The Imperatives Of Free, Fair, And Peaceful National Elections In Nigeria (2015) By Senator Babafemi Ojudu
One, the coming elections are likely to determine the long term survival of democracy in Nigeria, as well as determine the trajectory of the country itself, as we know it today. Not since independence in 1960 have the challenges of the divisive north-south dichotomy being more sharply at stake in the lead up to national elections as they are now. Doubtless, Nigeria’s ethno-regional fault lines have always played a critical role in national elections since 1959. This was the experience in the First, Second, Third and the earlier elections in the current Fourth Republic. However, in the earlier experiences, these fault lines were not as sharply and dangerously polarizing among the political elites as they are now.
Two, the elections are also critical because this will be the first time since the First Republic collapsed that an opposition party would stand a great chance of defeating a ruling party in the national elections. Since the First Republic when the United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA) severely tested the capacity of the ruling alliance to sustain itself in power, a situation that led to massive rigging, violent protests and eventually military coup and counter coup and ultimately the civil war, we have never witnessed a stronger imminence of “regime change” within a democratic context. I do not speak merely as a member of the opposition party, that is the All Progressives Congress (APC), I speak also as someone who spent more than three decades as a reporter and editor in some of the critical news organizations in Nigeria. Indeed, because the likelihood of the defeat of the current ruling party and the president who is likely to be the party’s flag-bearer feed into the ethno-regional fault lines that I alluded to earlier, the elections are doubly critical. The elections open up an opportunity for a new form of political ideology at the center of Nigeria’s federal system, something that has never happened since independence; but it also creates the potential for the mismanagement of the shaky foundations upon which the balance of forces, or in fact, the balance of terror, which has kept Nigeria from collapsing are based.
Three, if the two reasons I have just provided are mixed with the religious factor, the next round of national elections will even become more critical in determining the survival of democracy in Nigeria, as well as the survival of the country. If we end up with a Christian candidate for the ruling party, who is regarded, whether rightly or wrongly, as carrying the banner of Christ, and a Muslim candidate, who is also regarded, whether rightly or wrongly, of carrying the flag of the Prophet, then the stage will be set for an explosion that may be capable of consuming the country. In the context of the Boko Haram phenomenon, which is fast turning parts of the north-west of Nigeria into a pre-2001 tiny-Afghanistan, Nigeria cannot afford to have an election that polarizes the electorate along religious lines.
Four, the elections will be held against the backdrop of the resolutions of the on-going National Conference. This National Conference, let me hasten to add, is not unique. My party, the APC, refused to participate in it. We believe that it was conceived as a diversionary tactic by President Goodluck Jonathan. However, we cannot ignore the implications of the reality of the National Conference. The ethno-regional fault lines that I mentioned earlier are already evidence in the on-going National Conference. Despite the absence of democratic mandate for the Conference and the confusion of the president on how to actualize the decisions of the conference, the gridlock which was experienced in the first few weeks of the Conference are marked indications of the explosions waiting to happen. The north-south dichotomy which is so expressive in the statements by members of the conference, including even intimations of exit plans from Nigeria in case of disintegration, constitute clear evidence that the coming elections might also constitute a referendum on whether Nigeria should or will survive.
Against the background and scenarios that I have just discussed, what could and should be done to ensure free, fair and peaceful elections in Nigeria in 2015?
Before I make some suggestions, I think it is important to point to the specific booby-traps which, apart from the critical issues just raised, often endanger the possibility of free, fair and peaceful elections in Nigeria.
The Governor of my State of Ekiti in Southwestern Nigeria, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, who spent almost four years in the courts in the attempt to retrieve his stolen mandate, once described the five “mini-gods” that we must focus on to understand the nature of electoral politics in Nigeria. These five “mini-gods” are also critical in ensuring free, fair and peaceful elections. Often it is the action, inaction and reaction of these five gods and the reaction to their actions and inactions by the people that result in the absence of free, fair and peaceful elections in Nigeria. Fayemi added that “these gods are neither exhaustive nor mutually exclusive. They are useful as analytical categories in explaining why elections go the way they do in Nigeria with unpopular candidates ‘emerging’ as ‘winners’ in questionable elections.”
The first of these gods is INEC, the election umpire, which as Governor Fayemi said, “often acts like a Siamese twin of the ruling party – PDP.” Governor Fayemi was speaking in 2009 when INEC was still headed by the atrocious Maurice Iwu. Since Iwu’s removal in 2010, INEC has improved a bit under Jega, even if the system under which it operates has not been transformed. The electoral umpire has attempted to be less partisan than it was under Iwu. Yet, INEC is still heavily dependent on the federal government and the fact that its head and the commission members are still directly appointed by the president means that where the president is not confident that the commission will ensure his victory, he can easily remove the Chairman of the commission or dissolve its board. With the changes in the National Assembly where the opposition APC has become more powerful, the best hope would be to block the appointment of a new chairman. In the experience of Nigeria, no chairman of the electoral commission has ever offered to resign rather than be forced to act against his conscience. Apart from this, INEC has often displayed shocking lack of efficiency in many cases in the recent past. This has been exploited by all political parties in their areas of respective strengths.
The second mini-god is the security agencies, including the Nigerian Police Force, the State Security Service (SSS) and sometimes, even the Military. In most cases, these agencies, in siding with the ruling party at the center, often act as insecurity agencies. There have been documented cases in which these agencies, particularly the police, helped in rigging elections, or provided cover for those who did. The third ‘mini-god’ includes the thugs, bandits and other violent individuals and groups deployed by the politicians during elections. You are already familiar with the challenge of the movement and circulation of small arms in Nigeria. It is on record that former President Olusegun Obasanjo said that elections are a “matter of life and death”. This third mini-god helps to ensure that such views of elections are carried out to the letter. No single election-related, politically-motivated assassination in Nigeria has been resolved in the Fourth Republic. Would this not be taken as a license to kill by other would-be assassins and other violent agents in the system?
The fourth mini-god is the judiciary.
Historically, no matter the strength of the evidence presented, the Supreme Court in Nigeria has never reversed the verdict of the election umpire regarding presidential election. This encourages forces who are convinced about the injustice of the declared results to find other, usually illegal, means to actualize their frustrations. In turn, the actualization of these frustrations produced the violence which necessitated the termination of the first three republics in Nigeria by the soldiers. In significant cases in the Fourth Republic, however, the judiciary was bold enough to reverse the declared results in important cases including the gubernatorial elections in Edo, Ondo, Ekiti, Osun and Anambra States. Every single case was won by an opposition party against the ruling party, PDP. As a result of this, the PDP-controlled National Assembly emended the electoral law to ensure that it would be more difficult in the future to reverse its stolen mandates in any election.
The last mini-god is the ‘money-god.’ Elections cost a lot of money in most democracies around the world. I am aware that, in the United States, you are facing your own troubles in terms of how to limit the role of money and money-bags in determining the results of elections. But your own struggles are based on specific regulations and what to do about those regulations, or how to change the regulations. Infractions of the law are still punished. Therefore, every actor knows his or her limit within the law. In the case of Nigeria, there are no operative limits to the role of money in elections. But that is not the major problem. The major problem is that there are no punitive measures for the massive use of money to bribe voters, elections officials, security agents and agencies, and even judicial officials. Some of the judges involved in election petitions in the last few years have become multi-millionaires from the cases they reviewed. And many other them do not even hide the evidence of their new-found wealth. However, it is important to note the gallantry of a few judges whose decisions were dictated by the facts of the case, those who stood up for justice and pronounced according to the dictates of their conscience. But as far as elections are concerned in Nigeria, such judges are rare.
Therefore, recognizing the roles of these mini-gods is imperative to ensuring free, fair and peaceful elections in 2015.
What Is To Be Done
Let me conclude with some remarks on what needs to be done to respond to the challenges I have raised and the dark prospects for Nigeria if the 2015 elections fail to meet the test of credibility.
The gubernatorial elections in the opposition-held states of Ekiti and Osun in June and August of this year would be test cases of what will happen in 2015. In Ekiti in June and in Osun State in August of this year, the true test of the endurance of democracy in Nigeria will be on display. As it is already evident to any student of Nigeria’s political history, dissatisfaction with elections in this region of Nigeria, whether because of massive rigging or annulment, were the primary reasons for the collapse of all the earlier three Republics. Many in these two states and the opposition party, APC, believe that as a way of impeding the growing popularity of the APC and the gathering strength of the party as a credible challenger to the ruling party in the 2015 elections, the PDP is ready to do anything fair and foul to ensure victory for the party in the elections. It is, therefore, important for INEC and the security agencies to ensure free, fair and peaceful elections in Ekiti and Osun States in 2014, so as to create the opportunities for free, fair and peaceful elections in 2015.
Finally, let me raise some points about the specific areas that must be addressed regarding the 2015 elections – and these are relevant to the 2014 elections in the two states already mentioned.
Internal (Party) Democracy – We must first ensure that the existing political parties, particularly the two most important parties, the APC and the PDP, observe internal democracy. The absence of internal democracy in the parties does not only feed disaffection within the parties, it also results in frustrations with the democratic process and institutions.
The Conduct of Elections
– The centrality of INEC in this process cannot be over-emphasized. The electoral umpire must ensure that it is indeed non-partisan and transparent. But beyond this, it must be efficient and effective. INEC must ensure that every step is taken before, during and after the elections to ensure that no one is disenfranchised. The results of the elections must also be announced promptly.
The Role of Security Agencies
– The police force remain the most critical security agency in the conduct of elections in Nigeria. Unlike in the past, in 2015, the police must be neutral. Indeed, it would be important for the monitors to select specific teams to monitor the activities of the security agencies. They can enter into an understanding with the leadership of the police to do this.
Election Monitors and the International Community – The role of election monitors is a critical one in the coming elections. However, I will propose that the monitors should not wait until the period of the elections. It is important that they monitor even the preparation for the elections, so as to gauge the readiness of INEC and the preparedness of the political parties and their candidates for free, fair and peaceful elections. This is the part that is often ignored by the regime of election monitoring. Often times, the actions and inactions that lead to the absence of fairness and transparency in elections happen before the election period. Therefore, it is important that the monitors should engage with the electoral umpire, the parties and the security agencies even before the actual conduct of the elections.
The Judiciary – After, and sometime before, elections are held, the judiciary, especially in a fractious context such as in Nigeria, is critical in determining whether elections are free and fair. Nigeria’s judiciary is a highly developed one, even though sometimes highly corrupt. I will also like to suggest that competent international agencies involved in election monitoring should also monitor the process of judicial review of elections. The presence of legal experts from international agencies and foreign countries as observers during the process of judiciary could help in limiting the incidence of abuse of judicial authority and the compromises that many judges are exposed to.
Candidates and Political Leaders
– It is also important for political candidates and political leaders in Nigeria to show restraint before, during and after the conduct of elections. Inflammatory statements are already being made in some quarters about the 2015 elections, including those saying that Nigeria will go up in flames if President Jonathan contests and those saying the country will collapse if he does not contest or if he does not win. These kind of undemocratic statements are undesirable. Everyone has a right to contest for any office for which they are qualified. It is the duty of those who are opposed to their candidacy to ensure their defeat.
I thank you for your attention.
By Senator Babafemi Ojudu