Thursday, 3 March 2011

Communiqué - Conference on Making Democracy Work for Nigerians Organized by CLEEN Foundation in collaboration with Ford Foundation West Africa Office at Imo Concorde Hotel, Owerri on 23-24 February 2011


Preamble
Different surveys have found that after twelve years of civilian government, Nigerians across divides are still asking questions about the dividends of democracy even as the level of satisfaction with the way democracy works in the country continues to plummet every year. Against this background, CLEEN Foundation in collaboration with the Ford Foundation West Africa office organized a two day national conference on Making Democracy Work for Nigerians. The conference which held at Imo Concorde hotel, Owerri, on 23-24 February 2011 was also the fourth and last of a series, organized to celebrate Ford Foundation’s 50th anniversary of grant making on human rights and governance in Nigeria.

L-R, Innocent Chukwuma, Joseph Gitari,
Festus Okoye, Fr Nzeh, Frank Odita, ASP Paulinus Asogwa
The conference drew participants from representatives of government, security agencies, political parties, civil society groups, student bodies, academia and the media. The conference was structured to provide a forum for these state and non state actors to brainstorm on pertinent issues of making democracy work for ordinary people and formulating recommendations and action plans that would inform political contestation, governance and civic action. In particular, the conference was aimed at identifying core blockages for deepening democracy and delivery of democracy dividends and recommending high impact solutions for making democracy meaningful, worthwhile and rewarding for the Nigerian people by focusing on three issue areas. These are:  strategies for ensuring that the vote counts in the April 2011 general elections; strategies for engaging town unions and community development associations in ensuring accountable governance at the state and local government levels; and strategies for engaging the legislature in deepening democracy in Nigeria.

Core Blockages

Strategies for ensuring that the votes count in April 2011 general elections
·         Poor economic growth and mass youth unemployment that predispose youths to being hired to manipulate the electoral process.
·         The lack of ideology among political parties and the transformation of parties into mere platforms for contesting elections.
·         Very hazy constitutional and legal framework that allows room for manipulation of the electoral process by political interest groups.
·         Poor early warning systems and inability of the police to prevent electoral and political violence.
·         Poor delineation of constituencies and polling units that affects access to polling units especially in localities with challenging environment.
·         Inability of both domestic and international observers to deploy monitors to a significant number of polling stations. Currently observer teams cover less than 10 per cent of polling units across the country.
·         Slow pace of resolution of election disputes and growing loss of confidence in the election dispute resolution mechanism.
·         Failure of election management bodies to make adequate arrangements for the welfare of electoral officers and security agents during elections, thereby exposing them to manipulation by politicians interested in compromising their integrity.

Strategies for engaging town unions and community development associations in ensuring accountable governance at the state and local government levels
·         General alienation of the citizenry and civic associations from the political process and the political system.
·         Lack of autonomy of Town unions at local and state levels of association due to dependence on government and vested interests.
·         Incessant conflicts and lack of community cohesion.
·         Collapse of traditional community governance institutions especially those that promote accountability and checks and balances
·         Entrenchment of electoral malpractices that make popular votes irrelevant in determination of leaders of town unions.

Strategies for engaging the legislature in deepening democracy in Nigeria
  L-R, Prof Nnoli, Dr Chidi Odinkalu, Prof Gyimah
·         Poor engagement between civil society and the legislature and a general disconnection of the people from the legislative process.
·         Overbearing influence of the governors and political parties on legislators
·         Capacity deficits in the legislature in performing both law making and oversight functions. Many legislators are not well equipped for the tasks of legislation.
·         Lack of effective legal framework for institutions for vertical and horizontal accountability.
·         Absence of effective constituency liaison due to lack of functional constituency offices.

High Impact Solutions

Government
Government at all levels should:
·         Open up the political space for participation by civil society and Nigerian citizens and include them in policy making processes.
·         Adopt and implement programmes aimed at generating rapid economic growth and providing employment for the mass of unemployed youths.
·         Streamline electoral laws to avoid confusion as a result of conflicting regulations during elections.
·         Ensure timely release of funds appropriated for all stages of the electoral process.
·         Allow independence and effective function of governmental institutions responsible for receiving feedback from the citizens.
·         Take measures to protect the autonomy and financial integrity of town unions and community development associations.
·         Collaborate with town unions and community development associations in social mobilisation, planning and execution of development projects.
·         Develop effective early warning systems for conflict prevention in communities.

INEC should:
·         Provide effective training for all electoral staff before elections.
·         Collate and publicise names of all electoral officers in 774 local government areas and 8,000 wards in the country weeks before the election to enable political parties and members of the public ascertain their independence and non-partisanship.
·         Make special arrangements for polling units located in challenging environments and provide supplementary voting units in polling units where the number of registered voters exceeds 500 voters.
·         Embark on extensive voter education of the public on the procedures of the modified open ballot system to guide voters on what to expect and what to do.
·         Effectively make use of information technology to address communications and logistic challenges.
·         Insulate its staff at all levels from influences of political parties and politicians and effectively monitor their activities.
·         Ensure that political parties comply with electoral laws and send in names and photographs of their agents one week before the elections for proper accreditation.
·         Provide an enabling environment and full cooperation with independent election observers and monitors.

The Nigeria Police should:
·         Provide effective training for officers to be deployed for elections.
·         Ensure that police officers get provisions for food, transport and stipends before deployment for elections.
·         Develop rapid response mechanism and ensure rapid response to early warning signals on election related matters.
·         Instruct police officers deployed for elections not to shy from invoking the Police Act to carry out their duties to prevent breaches especially when electoral officers decline to ask for police intervention.
·         Work with relevant authorities to grant police the power to accompany electoral officers and party agents from polling units to collation centres.

The Political Parties should:
·         Adopt ideologies and prepare manifestoes that provide real policy choices for the electorate.
·         Build up their organizational capacity for effective long-term engagement with the people and ensure the rule of law and practice of internal democracy.
·         Embark on effective voter education for the public to guide voters during elections.
·         Ensure that party agents are duly accredited by INEC and deployed with all necessary provisions to polling units during elections.
·         Perform oversight functions on all public officers elected on their platforms
·         Build capacity for mobilization of membership and collection of dues and contributions from members to reduce the overwhelming influence of some moneybags and office- holding party members.
·         Work with relevant authorities and the civil society to monitor activities of INEC and security agencies before, during and after elections.

Civil society should:
·         Take measures to put the citizens at the driver’s seat of advocacy and activism by embarking on capacity building activities aimed at enabling and empowering citizens to defend their democratic rights.
·         Collaborate with INEC and police authorities to build capacity of electoral officers and police officers to conduct free and fair elections.
·         Embark on innovative use of information technology to enhance election observation and early warning of possible breaches of elections.
·         Liaise with the media to promote issue based campaigning by setting agendas and providing platforms for political debates by aspirants and political parties.
·         Provide effective monitoring of party campaign, finance and deployment of agents during elections.
·         Study and understand the legislative process to enhance effective programming to promote law making, representation and oversight functions of the legislature.
·         Embark on aggressive enlightenment of the public on the role of citizens and community based associations in demanding transparency and accountability in government.

Town Unions and Community Development Associations should:
·         Embark on sensitization and education of their members on the rights and duties of citizens in a democratic society.
·         Create platforms for engaging aspirants and political parties with a view to developing a social contract between the community and political actors.
·         Rebuild their traditional governance structure to ensure accountability amongst themselves and to also demand accountability from the government and those elected to public office from their communities.



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