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Expect free and fair elections in Nigeria in 20- 20

By Tonnie Iredia

It is gratifying to know that the great United States of America was among the first nations that commended the Nigerian elections of 2011. Yes it makes sense that they did so. First, America like me is a supporter of President Jonathan.

Second and more importantly, as my good friend Kolade forcibly argued, Americans do not really care about wobbled elections provided the process produces a winner as shown by the funny election which made George W. Bush, their President. The excellent one that brought Obama cannot happen all the time.

In other words, America’s applause for our latest election is understandable. What would probably not make sense is for Nigerians to rely on such applause to conclude that all went well. Of course it was exciting to see that renowned university professors collated and announced the results. That would have been a strong point if professors were not involved in examination malpractices or is anyone suggesting that a man who can leak examination question papers for a fee cannot do so with ballot papers?

Politicians are wealthier than students. Our premise is that it is good to admit that certain things went wrong with the 2011 elections. Indeed, the allegation by the opposition that the elections were not credible may be illuminated shortly when the election tribunals begin their work with or without the present holders of the office of the chief Justice of Nigeria or the President of the Court of appeal.

Our solace however rests on the fact that losers who claim to have many malpractices to expose are not better than those they accuse. All Nigerian politicians are the same. They all behave the same way in the same circumstance. For example, under-aged voters were seen in the stronghold of every political party. “Chief Thief may be smarter than Dr Thief but Thief na Thief”.

Apart from President Jonathan and Governor Fashola of Lagos State and perhaps one or two border line cases, it is hard to vouch for those who allegedly won their elections. It is equally hard to argue that those who lost were short changed. Under the circumstance, whether or not a Nigerian election is free and fair depends on what side of the divide the assessor belongs to.

Can we on the strength of this argument dismiss the great efforts made by INEC during the last election? Not really. Our electoral bodies including the one led by the most battered Maurice Iwu have never been the problem in our electoral process. The present Commission led by Professor Attahiru Jega did well on a number of issues. First, it is unusual for the holder of a top political office in Nigeria to own up to his fault and apologize for lapses as Jega did on April 2nd when the election failed to take-off as scheduled.

The posture confirmed Jega as forthright and worthy of his office. Second, INEC taught us that our despised NYSC members are Nigeria’s youngest most articulate able-bodied nationalistic citizens. Third, INEC rightly ignored protests at state and federal levels with respect to grievances that should have been resolved at local government level.

In addition, INEC kept to its own jurisdiction and did not seek to do other people’s job in the guise of being in charge. As a result, the Commission did not dissipate its energies on issues like dispute resolution.
What we have said so far should not be taken to mean that INEC performed above board like Caesar’s wife.

It was clear for example, that some of its officials compromised their positions as it happens in every human institution. How can one understand an operative like the Anambra Central Senatorial District Electoral Officer who spent valuable time which he could have used to announce a result to look for a safe hide-out?

In addition, we cannot clap for INEC over its magical DDC machines because the machines in spite of their colossal cost did not control anything. From my experience during the voting exercise, anyone could have used any other person’s card to vote. Beyond all of this however, there are too many things in the Nigerian environment that would naturally vitiate free and fair elections.

The first is that the average Nigerian politician is so crooked that there is nothing he is not prepared to do to win an election. Indeed, Nigerian political parties and their candidates work towards scoring more votes than is actually available. As far back as 1961, the ruling political parties in Eastern and Northern Nigeria won landslide victories in the elections held in both regions that year.

From the findings of Professor Femi Adekanye, the two dominant regional political parties achieved the sweeping victories “using “all forms of electoral chicanery, political intimidation and even coercion including imprisonment of opposition leaders”. That was 50 years ago. We hope some candidates who sought to compete with incumbent governors in 2011 and who had to answer criminal charges during the same period are all out of police net now.

In 1965, those who were aggrieved over the results of the elections held in the Western region that year set the houses of their political opponents ablaze killing several people and destroying countless property in what became known in history as “operation we tie” – the spraying operation.  This has just been repeated 42 years after, in places like Kaduna and Bauchi during our latest election.

The point must be made over and over again until someone hears us that we cannot have free and fair elections for as long as we refuse to embrace the latest technology which renders nugatory, the results of elections that are marred by mal-practices.

In a free and fair election process, we should not witness what we saw in Nigeria in  the just concluded 2011 exercise, where the entire country was at a standstill on voting day- governments at all levels including the ‘unelectable’ Judiciary were shut; markets and all businesses were not allowed to operate; more soldiers than we had during the civil war years were let loose on unarmed citizens which no doubt dissuaded voting; even those below 18 who are not allowed to vote could not go about other businesses; indeed, it was like voting had to be everyone’s business forgetting that as important as the subject is, it cannot qualify as free and fair if it is not voluntary.

The argument that all these happened so that we can do a thorough job and get it right once and for all is puerile. Other nations get it right because they follow best practices in today’s world where as a result of advanced technology, people can now post their ballot.  I can hear my readers saying we are yet to get there, if so we may have to wait to be one of the world’s leading 20 democracies in the magical year 20-20.


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