ON each of the occasions he has had an opportunity to make important speeches and pronouncements since he emerged as the nationâ€™s chief helmsman, President Goodluck Jonathan has harped on his desire to ensure that the general elections of 2011 conform to universal best practices. He has made more pledges on this issue than on any other, which implies that free, fair and acceptable elections in 2011 is his major priority.
In his trip to France on Sunday May 30th,Â 2011 where he met a large number of Nigerians living in that country at the Westminster Hotel in Nice, he harped again on his resolve to give the nation, perhaps, its first universally acceptable election.
Jonathan said while he would continue to work together with the National Assembly to ensure that a befitting amendment of the constitution and the electoral laws are put in place, he was not going to wait until the laws are reformed before putting in place what is needed for the achievement of credible election. â€œYou cannot get credible leaders when you donâ€™t have credible electionsâ€, he declared.
He made it clear that the problems confronting elections in Nigeria had little to do with the inadequacy of legislative instruments. Rather, the human factor was largely responsible. And because of this he would press ahead with plans to establish the Electoral Offences Commission (EOC) to ensure that those involved in the manipulation and stealing of elections in the country would be apprehended, tried and sent to jail.
We agree with the President that our inability to produce free, fair and acceptable elections had nothing to do with inadequacy of the laws. Virtually every general election in our history has been foreshadowed by the enactment of a new electoral law or amendment of an existing one. But because we have shown lack of resolve to follow the spirit and letters of our laws, the laws are made to seem the culprits.
It is also true that even with the Electoral Act 2006, which is detailed in its provisions, we can still conduct a free and fair election and punish those responsible for sabotaging the process. Sections 157 and 158 of the Act spell out what can be done to bring electoral offenders to book, though more could have been done to show we are serious about punishing offenders.
The main reason why electoral offences have become intractable in Nigeria is because not a single person, down the nationâ€™s history, has served a jail term, even for one day, for participating in fouling our electoral laws. No deterrence factor exists. In fact, former President Olusegun Obasanjo appeared to put the seal of authorisation to poll rigging when he declared in 2007 that for the ruling PDP, the general election was a â€œdo-or-die affairâ€. That pronouncement marked the beginning of the end of credibility of the elections that came later.
In approaching the process of bringing electoral offenders to justice through the instrumentality of the EOC, we suggest that the chief of the Commission and his officers at state and local levels must be people of proven integrity and passion for the rule ofÂ law; people who are above board, fearless and patriotic.
We have to bear in mind that the chief electoral offenders are the highest and mightiest in society; people who are in power and would rather not lose it. These are people who have enormous influence and are powerful enough to make or mar a regime.
It is these people that hire thugs and arm them, retain the services of electoral officials who supply them with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INECâ€™s) result sheets and voting cards, buy over the police and security agents; and at the election tribunals buy up the judges. These include people enjoying the special constitutional immunity from prosecution.
The job of bringing such individuals to book will not be a mean feat. It requires the services of fearless patriots in the EOC to storm the residences of powerful individuals, apprehend and arraign them. We need men who have the guts of the Nuhu Ribaduâ€™s of Nigeria but without his tendency to dance to the tune of those who appointed him.
We really need to do our homework and ensure that when the EOC is set up, its operations will really make electoral offenders to think twice before embarking on their heinous ventures.