyau assured that the lawyers would henceforth turn a new leaf.
“I dare say, with utmost respect, that to a large extent, our experience today as a country is a direct result of the legal profession’s abdication of the duty to provide direction and leadership to the people.
“I must therefore, as one who is privileged to lead the Bar at this time, apologise to Nigerians for the abdication of our role.
“Today, as members of the Bar, we are reputed more for how much fees we charge our clients as opposed to the discharge of our primary call to offer guidance and/or offer ourselves for the advancement of the cause of our country.
“This apology is necessary because, no other group of professionals is called to this privileged position as the lawyers, which also comes with corresponding responsibility to provide leadership”, he said.
While stating that lawyers have what it takes to bring about the leadership that will bring the succour and freedom Nigerians deserve, the NBA president, harped on the need to continuously engage government at all levels and thereby generate discussions that will provide Nigerians with sufficient information to guide them in making their choice of persons to occupy elective offices in the upcoming general elections.
He said, “Nigerians must be satisfied, given the concrete realities of our nation, with the practical solutions that are being proposed by those seeking elective offices with the current security, economic and political challenges.
Panelists who spoke on issues relating to security, economy and justice urged the presidential candidates present to shun religious and ethnic considerations in governance.
They also made a case for the engagement of competent and capable hands that would quickly bring about the much needed dividends of democracy.
Amongst the presidential candidates in attendance were: Hamza Al-mustapha of the Action Alliance (AA), Omoyele Sowore, African Action Congress ( AAC); Dumebi Kachukwu, African Democratic Congress (ADC); Sani Yusuf, Action Democratic Party (ADP); Prof Peter Umeadi, All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Prince Adewole Adebayo, Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Daniel Nwanyanwu of the Zenith Labour Party (ZLP).
FG Welcomes US Visa Ban on Nigerians Undermining Democracy
The federal government said it has no objection to the decision of the United States to impose visa restriction on Nigerians suppressing democracy as part of the effort to deepen democracy and curb corruption.
The Minister of Information and Culture Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said this in Abuja, at the 20th edition of the PMB Administration Scorecard Series (2015-2023).
“Let me be clear: Whatever action is taken against anyone who undermines this democracy that has been watered by the blood of many of our patriots is right and justified.
“For us as a government, we are proud to say that no Administration since Nigeria’s return to democratic rule in 1999 has shown more fidelity to the democratic process than ours, and no President since 1999 has been as unambiguous as President Muhammadu Buhari, in word and indeed, with regards to leaving office after the constitutionally-stipulated two terms,” Mohammed said.
He said Buhari has left no one in doubt of his dogged determination to ensure free, fair and credible elections and handover to a successor elected by Nigerians on the May 29, 2023 handover date.
The minister also highlighted the president’s assurance of unprecedented support to INEC while also signing into law the Electoral Bill 2022 which Nigerians have hailed as a reason to have confidence in the electoral process.
“You must also not forget our firm response on this same podium on January 10, 2023, to inquiries from the media over a widely-circulated report, credited to an INEC official, that the 2023 general elections face a serious threat of cancellation due to insecurity.
“We said and I quote, ‘the position of the federal government remains that the 2023 elections will be held as planned. Nothing has happened to change that position.”
He said the scorecard series was another indication of the administration’s determination to leave office on May 29, 2023, with the ministers using the platform to tell Nigerians about the performance of the administration since assuming office in 2015. “We are in essence presenting our handover notes to those who elected us as an administration as we prepare to leave in May. “We are therefore proud that we have sent unambiguous signals to our people and indeed to the world that we will leave office come May 29, 2023. We have not been mired in any third term controversy like was witnessed under the PDP.
“In fact, we are creating the template on a smooth transition of power that will guide future Administrations. Let those who undermine our democracy be sanctioned, and let them carry their own cross. As a government, we have no reason to worry because our hands are clean,” he said.