By: Amir Abdulazeez
Nigeria is a nation that is famous for taking one step forward and then two or more steps backwards. Whenever one step is taken in the right direction, several other steps would be taken in the wrong one. This is probably one of the major reasons why we have failed to make a lasting and permanent progress in a lot of things.
A general belief in Nigeria and beyond is that the 1999 elections were credible with a high degree of legitimacy not because they were very free and fair (allegedly due to the military government’s interest in handing over to Obasanjo and PDP), but because they were ascertained to be largely a reflection of the peoples’ will. If we had built on the 1999 success in 2003 and 2007, probably we wouldn’t have found ourselves in the present situation whereby a mere acceptance of defeat is seen as heroism.
While the 2003 elections were believed to be possibly the worst elections in Nigeria’s recent history, the 2007 elections according to many local and international observers, could not pass the test of the minimum requirements for an average African election. Many opinions have declared that there were no elections in most parts of Nigeria in 2007.
The 2011 elections were by far better than those of 2003, but they fell short of those in 1999 in terms of credibility and acceptance. Despite their shortcomings, the 2011 elections represented a remarkable improvement and they laid a good foundation for the successful elections in 2015.
Many Nigerians believed that the 2015 elections were as good as near-perfect simply because the ruling party lost woefully. However, in reality, they were marred by serious irregularities and manipulations, only that the irregularities fell short of subverting the peoples’ will.
It is important to note that the role of credible elections in a democracy cannot be overemphasized. Both the 1999 and 2015 elections are probably not as credible as the annulled June 12, 1993 elections-believed to be the freest and fairest elections in Nigeria’s history. However, if we are to keep improving and edging closer to electoral perfection, we must build on the 2015 success. Some of the ways to do that is by doing the following things ahead of 2019;
De-registration of ‘Brief-Case’ Political Parties;
While winning elections is not the only function of political parties across the world, in Nigeria it seems to be the determining factor not only for recognition but for meaningful existence. With the general lack of ideological basis in the Nigerian Political Party System, only winning elections can be used to determine the strength of the political parties. For instance, the APC may be ruling Imo and Borno State, but almost nothing in terms of policies will show that the two states are being ruled by the same party.
Where any of the parties is lucky to have a hard working elected public office holder, his performance will translate to the success of that party and the party would be seen to have performed well in that state, seat or office. Base on this, all those brief-case political parties (who may never win any election in the next 50 years) that contributed in adding to the length of our ballot papers thereby confusing the electorates leading to high amount of invalid votes must be deregistered latest by the end of 2016 when all cases in the election petitions tribunals might have been settled. Strict registration procedures must also be put in place to discourage any non-serious party from resurfacing.
Available results of the 2015 elections a released by INEC suggests that only 8 parties managed to win at least one seat and they are; All Progressives’ Congress (APC), Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), Labour Party (LP), Accord Party (AP), Peoples’ Democratic Movement (PDM), Peoples’ Progressive Alliance (PPA) and Social Democratic Party (SDP). While two-party system may limit the options of Nigerians, 8 parties are more than enough, we do not need 30 or 40 useless parties.
Election Tribunals Must Ensure Justice;
Many election outcomes across the country would surely be contested in courts. Media reports suggests that no less than 100 genuine and serious cases ranging from governorship, senatorial, house of representatives and state house of assembly elections would be filed in courts nationwide. The figure could be between 200 and 350 especially if we consider the fact that even candidates with no strong cases would still want to try their luck in court.
Elections are not perfect, that is why we have election tribunals and their duty is to ensure speedy justice. Justice must not be delayed because it is totally unfair and unacceptable for someone to continue sitting on an illegal or stolen mandate for long just because the tribunals are dragging the case for whatever reason.
Before the elections, multiple alarms of foul play have been raised in different quarters and during the course of the elections, many candidates have complained of rigging, violence, manipulation and oppression, but all INEC could do was to tell them to head to court if they were not satisfied. Therefore, it is the duty of the election tribunals to rescue the people from being governed through illegal mandates in various capacities. We have had enough of people serving out stolen two terms of 8-years in the last 12 years.
It is believed that, if the aggrieved candidates can present a good case with evidence and the courts will respond by doing a good job, many parliamentary and even governorship elections would be overturned. The courts must hear every case base on merit and should not dismiss any on flimsy technical grounds. Candidates who could prove beyond reasonable doubt that they won elections should be declared winners instead of wasting government funds by ordering for re-runs.
Many are likely to escape with illegal mandates due to their good lawyers, but all in all, the tribunals must not record a success rate of below 75%. Candidates with no serious cases can help by staying away from the tribunals and allow them to deal with serious ones. The success of the courts would determine the future confidence level of people in the judicial-electoral process. If the courts do not prove to be a solution, people will resort to winning elections at all cost to avoid going to courts.
Jega’s Reforms in INEC have to be sustained;
Professor Attahiru Jega has according to media reports made it clear that he is not accepting a renewal when his tenure ends in June. Jega has re-invented and re-shaped INEC through a set of reforms and innovations which his successor should sustain. He had laid a solid foundation for others to build upon. In building such foundation, he had to sacrifice the 2011 elections for the lasting success of forthcoming elections. Jega took over INEC in 2010 when elections were around the corner, but many expected him to reform the electoral body and conduct a unanimously acceptable election at the same time. However, few knew it was not practically possible. Jega managed to carry out some reforms and conducted an improved election in line with such reforms in 2011.
The introduction of the card readers and the sanitization of the accreditation and voting processes have helped in no small measure towards making the whole system credible. The next INEC Chairman should take us closer to electronic voting or even there by 2019.
All Elections between 2015 and 2019 should be Well Conducted;
Let us note that between 2015 and 2019, there will be governorship elections in Kogi, Bayelsa, Ondo, Edo, Anambra, Ekiti and Osun States. It is the conduct of elections in these seven states that will determine our optimism or pessimism on the 2019 General Elections. The Federal Government, INEC and all stakeholders must make sure that these elections record a remarkable improvement upon the 2015 elections with a success rate of between 85 to 95 %. The more we have credible elections, the better for the system.
Political party bigwigs and champions must jettison the habit of relocating to a state where elections are holding with the aim of winning it for their party at all cost. Let the people in every state determine what they want without external interference.
The elections tribunal are likely to annul a handful of elections and order for re-runs. Such re-runs or bye-elections must be conducted freely, fairly, peacefully and creditably.
Election Fraudsters and Offenders Must Face the Law;
Election riggers are never punished in Nigeria; even if the court settles a case, it only awards victory to the petitioner or orders for a re-run, it never punishes anyone. This is the reason behind the brazen impunity in our electoral system as people rig without being afraid of any consequences. May be this is due to the shortcomings of the Electoral Act; future Electoral Acts must come hard on riggers.
Before we amend the Electoral Act, perpetrators of different electoral crimes in the last elections must not be allowed to get away with it. The in-coming or even the out-going Federal Government should set up a panel under the Attorney General to investigate election riggings, violence, fraud, under age voting and vote buying, so that those found guilty should be immediately prosecuted.
Whenever one sees long voter queues comprising of women, poor, old, disabled and other weak people; one feels like advocating the death sentence for election riggers.
Politics must be De-Commercialized;
Nigerian politics seems to be only for the rich people or for people backed by godfathers with big purses. This is because many Nigerians are money worshippers and also politics has been turned into a big commercial and lucrative industry. This is why we witnessed excessive use of money to buy party nominations in all our elections from 2003 to date.
This anomaly is likely to continue unabated up to 2019 unless everyone decides to change. Federal, state and local governments must cut governance cost and make political appointments less attractive and lucrative. Political parties must significantly cut down the price of nomination forms and ban the use of money in party primaries and disqualify any candidate that violates. Law enforcement agencies must arrest politicians who spend more than what the Electoral Act stipulates during electioneering. Above all, citizens must stop worshipping corrupt politicians, stop selling their votes and demand nothing but service and accountability from elected officials.
INEC be made more Independent and Should Conduct LG Elections;
In the build-up to the 2015 elections, INEC’s independence was seriously threatened. The electoral body was appeared to be bullied into accepting some decisions of the Presidency and Service Chiefs. The law has mandated INEC to fully take charge of election issues and the law must be respected and unless in emergency and unavoidable cases, no one should directly or indirectly dictate to INEC what it should do or not. Adequate legislation must be put in place to ensure complete independence of INEC and ensure that such independence is protected.
INEC’s mandate should be constitutionally extended to allow it conduct local government elections. State ‘Independent’ Electoral Commissions have been conducting nonsense in the name of local government elections since 2003. The last time we had meaningful local government elections was in 1999 when they were conducted by INEC. State governors have proven their lack of patriotism by organizing and executing fraudulent local government elections over the years and nothing in sight suggests that they are going to change. Therefore, to save the local councils, proper elections must be conducted by INEC uniformly across the country.
Level Playing Ground Should be Created;
Many a time we confuse elections to mean voting only. Voting is only one out of many activities that make up an election. Election is a process that starts right from candidate nominations, campaigns, up to settlement of petitions in election tribunals. Right from 1999 to date, we have never had a level playing ground for all parties and candidates at different stages of the election process.
Parties in power stand to enjoy many privileges and benefits. For instance, the ruling party monopolises the usage of state-owned media at little or no cost and apparently deny the opposition the use of such. A sitting president controls the security forces to his own electoral advantage or that of his party. He uses government-owned and maintained jets for all his campaigns while the opposition would have to hire jets or alternatively ply the dangerous roads across the country for their campaigns. Incumbents have unrestricted access to campaign grounds while opposition are made to undergo many bureaucratic processes before they have a simple permission to use a venue. The federal and state governments together with the national and state parliaments must put in place adequate measures to ensure that all candidates irrespective of their parties are treated equally. Incumbents must not enjoy too much advantage over his opponents.
Nigerian electorates seem not to be well motivated either due to lack of confidence or interest in the electoral process and governance or due to hard voting conditions; hence, we have witnessed huge voter apathy in recent years. Only consistent free and fair elections, leadership accountability and good governance can revive the interest and confidence of Nigerians in government.
Another important issue is that of the bandwagon effect in Nigerian elections which is very dangerous. Many candidates were not elected base on their own merits but because their elections were conducted the same time with candidates who seem to be the peoples’ choice. Incompetent and less competent candidates have benefitted from the bandwagon effect, just as competent candidates became victims. Future elections should be conducted separately in an order which the bandwagon effect will have little or no influence.
Candidates should Emerge by Popular will;
The most popular aspirants usually lose in the party primaries probably because they don’t have money or godfathers, leaving voters to elect between bad choices or for whomever candidates the party primaries produce for them in the general elections.
Nigerian political parties must think of ways through which candidates would emerge through popular will of the people and not through the narrow interests of few people. In the last elections APC’s modified indirect primaries saw only 6,008 delegates select a Presidential Candidate for more than 170 million people while PDP used about 3000 delegates to vote for just one contender. Also, 21 delegates were alleged to have determined the PDP gubernatorial candidate for the whole of Yobe State.
If candidates emerge by popular will, the people will have little problem with whomever emerges victorious in the general elections as all the party candidates were initially determined by the people.
APC Must Lead by Example;
The All Progressives Congress is the new ruling party with enormous influence and goodwill across the country. APC should not be preoccupied with governing Nigeria only; it should also concentrate on reforming our political system. If APC wants to make history, this is the best opportunity.
From 1999 to date, the PDP had introduced many things into our political system, most of which did more harm than good. PDP introduced the Party Board of Trustees (A body whose function is largely mysterious and appears to weaken the main leadership of the party), zoning of positions which caused many divisions among Nigerians and did a lot of damage to competency, candidate impositions, undemocratic consensus in the election of party officials, encouraging party cross-carpeting, position of party leader-who appears to be even above the party constitution. All these were negative inventions which the APC also embraced and unfortunately institutionalized some of them.
The APC must immediately make a self-assessment and make necessary amendments; let this victory not get into its head. APC must champion the cause of ideology in Nigerian political party system, internal democracy, building strong parties, party supremacy, accountability and good governance, etc. If the ruling party behaves properly, all other parties trying to unseat it in 2019 will be left with no option than to follow suit.
Mallam Amir, the President of Foundation for Better Initiatives (FBI) can be reached through [email protected]