It is dangerous for anybody to think that 2019 is very far away to start making serious preparations for the next general elections. Agreed we just held one last year. But how many months do we have between now and the date of the next round starting, in 2018? Is it not less than 36 months?
Organising elections in Nigeria is not a simple task. It is a very laborious and painstaking exercise that requires sufficient time and resources.
Unfortunately, many of the managers of the country’s life do not see it as such. They always think there is enough time until they are confronted by the enormity of the task to be done.
The imperfections in our electoral system have always been attributed to the inability of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to do what is proper to nip them in the board. Is there anything wrong for INEC to commence serious preparations for the 2019 general election? Can’t they start with such exercises as review of voters register, delineation and creation of new words and constituencies where necessary, upgrading of its Information Technology base to accommodate new inventions and perfecting existing ones, erection of secure structures for the storage of sensitive election materials to forestall the burning down of some of them by unscrupulous persons, etc.
For me, INEC does not even have enough time to do all that it is required to accomplish before the next elections. This is the reason it has to start immediate preparations.
I am certain some critics and detractors may not always be comfortable with my positions on critical national issues.
This is why in Nigeria, they say, nothing is guaranteed. This is the general notion of many Nigerians, probably, including non-Nigerians. They believe that nothing works and can ever work in Nigeria – and that our social system is so loose that it can easily be manipulated by just anybody to suit the whims and caprices of the high and mighty. Not only that, they also say Nigerians are very corrupt. Probably, it is this erroneous belief that is at the heart of the nonchalant attitude of Nigerians toward the development of their fatherland. Despite this glaring pessimism, I still believe that we can collectively make things work. First, by adopting a radical attitudinal change and, second, by taking the bull by the horns to do that which seems ordinarily impossible to make Nigeria work again.
Some may be wondering what exactly I am trying to say. It is very simple: things have got to a stage that we must begin to do things differently if our nation is to survive the present onslaught against it by divergent forces that are striving to control its resources and assert themselves more prominently in the available political space. In my thinking, the surest way to rebuild our heavily battered democracy is to embark on serious electoral changes. It is only through widely-acceptable and well-organised elections that peace, justice and progress can return to Nigeria. The bastardisation of our electoral system has been responsible for all the crises that have bedevilled our country since the 50s.
I did not just arrive at this conclusion by mere conjecture. No. I had to embark on a meticulous study of our political development since the period prior to independence until the general elections of 2015. What I did was to look at the dramatis personae, their influence on our electoral system, the role of the military and the election umpires, the attitude of an average Nigerian to elections, the part played by the various security agencies and the judiciary, the interventionist approach by government, and other sundry issues central to our electoral process.
Looking deeply at each item revealed something very curious; each item listed above contributed significantly to the bungling of the electoral process each time there was an election. In fact, it has been observed that elections in Nigeria are ‘a big deal’, and, therefore, attract wide interests: the good, the bad and the ugly. The situation has been worsened by the huge pay packets and other perks elected representatives take home.
It can be easily seen that quality persons are now regularly attracted to the electoral process, because of the largesse that one derives from participating in it. And true to expectation, they get what they bargained for. Look at the National Assembly: it is a collection of all kinds of persons who strove to be there for diverse reasons, central of which is the attractions of the office. The adoption of the presidential system of government to replace the parliamentary system that obtained in the 50s and 60s has opened a new vista for the nouveaux riche and other well-placed individuals to join the fray. This has, apart from leading to a burgeoning number of lawmakers, exacerbated the intensity of the struggle for available political offices. The do-or-die approach to the contest for vacant political offices has lent credence to this claim.
Indeed, contesting election in Nigeria is akin to wrestling somebody from the pit of hell. It has reached a stage that there is no way a feeble-hearted or poor person can win election here. For you to contest election in Nigeria, you must possess the following basic qualifications: heavy chestnut, that is you must be a moneybag; have connections in high places; move in a convoy of vehicles, with gun-totting security personnel; have access to thugs to intimidate voters and snatch ballot boxes; and pay your way through to have your name announced as the winner – whether you won or not. These ‘qualifications’ as unenviable as they are have been a part of our electoral system for quite some time now. How can an ordinary person have access to all these without being ‘loaded’? This is the bane of our electoral system.
The consequence of this loose electoral process is the emergence of all manner of men and women in the hallowed chambers of our legislative houses. Maybe this was what prompted former President Olusegun Obasanjo some time ago to unrestrainedly allege that Nigeria’s National Assembly was populated by mainly ‘robbers and fraudsters’. There could be a semblance of truth in what he said as there may be a few ‘bad’ boys, but the claim was over-exaggerated all the same. How could he have made such a reckless statement about our national lawmakers! As far as I am concerned, Obasanjo was the least qualified person to make such an allegation, after all his regime was one that would easily be remembered for a long time to come for institutionalising corruption. In fact, he did nothing concrete to fight corruption. His main reason for setting up the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) was to coerce and intimidate his political rivals; not to fight corruption as was originally intended. Is Obasanjo not walking the corridors of power like a colossus when he should have been cooling his heels in prison a second time? Some of us that did nothing, except oppose his third term agenda, are today being harangued and tried. But I am confident that at the fullness of time the truth will triumph.
Our compromised electoral process has also led to crises in the land. Those who felt cheated one way or another during the last general elections are venting their anger in diverse ways. Even the courts could not give them justice. The ‘ouster clause’ in the 1999 Constitution that pegs the time allowed for a court or tribunal to hear and decide an election petition at 180 days is also contributory to the tension across the country. Some of the petitioners that had good cases in seeking the court’s intervention were denied justice, because of the time brouhaha. What else breeds crises if not injustice? For how long will our politicians use force to get power, leaving better qualified candidates in the lurch?
The best way to actualise a crisis-free 2019 – starting with the rerun elections next Saturday – is to ensure that only quality men and women are elected to hold political offices. Moneybags and other nouveaux riche whose primary interest is to accumulate more wealth to the detriment of the masses should be given the back seats.
Emphasis on money has been the bane of our democracy. It is very disappointing that the electorate encourage this moral flaw. This is generously manifested during elections when politicians sway voters with money and other largesse. They openly canvass votes from the electorate, using all kinds of crude means to coerce them. The result is the emergence of half-hearted leaders who work for themselves instead of the nation and the people. To deal with this untoward attitude requires the concerted cooperation of all Nigerians through voter-education, moral renewal and tougher legislation.
However, the issue of legislation can only work if the lawmakers and enforcers of law themselves carry themselves with dignity and patriotism. One thing is to make law and another is to enforce the law judiciously. It is on record that there had been instances where some highly-placed government officials deliberately and mindlessly disobeyed the law to meet their selfish and inordinate desires. It is of no need mentioning their names, because they know themselves and how much damage they have done to the Nigerian nation and its people. Rule of law is a central index in any democracy. In fact, it is the fulcrum on which the wheel of democracy revolves. The constitution amendment should contain some provisions to deal with this perceived problem.
We were all witnesses to the negative publicity the judiciary received after adjudicating of different election petitions brought before it. Some of those who lost cried blue murder. One of the issues in contention was the use of card readers at the elections. According to the Supreme Court, the card readers lack any legal or constitutional backing. This is one area INEC and the National Assembly must collaborate to ensure that a suitable provision is made to back up the use of the card readers in future elections.
INEC should begin preparations for 2019 elections without further delay. Updating the voter’s register and other documents vital for conducting quality elections should be in place at least one year before the elections. What happened in 2015 when elections were postponed in some areas as a result of late arrival of election materials should be avoided. This is why the commission must start early to identify suppliers of vital election materials. These suppliers must be subjected to meticulous scrutiny to ascertain their suitability. The use of local printers to produce sensitive election documents is an idea I am not too comfortable with. My position has nothing to do with patriotism, rather it is informed by the need for us to get it right next time round. What sense does it make to spend huge sums of money only for the elections to be bungled by human errors and greed?
Have we pondered the harm we cause our nation by giving political parties unilateral powers to choose their candidates for elections? As much as I believe in shielding political institutions from undue meddlesomeness, at the same time there is the need to open up the space for robust participation by their members. The essence of political parties is to galvanise the citizenry to provide them the platforms for the enunciation and actualising their vision. But this purpose is defeated if there is no level playing-field for contestants.
It has suddenly become the norm for political parties to play God when it comes to the sensitive issue of choosing their candidates to carry their banners in elections. There were recent cases where duly elected candidates at party primaries were denied tickets for no justifiable reason other than pettiness and clannishness. In such circumstance, anarchy and bad blood rule the system.
As much as I believe in the autonomy of political parties, I do not subscribe to the idea of giving them too much freedom or latitude to operate. It is an identified problem that most political parties in Nigeria lack internal democracy. They arbitrarily foist candidates on the parties to run for elections in absolute contravention of their constitutions. This perceived flaw has pitched some persons against their political parties. There is a plan by INEC to delist some political parties that did not win a single seat in the 2011 elections to pave way for the secret agenda of some persons. The truth is that those who authorised the registration of the many political parties that dot the landscape had a hidden agenda in the first place. Now that they had achieved their objectives, it is only natural that the parties be jettisoned to create way for another devious agenda. My position is that the parties should be allowed to stand as they are, since we found a need to create them in the first place. This is what I meant when I wrote about lack of justice in Nigeria’s social system. If there were justice, then no sane person would advocate the delisting of duly registered political parties – whether they won seats or not.
As indicated earlier in this column, what we need do as a people is to have a re-think and work together, divorcing our self-centered interests, for a new Nigeria. What is happening across the country, where people do whatever they like without recourse to the rule of law, should be totally condemned. There is no way we can survive as a nation if we failed to rework Nigeria. In the past two months, I have devoted this column to air my views on how to move Nigeria forward. I have done so diligently and selflessly – believing that the people who come in contact with the message will turn a new leaf.
Our forbears had come and gone, leaving behind enviable legacies which we are bound to nurture and sustain. But what is happening? Everybody seems to be content with what these great patriots had achieved and, therefore, not ready to contribute anything more to move Nigeria forward. But that is a bad attitude. We need to build on what they left for us and make further effort to leave our own legacies for which unborn generations will remember us. I have asked this question before: “For what will you and I be remembered when we are long gone?” We should answer this question collectively and individually to be in a better stead to appreciate the enormity of the harm we have done to this nation.
I do not wish to widen the scope of what we need to do to rework Nigeria. Getting our electoral system right and developing a new attitude towards Nigeria are the two key things we must do, as a matter of priority, if we are to save Nigeria from going down the pit.