Nigeria: Where elections have become nightmares
Despite the nasty experiences over the years, the nation still appears bugged down by serious challenges in conducting elections devoid of malfeasance, violence and other frightening tendencies. Group Politics Editor, KUNLE ODEREMI, examines the recent governorship elections in Bayelsa and Kogi states in the light of some of the attendant core issues.
Elections form a critical integral part of a truly democratic practice and culture. They are akin to the balm that buoys the veins of in a democratic sooths, as credible elections guarantee a sense of belonging rather than alienation in the citizenry. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) gives a succinct perspective on the importance of such elections: “A country cannot be truly democratic until its citizens have the opportunity to choose their representatives through elections that are free and fair.”
Encyclopedia Britannica expands the frontiers and culture of elections in deepening democracy. It gives the eligible citizens a window of opportunity through which they can put in the hands of candidates consider as worthy, faithful and honest the common patrimony. “Elections enable voters to select leaders and to hold them accountable for their performance in office. Accountability can be undermined when elected leaders do not care whether they are reelected or when, for historical or other reasons, one party or coalition is so dominant that there is effectively no choice for voters among alternative candidates, parties, or policies,” it stressed.
But elections in Nigeria, more often than not, herald a season of fear and uncertainty, as the members of the political fraternity have unabashedly turned the period elections into warfare.
From what they called a do or die affair, it has become a complete nightmare encapsulated in tears, blood and sorrow for hapless voters and other law-abiding citizens.
The off-season elections held in Bayelsa and Kogi states on November 16, 2019 were almost like a scene from a horror film, with the actors and their agents seizing everyone by the jugular.
It was not that the people had envisaged the possible terror accompanying the elections. State actors, including the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had warned of possible catastrophe.
Two prominent politicians: Chief Olabode George and Chief Ebenezer Babatope, had doubted the assurances of a new dawn, notwithstanding the security buildup ahead of the elections. Huge deployment of security personnel and series engagement among stakeholders preceded the elections in Kogi and Bayelsa as the authorities tried to avoid a hoax as elections.
The immediate past chairman of the INEC, Professor Attahiru Jega, had, however, cautioned against further degeneration in the democratic development of the country. Though he said the task of consolidation might appear daunting, concerted efforts must be made by the stakeholders to sustain the gains of democracy in the country.
His words: “The challenge of democratic development, for a country such as Nigeria, is how to avoid a regression and reversal, and continuously bring about incremental positive changes towards consolidation. Given Nigeria’s complex political dynamics and past history of prolonged military rule, reversal is a strong possibility. How to avoid it, indeed how to prevent it, and keep on moving decidedly on the democratic trajectory, is a near herculean task.”
To consolidate on the gains, Professor Jega said credibility of elections was germane and sacrosanct. Innocuous actions by tendencies averse to the niceties of the ethos of a democratic culture should be checked to avoid the pitfalls of the past. Apart from the process of the election, the don said the sanctity of the wish of the electorate should hold sway in order to inspire public confidence.
In other words, an election must pass meet all the variables associated with integrity test. Accroding to Jega: “Crass lack of electoral integrity has been the bane of civil rule, transitions to democratic rule, governance and development in Nigeria.
Electoral malfeasance and malpractices have historically undermined the conduct of free, fair and credible elections, have rendered the electorate powerless and have thereby significantly eroded public trust and confidence in the electoral process. It is only by restoring integrity into the electoral process that we can appropriately safeguard the will of the Nigerian people for democracy to thrive.”
Reports by the various groups that monitored the Kogi election were scary. They conjured a systemic total collapse, with all caution thrown to the dogs. There was the scenario of a warfare with the police top echelon blaming the near fiasco on some elements that impersonated by wearing police uniform.
The reports of the election observers corroborated by stories in traditional media were awash with instances of flagrant and gross breach of the provisions of the Electoral Act and the Constitution as well as other extant laws.
With the total breakdown of law and order in polling units, voters were either forced to flee or confined themselves to their homes thereby being disenfranchised.
The Bayelsa experience was equally curious. The account given by most of the stakeholders that monitored the election claimed the exercise was fraught with malfeasance and highhandedness.
A preliminary report issued by the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) summarised the character of the elections held simultaneously in the two states. In statement last Monday by the CDD Election Analysis Centre, a number of persons lost their lives, as the elections were characterised by malpractices.
The CDD stated that: “Our observers’ reports from Kogi State have so far recorded the deaths of 10 people in various shooting incidents and attacks.
Furthermore, EAC accredited nonpartisan observers, including trained roving journalists, reported over 79 critical incidents across the Kogi State off-cycle governorship and the rerun senatorial elections. Incidents ranged from the hijack of electoral materials by thugs, the kidnap of INEC ad hoc staff, vote-buying, attacks on observers, intimidation of voters, underage voting, widespread stuffing of ballot boxes, ballot snatching and multiple voting.
“In Bayelsa, the CDD EAC observers reported over 50 critical incidents which directly impacted on the credibility of the election.
Violence in the form of thuggery, ballot box snatching and destruction of voting materials constituted 66.7 per cent of the total reported incidents. These incidents predominantly occurred in Yenagoa, Ekeremor and Sagbama LGAs of Bayelsa State. In Southern Ijaw and Nembe had no access.”
In the meantime, President Muhammadu Buhari, has expressed his readiness to work with the winners.
But while the main actors and their supporters ruminate and take stock of the conduct and outcome of the elections, it is also imperative for all and sundry to examine if the conduct of elections in the country have been compatible to their purpose and function in a democracy.
Again, the Encyclopedia Britannica serves as guide on the place of elections in Nigeria. It states that elections are designed to fortify the stability and legitimacy of the political community, because, “like national holidays commemorating common experiences, elections link citizens to each other and thereby confirm the viability of the polity.
As a result, elections help to facilitate social and political integration.
“Finally, elections serve a self-actualising purpose by confirming the worth and dignity of individual citizens as human beings. Whatever other needs voters may have, participation in an election serves to reinforce their self-esteem and self-respect. Voting gives people an opportunity to have their say and, through expressing partisanship, to satisfy their need to feel a sense of belonging.
Thus, the pertinent questions here include: do Nigerian elections serve such useful and fundamental purposes?
Do the process and the exercise proper evoke joy and sense of fulfillment in the electorate and the entire citizens?
What is the place of the extant laws concerning elections in Nigeria?
These teasers are instructive against the backdrop of the positive impact and implications of a credible poll that conform to global standard practice and norm.
Again, USAID underscores the integrity of elections: “Critical development efforts cannot succeed without a legitimate and democratically elected government that is responsive and accountable to its citizens.
Elections provide an important opportunity to advance democratisation and encourage political liberalisation.”
Has Nigeria set the template for similar elections slated for Ondo and Anambra states after the Kogi and Bayelsa scenarios?