By Tonie Iredia
On November 28, 2010, a rerun presidential election was held in Cote d’Ivoire between the incumbent President, Laurent Gbagbo and his challenger, Mr. Alassane Ouattara. The Electoral Commission proclaimed the opposition candidate, the winner with 54.1 per cent of the vote.
But, the next day, the country’s highest legal authority, the Constitutional Council, threw out almost 600,000 votes – more than 90 per cent of them cast for Mr. Ouattara – and gave new results that made President Gbagbo the winner with 51.45 per cent of the vote.
The Constitutional Court also cited irregularities and intimidation of the voters in the northern part of the country as part of the reasons for its decision. So much has happened since then. The local UN mission, on ground in Abidjan since the civil war of 2002, has certified Mr. Ouattara’s victory, so have many international observation missions, the United States, Canada, France etc.
The two Presidential candidates have claimed victory and have both taken oaths of office. While the United Nations 6,000 peacekeepers in Cote d’Ivoire are guarding the Golf Hotel in Abidjan where Ouattara is staying along with members of his cabinet, the Cote d’Ivoire army is guarding the Presidential Palace where Gbagbo is running his government.
The Ivorien situation is of prime importance to Africa because it highlights the unending problem of disputed elections on the continent, in which no side accepts a loss, particularly the incumbent that refuses to step down from power. Kenya, Zimbabwe and Guinea are apt examples of where leaders have rejected election results which were not in their favour and hung on to power without considering the unavoidable resultant political violence which often plunges the nation state into a civil war.
Understandably, the African Union (AU), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and individual countries have shown considerable interest in the story of Cote d’Ivoire. Indeed, an African peace envoy, Thabo Mbeki, South Africa’s former President, has already met with Gbagbo and Ouattara but with scanty dividends while the international community continues to back Ouattara.
But whether Gbagbo will remain in power or be pushed away for Ouattara will depend largely on the regional heavyweight —Nigeria. All the so-called super powers who are taking sides will disappear when the crisis blows into an open war. It happened before – years back, when the world rallied round to stop the Gulf war and no one else except the Nigerian-led ECOWAS was interested in how long the Liberian crisis lasted. Consequently, Nigeria may have to take the lead again in the case of Cote d’Ivoire but it must be a lead that is rational and that can bring lasting peace to that country.
Nigeria must not take the lead of those who throw stones from their glass houses. We need to remember that Africans do not know how to win elections, they only know how to rig and how to blame everyone for their loss if they are not declared winners.
The current disputed election in Cote d’Ivoire was better than the one in Nigeria in 2007 in which the then Senate President Ken Nnamani could not vote, in which the acclaimed winner, President Yar’Adua owned up to the flawed process. It was indeed, a shameful event which in the words of the International Republican Institute Election Observation Delegation “did not measure up to those observed by the members of IRI’s international delegation in other countries whether in Africa, Asia, Europe or the Western Hemisphere.” Those who may see the IRI report as derogatory and a ploy by foreigners to rubbish us should take their minds back to an interesting event some two years before the IRI remark.
The event took place on April 20, 2005. It was a public debate organised by the Senate on the INEC bill. On the occasion, a Senator according to a report by the Punch newspaper cautioned his distinguished colleagues as follows:
“Most of us came here (Senate) through electoral malpractices in the 2003 elections. So, we should be mindful of how we handle this bill.”
What this suggests is that Nigeria should not make any decision about the Ivorien election; she should just work for peace there.
Apart from Nigeria’s moral burden on the issue, there is no proof that Ouattara with all his international support won a free and fair election. As we hear, by the time the votes were broken down according to areas, he allegedly won 130 per cent of votes in his area. If this is true, we can only hope that Ouattara is not a member in Diaspora of Africa’s largest party that can win more votes than are available.
Another point that we need to note is that the present administration in Nigeria has since its inception in 2007 laid claim to an avowed respect for the rule of law. For us, therefore, if the electoral body in Cote d’Ivoire claims that Gbagbo lost the election, Ouattara should be supported but since that nation’s election tribunal reviewed it and accorded victory to Gbagbo, the rule of law demands that we should now accept Gbagbo. Everyone should.
Those who will not are likely to incur the wrath of Governors Mimiko of Ondo State, Fayemi of Ekiti State and Aregbesola of Osun State. Indeed, the Comrade- Governor would be justified to organise a strike in favour of all political leaders, Gbagbo inclusive, whose stolen mandates which have been restored by the Judiciary are facing threats.
The point to be made is that the segment of an election process described as the settlement of election disputes is perhaps the most important of all the segments. This is because the Judiciary is the most important election administrator not only because it supervises all the other actors in the election process, but more because its decisions are always final and binding.
The Ivoriens must learn to know that it is not the place of litigants to rationalise court decisions. In other words, a judgment does not have to be reasonable from the point of view of an interested party rather ‘as your lordship pleases’ is all that is expected of every party to a case whether it wins or not.
Accordingly, the Nigerian government should help Ivorieans with political education, impressing it on them to emulate great politicians like Rotimi Amaechi who was ambushed and physically prevented from standing for an election and who today by the power of justice is governor of oil-rich Rivers State. That is how far we should go and allow Cote d’Ivoire to grow. It is indeed, unwise to act differently only to later sacrifice our citizens and deplete our meagre resources on peace keeping when the crisis gets out of hand.