DEMOCRACY cannot be said to be complete without free and fair elections. That is an elecion whereby eligible voters in a state have unfettered access to the polling booths, cast their votes out of their own volition, without material inducement, harassment, killing and covert punishment after the elections. It is very unfortunate that the above ideals are far from being a reality in Nigeria since Her independence in 1960.
I was astonished when a writer countered the long-held notion about the country’s early politicians who were referred to as “founding fathers” of Nigerian nation. He contended that these politicians did not lay good legacy for democracy as bastardisation of elections featured during the early days of the country’s political sovereignty.
It stands to reason that if these earlier politicians had laid solid foundation for democratic norms and ethos, the succeeding generations would have towed the line which could have placed Nigeria on the trajectory of socio-economic and political development akin to what is obtainable in advanced countries of the world.
It is apposite to recollect that bastardisation of elections spurred and fertilised the ground for political upheaval. The untoward unabated scenario angered the young military officers who never saw Nigeria from ethnic and religious prisms; were full of zeal and zest for a great Nigeria hence the military coup, that saw the killing of the kin-pins because of their arrogance through their unguarded utterances and ‘hate speeches’. The misinterpretation of the essence of the coup snowballed into massacre of military men from a section of the country and even the civilians who did not know about the objectives of the coup plotters. The concatenation of the serial gory events eventually led to the civil war which made Igbo to bear the full blunt.
History taught that people learn from atrocious and devastating historical happenings and tread the path of caution in whatever they do in private and corporate affairs. Sadly, the tragic events of bastardisation of electoral processes and the trauma of civil war never constituted any lesson to Nigerian politicians.
When the military jackboot handed over power to civilians in 1988, bastardisation of elections featured prominently. Since corruption is an integral part of electoral bastardisation, the power-hungry top military echelon cashed in on the monster of corruption being perpetrated by the political office holders and made another incursion into the governance of the country.
The postulations of the military rulers to curb corruption were believed to form part of the governing paradigms; but sadly, the returning of civilians in government in 1999 saw the monster of electoral malfeasance back in full colours. The unflattering trajectory continued till today.
Well meaning Nigerians were astonished when the late president of Nigeria, Alhaji Umoru Yar’Dua said that the election that brought him to power was flawed. Vowing to curb bastardisation of electoral processes to the minimum, he set up executive committee to make far-reaching recommendations for electoral fidelity. The committee really bent over backwards and produced what was described as ‘fool-proof electoral processes’ which was applauded by Nigerians.
To the chagrin of Nigerians, the marvelous electoral paradigm shift died with Yar’ Dua. Subsequent elections were bastardised except the one conducted by Professor Humphry Nwosu who, in his patriotic gesture, conceptualised and intellectually defended a novel electoral practice named “Option A 4”. As if the gnomes that swore to make Nigeria a butt of international jokes were never asleep, they used the military head of state to truncate what Nigerians and even international community and organisations described as “the freest and most credible election in Nigeria”.
The prominent political party in the second republic, NPN was so brazen-faced to describe its polluted electoral victory as “land-slide”. In 2007, the civilian president was so brazen enough to describe the election for his second election as “do or die”; and even at the tail end of his second term, he strategised for a third which was a constitutional aberration. That shows how mean and despicable some of the country’s leaders perceived leadership which is at variance with presidents in the advanced democracies the world over.
It remains a sad commentary that the Nigerian Constitution and the Electoral Act have proven to be deficiently written which have cashed in by unpatriotic politicians aimed at bastardisation of elections. In this modern day and age, a country which wants to be taken serious by international community, prescribed in its constitution that that the minimum qualification for one to aspire to the highest office [president] should be elementary six or attempted secondary school, even if it is class one. To make matters worse, the electoral umpire stipulates that presidential aspirants need not attach evidence of these abysmally and ridiculously low education levels.
In the same Electoral Act, bastardisation of elections is subtly encouraged since a situation is created whereby it will be a well-nigh impossibility to prove conclusively an electoral fraud, thugs that revel on violence, snatching of ballot box, killing and brigandage. All these provisions are far from the recommendations of the committee set up by Yar’ Dua. There is no gainsaying the fact that certain provisions of the military imposed constitution and some provisions of Electoral Act were designed to accommodate some sections of the country. Consequently, during the election tribunal sittings and judgments, one hears quixotic and outlandish pronouncements that make civilized minds to wonder aloud the type of country we are.
The governorship elections held on 16th of November at Kogi and Bayelsa states left much to be desired. The scale of bastardisation of the polls in addition to loss of lives calls for a pragmatic electoral reform and re-working of the Electoral Act to be in sync with the global standard practice. It is high time Nigeria stopped being made a mockery by the international community.
There is no gainsaying the fact that gross selfish calculations led to the dumping of the recommendations of Yar’Adu’s committee on electoral reforms.
The devastating impact of the Kogi and Bayelsa elections has elicited venom from well meaning Nigerians on the country’s leadership, even as they called for immediate electoral and judicial reforms to save the unity of the country.
In his analytical piece, Idowu Akinlotan contended thus: “In other to police yesterday’s governorship and senatorial elections, security agencies militarised Kogi and Bayelsa States, and rationalised the use of overwhelming force to safeguard the electoral process….If a one-day, two-state elections attracted nearly 70,000 policemen and security agents, as mind-boggling and unbelievable as this, should this not tell Nigerian leaders that the country’s security and ethical conditions are not improving, and that they must begin to reflect on how to rework the country, design new paradigms for progress, and recognise that the future is indeed very bleak and precarious?
Continuing, the cerebral columnist said: “Ratios may not necessarily be extrapolated in such a way that analysts can safely and accurately predict just how many security agents would be required to police the country in the next general election. If extrapolations were so easy, it could be estimated that Nigeria would need to hire policemen and security agents from neighbouring West African countries to police their elections or risk producing more violent and inconclusive polls.
For successive election cycles, Nigeria had needed to militarise their electoral processes the more, deploy more security agents than conventional, even though often overstated for pecuniary reasons, ground the country more fiercely with consequences for business, and enact rules and regulations that scar the psych of the people, batter their image and exacerbate relationships in a country leaders have refused to acknowledge is broken and in need of repairs, a country subjected by the self-same leaders to abhorrent and repressive laws and practices.
Bayelsa and Kogi eminently prove just how precarious the situation has become for Nigeria, and why it would take more force and more policing to secure relatively free and fair balloting in the 2023 elections.
Another factual columnist, Clem Aguiyi advised President Muhammed Buhari to leverage on his presidency to leave a worthy legacy for posterity to acknowledge. Citing the Yar’Adua election committee’s recommendations, he appealed to Buhari thus: “He can immediately set up a small committee to take another look at all the major electoral reforms beginning from the recommendations documented from the Justice Muhammed Uwais Electoral Reform Committee to Sheik Ahmed Lemu Committee on Post-Election Violence of 2011 to the 2014 National Conference report to the Senator Ken Nnamani Presidential Committee on Electoral Reform down to all major election observers reports and submit to the National Assembly for prompt legislative action.
Unlike in 2015 when the National Assembly spearheaded the electoral reform process, President Buhari must, this time round, seize the initiative patriotically. Some of the recurring key electoral reform issues include the need for electronic voting and electronic transmission of results; granting of voting rights to Nigerians in the Diaspora through-out-of-country voting; enhancement of participation of marginalised groups in the electoral system through affirmative action for women, youths, and persons with disabilities; provision for early voting for millions of Nigerians who are disenfranchised from voting due to their election-day duties”.
In his matter-of-fact admonition with particular reference to Kogi and Bayelsa governorship election, Columnist Emeka Omeihe contended that “The right thing is for the government to work with the National Assembly to facilitate amendments to the Electoral Act; changes that will sufficiently keep at bay the embarrassing infractions witnessed. President Buhari pleaded time constraints for not assenting to the 2018 Electoral Act [Amendment] Bill. Had that Bill been assented to, we may have been saved the current pass. Now is the time for him to show good faith if he wants democracy to survive”.
The bane of Nigeria’s electoral operations hinges on the ethno-religious fault-lines. It has caused the country respect in the international community; and Nigeria must leverage on global standard electoral operation to be perceived as serious in the practice of democracy.
The PDP women leader, Salome Acheju Abuh, in Kogi State would not have been burned alive in her house if the 2018 Electoral Bill was signed into law by the president which could have aligned the country with global standard in electoral operation. The minority leader of the Senate, Enyinnaya Abaribe, blamed the failure of the last attempt to amend the Act on the Executive. He said that the last Assembly performed its role by deferring to the Executive but regretted that everything collapsed in the end. He said: “I can tell you that it wasn’t the fault of the National Assembly that those bills were returned and, of course, we have also seen bills being signed in Nigeria, a few days before their elections. We didn’t accept the reasons for the decline in assent to those bills and the reason given which of course we didn’t accept, has also been shown today. Because if those bills were signed, I don’t think what happened in Kogi where number of votes in a local government was more than the number of PVCs and INEC accepted the results”.
Similar angst prevailed in the lower chamber where Aish Dukku said that the 9th Assembly was fully committed to the amendment of the Electoral Act, saying that the National Assembly made several attempts to give the country a new electoral law but the efforts were unfruitful as President Buhari repeatedly declined assent to the bill”.
Curiously, one of the members of the National Assembly, Omo-Agege of APC who constituted a clog during the debate of the electoral bill is now the one proposing the new electoral bill which will factor electronic voting. He said: “To achieve this, our electoral laws must be sound and up to date in order to respond adequately to new challenges that come with changing times and human behavior”.
To embark on a pragmatic re-jigging of Nigeria’s electoral operation remains a desideratum. The former APGA deputy national secretary, Jerry Obasi had this in mind when he said: “Democracy in Nigeria is in the intensive care unit of a very dilapidated hospital called INEC and it needs urgent attention”.
Majeed Dahiru in his ‘Electoral banditry in Buhari’s Nigeria’ said that “For Nigeria, the consequences of a routinely stolen electoral mandate is an arrested socio-economic development. Under the yoke of a deliberately flawed electoral process, Nigeria is not likely to experience peace and prosperity as electoral banditry approximates administrative banditry”.