By Tonnie Iredia
From colonial times till date, it is difficult to rate any Nigerian election as successful. An overview of Nigerian elections would confirm this. What can be called the first national election to form a government of an independent Nigeria was held on December 12, 1959. The outcome was tragic as acid and other corrosive substances were poured into ballot boxes to distort the results of the election.
In 1964, more than half of the candidates in the elections into the Federal House of Representatives got elected unopposed as electoral officers disappeared after receiving the nomination papers of only the candidates of the ruling party.
In 1965, elections in the Western Region ended with houses of political opponents set ablaze killing several people and destroying countless property in what has become known in history as “operation we tie” – the spraying operation. This was repeated during the 1983 elections in which incumbent state governors announced their own re-election even before the Federal Electoral Commission could conclude the collation of votes cast at the election.
The 1979 and 1999 elections conducted by the military were relatively more peaceful but they produced unacceptable controversies showing that peace and success are not necessarily coterminous. For example, international monitors led by former American President, Jimmy Carter observed ample disparity between the number of voters seen at the polling stations and the final results. Regrettably, the June 12 1993 Presidential election acclaimed world-wide as the nation’s best was annulled.
Till date, there is no substantial evidence that Nigeria’s unwholesome political culture since democracy was reintroduced in 1999 is ready for change. We still have among other things, the announcements of results from centres where elections did not hold. In the words of international observers, the 2007 elections did not “measure up to those observed by them in other countries whether in Africa, Asia, Europe or the Western Hemisphere.”
In short, the pattern of post-election violence in some places immediately after the 2011 elections showed that the main causes of failed elections in Nigeria are yet to be addressed more than four decades later. The rancorous party primaries to select candidates for the 2015 general elections, the hate campaigns which followed and which have been replicated in the last one month of electioneering for the governorship elections in Edo State next Saturday appear to confirm that one problem Nigeria is yet to overcome is compromised elections.
Against this backdrop, why do politicians always attack commentators who draw attention to our unending ominous political scenario? As one politician opined the other day, people like Tonnie Iredia who do not belong to any political party should stop dabbling into politics. However, such a viewpoint that I have no ‘locus standi’ in politics and elections in the country is myopic because I have more than enough insurable interest in the Nigerian project. Indeed, my diversified academic disciplines and wide practical experiences on the subject are pertinent. As a broadcast journalist, I have been an active actor in political broadcasts in Nigeria since the 70s.
During the 1979 and 1983 elections I was the Manager, News and Current Affairs at the NTA Benin and thus led the coverage team of the elections in the then Bendel State. For all the elections held between 1987 and 1993, I was in charge of the management of electoral information for the defunct National Electoral Commission.
During the period, I had to ferret, analyze and interpret for the media, data concerning elections and politics. In 1997, I was seconded to the Independent Election Commission of Liberia to serve as technical expert on the management of electoral information.
While there, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) appointed me as Coordinator of Political broadcasts for the first post-civil war election in that country with a mandate to evolve guidelines that would create a level playing field for electioneering campaigns as well as an enabling environment for the attainment of balance and objectivity in media coverage of the elections.
From 2003 to 2007, I insisted at the risk of losing my job as Director-General of the NTA that in line with the electoral act, all political parties were entitled to equal airtime prompting the This Day Newspapers to declare my station, the best government agency of the year. When added to the fact that one of my two doctorates, is anchored on political broadcasts, it is easy to see that I have been, not just a moderator of the activities of my time but also a participant observer with an eye on history and its verdict.
I therefore owe the public and indeed posterity, the duty to consummate my inclination for adversarial journalism by continuously drawing attention to societal ills with a view to influencing their redress. Those who are uncomfortable with this posture which can help educate our people on their political rights have spent ample time and public funds attacking my person rather than my message.
Those attacks are to be expected from self centred individuals who gain from appropriating our commonwealth and who turn our people into objects rather than the main subject of democracy. When in January this year, I described “uncommon governance” as the bane of Akwa Ibom which spends millions of naira organizing Christmas carols while owing doctors several months salaries, they organized a number of defamatory articles on me.
When a month earlier, I drew attention to an alarm by workers in Enugu state that their legislators had coerced their state government to buy them expensive Prado jeeps in the midst of recession, mercenary writers were invoked on me. When I called on the outgoing governors of two states-Edo (APC) and Ondo (PDP) to create a level playing field for all contestants in the forthcoming governorship elections in both states and not to impose preferred aspirants but to allow all candidates free and equal access to state facilities and institutions, a mob of paid writers of “right of reply” emerged with all of them singing discordant tunes.
The truth however is that ours is a developing society which is begging for visionary leaders that can reverse our stunted growth. Such leaders can best be known if candidates are allowed to emerge from free party primaries and thereafter allowed to freely canvass for votes.
Media professionals should ignore all the smart moves to fabricate and make defamatory statements to divert attention from the substance of politics. I for one will respond shortly to all allegations leveled against me. But before then, this is the best time for the media to beam their searchlights on individual competences because all our politicians belong to the same political ideology. In Edo for instance, the two leading contestants are from the same political family.
While Godwin Obaseki has served as Governor Oshiomhole’s Economic Adviser, his main opponent, Osagie Ize-Iyamu was the Director-General of Oshiomhole’s campaign in 2012 making their current contrived differences a façade. The way out is for Edo people to use the next 5 days before the elections to weigh the candidates as individuals using not slogans or commercial endorsements to determine how to vote but relying essentially on the persuasive capacities of each of them.