By Festus Okoye
Known enemies of democracy, experts at election rigging, certified manipulators of the will of the people and promoters and merchants of electoral violence followed the bandwagon and celebrated or pretended to have celebrated the appointment of Professor Attahiru Jega as the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission.
Some of them even claimed that all along they knew that a credible electoral management body is the panacea to all the electoral problems and challenges of the Nigerian people. The logic then is that they decided to transgress of this. With the new order of things, they have turned a new leaf and will sin no more.
The question that arises is whether these classes of persons with a history of electoral misdemeanour and violence can suddenly and without a fight give up all the powers and the experience they acquired in electoral fraud and violence. Is it possible that those that continue to enjoy the trappings of illegitimate and illegal power can give up their illegitimate loot and go home on grounds that they are now apostles of one man one vote? Are these political opportunists whose only expertise is in the padding of the voters register with a patent on the registration of ghosts, under aged individuals and inanimate objects change overnight to become champions of credible elections?
Is it possible that some Governors who are desperately canvassing for a second term in office and see their re_election as a â€œdo or dieâ€ affair allow free, fair and transparent elections where they will sweat for votes and wait with trepidation as results come tumbling in. The answer is that these merchants of violence and experts at election rigging and manipulation have their sights elsewhere and are not bothered about the appointment of a credible individual as the Chair of the Independent National Electoral Commission. In other words, there are things that they are sure of and this account for their refusal to panic on the issue of a new voterâ€™s register and the appointment of credible individuals as National Commissioners and Resident Electoral Commissioners of the Independent National Electoral Commission.
We must be worried that the incumbent Governors seeking for a 2nd term are going about their businesses as if nothing has changed. We must be bothered if they are not bothered at theÂ Â ongoing reforms and strategies in the electoral management body which goes to show that they are perfecting other strategies aimed at undermining the electoral process.
The Independent National Electoral Commission must therefore do a quick audit of the existing voters register and identify the loopholes exploited to undermine its credibility. They must have a clear understanding on why the registration exercise carried out with Direct Data Capture Machine failed and or was undermined. They must analyse the existing register and decipher how the ghost names and under aged individuals got into the register. Human beings must have influenced and or manipulated the register to do such an illegal act.
They must find out why over 50% of the voters cards in circulation are in the hands of politicians and their cronies which they give out at will on Election Day to persons that did not register in the first place. They must analyse the cases that went to court in relation to the 2007 and the pronouncements of the Courts on them. This will enable them plug the loopholes which desperate positions are perfecting to use. These are important steps that will prevent a repeat of the mistakes of the past.
In our euphoria at the new regime and order in the electoral management body, we consciously or unconsciously refused and or failed to interrogate and analyse other variables that pose serious threat and challenge to the conduct of credible elections. We failed to situate the content, context and dynamics of the changes to the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act, 2006. We failed to situate the changes that eventually made it as the 1st amendment to the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act, 2010 within the ambit of power struggles and balance of power in the Nigerian society.
In other words, we must clearly delineate and situate the challenges and contestations relating to the content and context of the changes to the law and the Constitution and understand their value and or threat to the conduct of credible elections. Unless this is done, pre_election issues that are not directly connected with votersâ€™ registration and the conduct of election may intervene and abort the conduct of elections.
History and precedent bears out this proposition. Prior to the 2007 elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission got entangled in the web of disqualification and substitution of candidates and this almost ruined the conduct of the 2007 elections. The challenges and problems posed by the disqualification and substitution of candidates diverted the attention of the electoral management body and almost aborted the conduct of the 2007 elections.
As we move towards the 2010 elections, there are various challenges to the constitutionality and legality of the amendments made to 1999 Constitution that must be tackled and cleared. These problems and challenges relate to the proper interpretation of the intendment of section 9(2) of the constitution and whether the National Assembly must pass the proposals sent to the State Assemblies again before sending it for gazetting.
The second relates to whether or not presidential assent is required before the 1st amendment to the 1999 Constitution can come into force. There is also the issue of whether the National Assembly is constitutionally empowered to legislate on the order of elections. These are weighty issues that bother on the fundamental law of the land and unless quickly and decisively resolved may affect in a fundamental manner the preparations and conduct of the 2011 elections.Â This period requires patriotism and statesmanship. It is not a period for grandstanding or supremacy battle. It is a time of national electoral emergency and requires putting the interest of the Nigerian nation first.
In this wise, there must be a deliberate Executive, Legislative and Judicial intervention to save the boat of the Nigerian nation from capsizing on account of constitutional and legal ambiguities. Rather than engage in a supremacy battle, the leadership of the National Assembly and the Presidency can meet, harmonise positions and err on the part of the national interest by allowing the President to assent to the 1st amendment to the 1999 Constitution. Obstinate hardening of hearts bothering on obduracy will only harm the Nigerian people, dent the credibility of the electoral process and lead to wastage of scarce resources.
Alternatively, since a dispute has arisen, the Attorney General of the Federation, as the Chief Law Officer is constitutionally empowered to approach the Supreme Court to seek for the interpretation of the relevant provisions of the Constitution. This will prevent the present multiplicity of suits at the lower courts relating to the interpretation of provisions of the Constitution and some relevant laws. Approaching the Supreme Court will clear the fog as the entire electoral process is anchored on some of the provisions of the 1st amendment to the constitution.
A quick and decisive resolution of the legality of whether the National Assembly can fix the dates of elections and whether the Constitution needs presidential assent is in the interest of the Nigerian people and the electoral process. A quick resolution of the issue will also pull the rug off the feet of anti democratic elements hovering in the wings to exploit every available opportunity to discredit democracy and the electoral process.