By Josef Omorotionmwan
EACH time we hear of minority rule, our minds quickly go to apartheid – the former political system in South Africa in which only the white people had full political rights while other people, especially blacks, were forced to live away from the white population and they attended separate schools and churches. Sufficient
Sometimes, too, our minds are adverted to the military rule that, until recently, kept punctuating governments in Nigeria.
In actual fact, we constantly live in a world of oddities, a world ruled by the minority. We have never been excited by the “ninety minutes of legal violence” called the game of football, particularly when it comes to deciding the winner by penalty shootouts. Twenty-two people would work their heads off for 90 minutes plus 30 more minutes of extra time before finally surrendering their fate to one goal-keeper on either side. A better decider would perhaps have been to toss the coin after the 120 minutes of heart-breaking struggle.
It gets incrementally worse as we approach the region of our elections. In abstraction, we profess to be democrats with full entitlement to the universal adult suffrage, which in itself presupposes our sing-song of one adult, one vote.
But in reality, we periodically rush to vote for candidates of our choice, only for our collective decisions to be vetoed at the courts by a microscopic minority of three egg-heads at the Appeal Court or seven others at the Supreme Court level. Where, then, is the much talked-about universal adult suffrage?
One disturbing trend is fast developing in our polity and if it is not quickly halted, Nigeria heads for imminent danger.
Ordinarily, 2016 is not an Election Year in Nigeria. But all you find across Nigeria today is that the high-wired scheming by desperate politicians over about 82 re-run elections arising from the 2015 general elections has raised the political tempo to feverish proportion.
We still live in the delusion of grandeur that our elections are improving whereas they are getting worse by the day. By statistical extrapolation, by the year 2031, all our election results shall be nullified. The graphic progression is simple: after the 1999 and 2003 general elections, we had near-zero nullification; after the 2007 general elections, only 20 results were nullified nationwide by the courts. After the 2011 elections, the number of nullifications rose to 34; and after the 2015 general elections, the figure took a quantum leap to 82!
Besides the 82 nullifications, there were 15 other elections where the petitioners were declared winners in which case, the courts directed the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to issue Certificates of Return to those declared winners.
Essentially, the tensed atmosphere we had in the country during the 2015 general elections still persists in many parts of the country; and sometimes, it is even worse! Put simply, electioneering campaigns in the affected constituencies started in earnest in 2014 and today they are still raging.
This time around, the governorship election re-runs in Kogi and Bayelsa States set the tones for the numerous battles ahead.
Recent Supreme Court decisions on the governorship contests in Rivers, Akwa-Ibom, Abia and Taraba States may not have succeeded in removing those States from the ambit of States where elections were nullified. Indeed, the struggle in those battlefields remained ever fierce and ferocious with the attendant high casualty rates.
At every level and on every side, elections are expensive; and they constitute a big drain on the nation’s economy. On the one hand, INEC operations gulp hundreds of billions of Naira every Election Year; and on the other, the individual contestants and their political parties never relent in their spate of spending.
At the Election Petitions Tribunals and appeal processes, the cost of retaining the Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SAN, are totally astounding. And in the final analysis, the cost of organising the subsequent re-run elections is prohibitive. These are moneys that would have been useful in our development efforts.
At the legislative contests – State Houses of Assembly and National Assembly elections – the buck stops at the Court of Appeal. But in the governorship and presidential contests, the cases travel all the way to the Supreme Court.
The power put in the hands of judges is enormous, and subject, like other powers, to abuse; but we are not to flinch from granting it.
Lately, there have been sharp differentiations between the Court of Justice and the Court of Law: the lower courts – the Election Petitions Tribunals and the Appeal Courts have stood to be counted on the side of justice and therefore they saw no alternative to re-run elections in areas where elections were marred by widespread violence and massive manipulation; and in most of those cases where elections did not hold at all. But miracle results still emerged.
But the Supreme Court appears to wear the garb of the court of law where strict constructionism to the letters of the law holds sway. And nothing else counts. We shall perhaps return to this aspect in a few weeks time – after the highly revered Supreme Court Justices may have honoured us with the real reasons for throwing the decisions of the lower courts overboard.
This piece is like the admonition of an impending danger. Whatever the nullification mix, its spate is worrisome. There can be no better time than now to begin to think of viable alternatives to our elections. Should 2031 suddenly arrive, it may be necessary for all interested contestants to apply straight to the Registrar of the Appeal or Supreme Court, as the case may be, so that the Honourable Justices can allocate the available seats by themselves, thus obviating all the rigmarole of expensive electoral processes. Other ideas are invited.
In all this, there is no resting space for INEC. If the Commission is not to go into extinction, it must quickly produce a blueprint to halt the drift. Otherwise, 2031 remains real – we are at the edge of a precipice!