By Vera Samuel Anyagafu and Prisca Sam-Duru
It is no longer news that the United States government is strongly committed in efforts to strengthening Nigeria’s democratic institutions, and electoral processes.
This, clearly explains the country’s extensive involvement in ensuring that the upcoming Ekiti and Osun states elections in the next few months are conducted credibly and peacefully.
Addressing election challenges in Nigeria, US Consul General, Jeffery Hawkins, said that Nigerians and Nigeria’s friends in the international community, are watching carefully for peaceful elections and results that uphold the will of the electorate.
He said that it is undoubtedly important and interesting to see who the winners and losers in Ekiti and Osun will be, and how the outcomes will affect the national political picture in advance of next February’s elections.
Beyond that, however, he also stated that, “The Ekiti and Osun elections are crucial because of what they will tell us about Nigeria’s preparations for February 2015, specifically, whether those elections will be, and be seen by Nigerians as, credible.
On the occasion of my multiple visits to each of the 17 states in southern Nigeria, I spoke with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Nigerians about democracy, elections, and the history of Nigeria, as it relates to both, and some of the lessons I learnt from the conversations were particularly relevant as citizens of Ekiti and Osun states approach election day, and head into the national elections next year.”
M.K.O Abiola’s aborted election in 1993
The C/G also noted that through his conversations he got a clearer picture that elections in Nigeria suffer from a crisis of credibility.
“There have been a few contests, particularly M.K.O. Abiola’s aborted election in 1993, that have been widely viewed by Nigerians to represent the will of the people.
The international community, and in particular the United States, have gone on record as saying Nigeria’s 2011 elections represented a significant improvement over some earlier contests. But Nigerians have been disappointed at the LGA, state, and national levels by many of the electoral cycles in the country’s past. There are many reasons for such disappointment, some historical and some highly relevant to this day. Much work remains to be done by INEC, by the nation’s security services, and above all by Nigeria’s political class to build more trust in the electoral process,” the C/G said.
Still on the crisis of credibility in Nigeria’s electoral practices, Hawkins disclosed that besides undermining voter faith and interest, this crisis of credibility has an additional, pernicious side-effect, which allows some politicians to refuse to accept an electoral result that was not in their favor by affirming that the election in question was ‘illegitimate’, thereby, threatening and or employing violence as a result.
“The electoral system’s shortcomings have thus helped to provide cover for rhetoric and actions by some politicians that only further subvert the interests of Nigerians as a whole. Beyond broad systemic changes stamping out corruption, improving transparency, enhanced internal democracy in Nigeria’s political parties and fighting this trend is also a key element in ameliorating Nigerian democracy.
It is time Nigerians begin to hold elections that ALL believe produced the ‘correct’ results.
I am constantly struck by the degree to which Nigerians, on all sides of the political spectrum, assail elections which they believe were not credible, that didn’t produce the result that represented the will of the voters. It seems to happen after virtually every election, regardless of whether a particular election was generally perceived to have been credible or not.
Similarities in US and Nigeria politicians
In view of US-Nigeria bi-national relationship in key sectors of both countries economies, Hawkins noted that while the US strongly supports the notion that challenges to election results should be resolved through legal mechanisms, there has never been an election in the last decade in Nigeria that did not result in a legal challenge by one or more of the losers.
“My point is this, Nigeria elections are almost never considered legitimate by all the participants.
I would argue that there are lots of similarities between politicians in the U.S. and Nigeria in their conduct leading up to Election Day.
The desire to champion one’s own accomplishments and or policy proposals, an equivalent desire to diminish those of an opponent, and the projection of confidence that ‘the voters are with me’ that is often accompanied by bold predictions of victory.”
“But it seems to me that the day after the election is where the similarities between U.S. and Nigerian politicians diverge.
With very few exceptions, by the day after the election, a losing candidate in the U.S. has called his or her opponent to congratulate them and publicly concede defeat, especially for the elections that garner media attention, following which they begin closing up their campaign offices and operations, and for losing candidates it is about ‘going back to normal life’.”
Continuing, Hawkins added, “For defeated candidates in Nigeria, the day after the election almost seems like the beginning of the real contest, which is the legal challenge to the election’s announced result.”
In view of this, the C/G raised two questions, asking, when will Nigeria reach a point where the system has enough credibility that losing candidates no longer regularly challenge their losses?
And more importantly, what can each Nigerian do to move Nigeria closer to that moment?
The latter question appear salient, as it questions reason elections in Nigeria would not be perfect and every Nigerian has to do his or her part improving on the elections.
Special points to election success in Nigeria
In view of the foregoing therefore, C/G Hawkins suggested three points to which Nigerian stakeholders in the election process would adapt to make Nigeria’s elections work better.
He advised them to avoid sponsorship of violence and intimidation, and the rhetorical threat thereof, which are utterly unacceptable in a democratic society, and need to be expunged once and for all from the Nigerian polity and discourse. “The US has been deeply troubled by some of the rhetoric that has been thrown around in recent weeks and months as these elections have drawn closer. It is perfectly acceptable, and even praiseworthy, to seek to defend your vote and that of your fellow citizens who share your support for a particular candidate. It is not, however, productive or reasonable to threaten violence, even when you perceive others have been guilty of misconduct. We were deeply troubled by the threat of ‘rig and roast’ issued multiple times by a major political figure in recent weeks. Who benefits from that type of violent rhetoric, we wondered? And why would any ordinary Nigerian accept such provocative language, especially considering the history of post-election violence in Nigeria, and the truly horrific carnage that this country has been suffering at the hands of Boko Haram?”
“If a candidate believes an election is threatened, then that candidate should be doing everything possible to see that the rules of the game are enforced properly by having party agents in the numerous locations where they are permitted, for example, to bear witness to what happens or doesn’t happen. That is part of the painstaking work of participating in, and building, a democracy.
Drawing on or threatening violence is an attempt to short-circuit that process for the benefit of a few, but to the detriment of many.”
Secondly, Hawkins advised Nigeria’s politicians to accept the fact that they undermine the democratic process when they systematically deny even the possibility of defeat in a free and fair process.
“The politicians should repeat to themselves the following sentence, either now or sometime before Election Day: ‘It is possible that I can lose this election if it is conducted credibly?’
I could reel off countless examples of elections in the United States in which one candidate or party had an evident advantage or advantages, and should have easily won. Sometimes even the toughest of candidates, a well-known, popular incumbent, for example, can lose, and lose badly.
Going into her re-election battle in 1994, Texas Governor Ann Richards had a national political profile and enjoyed a 60 per cent approval rating among Texans. But she lost, by a relatively wide margin, to the Republican candidate, George W. Bush.
Neither she nor anyone around her suggested that there had been cheating in the election.
She was just defeated and it was that simple.
Voters liked her, but they chose to go a different direction. It is a fact that even in the fairest and most credible elections there must be a candidate who loses and if there are more than two parties, as is the case in Nigeria, you will have multiple candidates who lose.
Hawkins stated, “Nigerian political parties and candidates need to start accepting that their defeats are not wholly, or perhaps even partly, a result of the malfeasance of their opponent or opponents’ supporters. Nigerian democracy will grow stronger the sooner that starts to happen.”
Giving his third and finally suggestion to credible elections in Nigeria, he said Nigeria has a well-established set of rules for elections which are produced by INEC, in concert with the Electoral Act, and guided by the Nigerian Constitution, and it is imperative to abide by them. “There is no process, democratic or otherwise, that can survive when its basic foundation is undermined by those seeking to use it.
The Nigerian electoral process is only as good as Nigerians make it. That doesn’t mean only worrying about what the other parties are doing.
It also means worrying about what you and your allies are doing.
The fundamental question is this, does what you are doing help build and sustain an electoral process that you want your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to take part in?
Nigerians have fought long and hard to earn the democratic rights they now possess, and Nigerians want and deserve peaceful, credible elections in Ekiti on June 21, in Osun on August 9, and across this great country in February 2015.
That’s why these elections are a critical juncture. Every Nigerian from the party leaders and candidates to average citizens should do everything in his/her power to help meet those expectations, and thereby counter this crisis of credibility”, the Consul General submitted.