By Stan Ekejiuba
THE stability and progress of a democratic society rest largely on the sanctity, purity and credibility of the electoral process. Nigeria is one country which has suffered heavily due to its repeated failures to organise credible and acceptable elections. The fall of the 1st Republic and the subsequent eruption of the civil war were propelled by the failure of the then incumbent Federal Government to organise credible elections, particularly the contentious Western Region election of 1965. The violence that followed provided the impetus for the coup of January 1966 and the disasters that befell the stability and unity of Nigeria as a nation since then.
The 2nd Republic derailed barely four years after it took off due to the failure of the incumbent Federal Government to organise a free, fair and credible general election in 1983. The result was the Muhammadu Buhari coup of December 1983 which destroyed the democratic process, leading to a prolonged period of military rule with attendant instability and further erosion of Nigeria’s unity. The nation’s development was severely disrupted and violence again began to creep back into our national life, due to failed promises to organise free and fair elections in the Babangida/Abacha years.
The failure/annulment of the June 12, 1993 election stirred up the centrifugal, ethnic cum regional and religious forces that have continued to destabilise Nigeria since then. Political violence again crept back into our national life with the assassination of opposition political leaders and the detention and controversial deaths of Chief MKO Abiola and Gen. Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, and the narrow escape of Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo.
The return to democracy in 1999 held so much promise because it was expected that the actors who were mostly victims of the previous gambles and failures of the electoral process would have learnt from their bitter experiences and thus provide Nigeria with a credible and universally acceptable electoral process.
This hope by Nigerians and lovers of Nigeria was misplaced as the then incumbent Federal Government under President Obasanjo did not get it right with our electoral process. Things got worse by the time President Obasanjo departed in 2007. The general election of that year is still regarded as one of the worst in the history of Nigeria.
One leader that continuously cried out as a victim of rigged elections under the Obasanjo presidency was Gen. Muhammadu Buhari who continuously rejected the results and challenged same up to the Supreme Court. His continued challenge and struggle contributed to the electoral reforms introduced by the Goodluck Jonathan government, under which Nigeria began to show signs of a new and positive direction towards the organisation of free and fair elections in the country. This was demonstrated by the sharp drop in the number of post- election court cases at the state and national levels, beginning from the 2011 general elections under the Jonathan Electoral Reforms.
The watershed of the progress in our electoral process was the victory of Gen. Buhari against the then incumbent president, Jonathan, in the 2015 presidential election and the peaceful handover of power for the first time from a defeated incumbent to an elected opposition leader since 1960. This was seen as a major breakthrough in Nigeria’s troubled history of endemic failures to organise free and fair elections. The inauguration of President Buhari as President on May 29, 2015 was widely seen as Nigeria’s best moment for political stability which is crucial to the progress and development of any nation. We were seen as taking the right steps for the first time, to catch up with neighboring Ghana and South Africa in organising credible and acceptable elections.
This positive expectation was also informed by the fact that Gen. Buhari is one national figure who has cried out as a victim of rigged elections more than any other person in this democratic dispensation. If he can’t get any other thing right, it is widely expected that he won’t miss it when it comes to free and fair elections to consolidate the democratic process in Nigeria.
President Buhari’s anti-corruption crusade was also widely expected to be anchored on an incorruptible electoral process which is the only guarantee in a democracy that corrupt leaders won’t find their way to power to rob the people. And, if they ever slip in once in a while, the people will have the opportunity to kick them out in subsequent elections. Transparently free and fair elections are the surest antidote or vaccines against corruption and the emergence of corrupt leaders.
Unfortunately, the signals from the elections so far organised by the Buhari administration have not given the nation cause for joy that Nigeria is out of the woods. Most elections organised by INEC under President Buhari have been plagued by lack of credibility, as the ruling party at the national level is widely believed to manipulate the process. The governorship elections in Kogi, Edo and Ondo States gave a lot of room for concern. The ruling party, through its Governors Forum, reportedly interfered with the process, leading to loud outcries by opposition parties and the public.
The use of card readers has also witnessed perceived technical manipulations of elections in favour of preferred candidates who have the right “consultants” and influence in INEC. The card readers can also easily be manipulated electronically to work or not to work in favour of preferred candidates with the right political leanings or who have deep pockets. They make elections more cumbersome without adding any value or credibility to the process.
The greatest test before President Buhari is not whether he will substantially solve Nigeria’s economic problems in the remaining year of his administration. Rather, it is whether the President will deliver on the promise of free and fair elections already started by his predecessor.
The upcoming November 18, 2017 Anambra State governorship election offers Buhari a ready opportunity to correct the failures his administration has already recorded in the electoral process in his first three years in office. The conduct of the Anambra election will go a long way to either restore or further erode confidence in the president’s most important duty to Nigeria, which is to give Nigeria a free and credible electoral process that will guarantee political stability and deal a blow to the emergence of corrupt leaders now and in the future.
For the President to get Anambra right, he must rein in the security agencies which are all directly under his command; and some APC governors who have become the shock troops of election manipulations across their own state boundaries since Buhari came to power.
Ekejiuba is a Lagos-based businessman
President Buhari will be judged very harshly by history if he chooses to kowtow to narrow partisan interests in the exercise of the powers of his presidency to the detriment of offering Nigeria a dependable and credible electoral process truly free of the manipulations and corruption of the past. So far, his presidency has started on a very shaky note as far as free and fair elections are concerned.
He should therefore make amends with the forthcoming Anambra election. Any mishap in Anambra could completely derail the current low domestic and international confidence in elections under Buhari’s new helmsmen at INEC. Failure in Anambra could steer up issues and public disaffection that may ultimately undermine the credibility of the fast approaching 2019 General Election under Buhari’s stewardship.
All well meaning Nigerians should pray along that President Buhari summons the courage to get it right in Anambra on November 18, for the stability and credibility of our nation.