Nigeria Today

September 3, 2017

Anambra 2017: Is free and fair election possible?

By Tonnie Iredia

At the end of an election in Nigeria, one loser or the other begins a long drawn-out legal battle to fault the victory of the winner. Quite often many people blame the petitioner for exhibiting what is generally regarded as a bad loser spirit. Interestingly, everyone is aware of the defective electoral process which supposedly produced a winner. No wonder, German born physicist and founder of the theory of relativity-Albert Einstein (1879-1955), once said that “the world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.” There is doubt though if Einstein had Nigeria in mind because contrary to Einstein’s quote, Nigerians always do something about those who do evil; they applaud and embrace them especially if at the end, the evil doers are placed at a vantage position. It can thus be argued that if Nigeria is destroyed, it would be the handiwork of its numerous men and women who applaud evil doers. They are the ones who describe as bad losers candidates who having been cheated at an election employ the due process of law to ventilate their grievances.

The Election Observation Delegation of the International Republican Institute (IRI) to the 2007 general election in Nigeria mockingly remarked that “the conduct of the election 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.” This is not just true of the 2007 experience; it is a true reflection of any Nigerian election because none is ever conducted in line with best practices.

To start with, almost everyone in Nigeria including the electoral body tends to see an election as the casting of ballots. As a result, everything before and after voting, another word for the casting of ballot is casually handled. The truth however is that election is not an event but a process of inter-related segments of events. Voting is only one of such events. Before voting, we have Delimitation of constituencies, Registration of Voters and Nomination of candidates. Also election does not end with voting as the votes cast have to be collated and results announced. The winner has to be declared and sworn-in. Whether such a winner would remain in office still has to wait for the determination of any election dispute

The other explanation for failed elections in Nigeria is the erroneous impression that the electoral body is solely in charge of elections. The truth is that there are many other actors who usually complicate an election for the electoral body. For instance, political parties are in charge of the nomination of candidates for an election. Our experience in Nigeria is that during party primaries the political parties are engaged in unwholesome practices which pollute the climate before voting day. Law enforcement is the business of the police but with an average of 25,000 operatives deployed to secure an election in one state, thugs are still able to snatch ballot boxes and disrupt elections where the ‘powerful’ people are not strong.  There is hardly level playing field for candidates during elections. If none of these issues is yet to change, what hope is there for free and fair elections in Anambra state scheduled for November 2017?

Reports coming out of the state are unfortunately not cheering. Only last Thursday, the Immigration Service in the state raised alarm over voter’s cards diverted to unqualified aliens. Besides, there are already signs that there will be no level playing field.  To start with, the campaign organization of one of the front runners, Osita Chidoka of the United Progressive Party UPP has posted on the web a story with illustrative photos accusing agents of Governor Willie Obiano of vandalizing its bill boards and other campaign materials.

If this is true, Chidoka should be ready for what opposition candidates faced in Edo in 2016 when former Governor, Adams Oshiomhole used gangsterism to disallow them from using public facilities such as stadium and the media for campaigns. Chidoka himself appears to be benefitting from undue influence by partisan South East traditional rulers who have reportedly handed to him as a sign of support the revered Ofoi Igbo staff- the Igbo traditional symbol of power and authority. If this provokes other candidates can they be blamed? Again if traditional rulers now find it hard to serve as father of all, may be the Ibadan example where every street now has a traditional ruler is a feasible experiment

Will Governor Obiano exploit the power of incumbency and commercialize the coming elections? Incidentally, Anambra government has recently been massively engaged in ‘governance by television’ which shows desperation. No one really knows why governors who claim to have done so much for their people are usually into excessive publicity during reelection. Is it that the people didn’t see the series of development projects allegedly done for them? With so many Anambra citizens wearing same Obiano cloth these days, we can only hope that vote buying as done in other states will not mar the election. Obiano himself has to be careful of what some analysts call Abuja power. For example in Ondo, no one knew why INEC allowed candidate Eyitayo Jegede who emerged from primaries monitored by the electoral body to be replaced by Jimoh Ibrahim whose candidature INEC did not monitor. For this reason Jegede was distracted until 48hours to voting day before the situation was reversed. No one knew till date who or what influenced the development

Indeed, in election, anything can happen. An election petition against a candidate who claims to have graduated from a school before the school was established can be dismissed as pre-election matter. If so, how was he cleared by security? That question is redundant because security is a delicate matter; election can be shifted back and forth for security reasons. Finally, no one should under-rate the All Progressives Congress APC which now wins every election. The party recently won ALL the 78 and 23 chairmanship seats as well as ALL the councillorship positions in local elections in Yobe and Benue states respectively. The feat has just been repeated in Lagos.  So, will Anambra 2017 be free and fair?