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When is an election credible?

By Pini Jasaon
“When the President and Commander-in-Chief puts the country first and conducts himself as a statesman, credible elections are possible”

THE above hubristic statement was credited to His Excellency, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, Governor of Edo State, as he savoured his re-election on Saturday 14 July. Comrade Oshomhole also tried to rationalise his false alarm against INEC and the PDP. He would not admit that he was hasty in condemning INEC’s conduct of the Edo election.

I disagree with some of his reasons for raising an alarm which was intended to preemptively rubbish  the election were he to lose. He and his party the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, even cried foul over the deployment of soldiers and Police to maintain peace during the election. But now that he has won, all is well. I don’t think that we should accept the doctrine that the only credible election is the one won by the opposition. That is pure blackmail.

Make no mistake about it; this is not strictly about Comrade Oshomhole. All the political parties are guilty of this shenanigan. During election campaigns we hardly hear a political party’s position on issues that can advance our nation. No. Party “A” cries out that it has unearthed a plan by party “B” to rig the election. Party “B” in turn accuses party “A” of planning to print fake ballots. Party “C” accuses others of buying and selling voters’ cards. And when that is not enough to catch attention, a joker cries out about a threat to his miserable life!

The joker does not take the proof of the threat to the security agencies. No. He goes to the media. Unfortunately, these fictions deliberately concocted to put opponents on the defensive find believers who often prime themselves for mayhem on election day.

All these played out in the Edo election and Comrade Oshomhole was at the centre of it. Two months to the election, he wrote a petition to the Chairman of INEC detailing “plans by his opponents to use underhand tactics with the help of some officials (of INEC) to try and disenfranchise eligible electorate”. Late arrival of voting materials is one of the plans, according to Comrade Oshomhole.

The Comrade Governor commended President Goodluck Jonathan for “allowing” democracy to take its course. Here again, I do not subscribe to this idea that democracy has to be “allowed” by the President to take its course. The implication is that when the President chooses not to “allow” it, we won’t have democracy.

Such seeming benevolence is exactly the rule of one man and we should not encourage it. What we all should insist on is a democracy in which the electoral process belongs to the people, not to the government or to the President.

We have serious challenges in conducting free and fair elections. INEC under the chairmanship of Prof. Attahiru Jega has tried its best to restore credibility to the process.

Agreed, he has received the support of the President in the relative success he has achieved so far, but overcoming some of the outstanding challenges lies squarely in the hands of ordinary Nigerians and the political parties. One  major problem we experience in every election  is  late arrival of electoral materials at polling stations.

Nigeria has a vast landmass and treacherous terrains. Anybody who thinks that we can overcome the logistical challenges of distributing voting materials in the morning of election day should tell us the magic formula! Even to achieve that in a local government without a  hitch is  impossible.

Let us look at the reality

Why do we forget that those people used in conducting elections are Nigerians; human beings like us? They wake up on election day; a day we have decreed “no movement” and are confronted with the problem of getting to the LG Headquarters to collect voting materials.

Let us assume they get there in time. They now wait for the security men and the Electoral officer in charge to sort out the materials, ward by ward and polling booth by polling booth. The earliest this can be completed is ten o’clock. Let us also assume that the vehicles contracted to convey the polling officers turn up in time.

They first dispatch those going to the farthest polling booths in order to give as many electorate a fair chance of voting at the same time with others. So Governor Oshomhole’s observation that materials got to more remote villages before places ten minutes away was correct but it was not a deliberate plan to disfranchise anybody. INEC does this in every election as far as I know.

It was simply trying to solve a problem the best way it could. If we insist on sorting and distributing election materials (we call then “sensitive” materials) on election morning, those materials will continue to arrive polling booths late!

In November 2008 I was in Accra Ghana. As at that November, all the materials for the general elections of January 2009, which was acclaimed by the world as the best, and earned Ghana the honour of hosting President Obama’s first African state visit, had all been distributed all over the regions of Ghana! Yet, Ghana is smaller than two states in Nigeria in landmass.

The Chief electoral officers for various Regions and constituencies were able to crosscheck the materials and conduct trainings for the polling officers with the materials before election day. The only complain I heard about the preparations was by a Resident Electoral Commissioner who lamented about the shortage of manpower but added that he was training personnel and would be able to address the shortage before the election.

But if INEC distributed materials nationwide, three months ahead of elections, party “A” would scream to heavens that it was a plan by INEC and the opponent to rig the election! If the Resident Electoral Officer attempts to crosscheck and sort the materials out in advance, that would amount to secret thumb printing and stuffing the ballot boxes in favour of the ruling party!

Every loudmouth would invade TV stations to mouth obscenities until the election was discredited before it even took place! I am not naïve to believe that politicians are not capable of electoral fraud but I cannot accept that the only credible election is that won by the opposition.

For sure, if ACN had lost, there would have been a querulous  cry that the election was not free and fair, not because the opponent rigged but more likely because ACN had prepared the ground to discredit it. As it is, our politicians are more concerned with winning than helping our electoral process to evolve. I think it will make a huge difference if our politicians also put the country first and conduct themselves as statesmen.

 


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