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Abuse of the electoral system

By Eric Teniola

SENATOR Mahmud Waziri (1936-2012) died on September 18, 2012 in Medina, Saudi Arabia. He was elected from Adamawa on the platform of GNPP in 1979 and served till 1983. He was a member of three Senate committees—transport and aviation, banking and currency and finance and appropriation.

In 1992, he was a Presidential aspirant under the SDP.  In 1998, he became the Chairman of the ANPP, the second largest party in the country at that time. President Olusegun Obasanjo later appointed him special adviser on inter party relations. In 2002, Senator Waziri presented a paper on the abuse of the electoral system.

The contents of that paper are still relevant in today’s Nigeria. In the paper, he declared: “many Nigerians go to the polls not to choose a leader who will protect, direct and salvage the Nation and the people but to fulfil a commitment which they entered into with someone who came around jostling with juicy pronouncements of abundant good life in the offing and buttressing his magical promises with mouth-watering food items and cash backings that will have no place or relevance in anyone’s life once the votes are cast.

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Some other Nigerians go to the polls to participate in the process of manoeuvring a relation, a benefactor, a friend or a “brother’s keeper” into office so that their future will remain hopefully “assured”.

And a good section of Nigerians go to the polls not to exercise a free franchise but to join a bandwagon activity triggered by ethnic or religious sentiments. Only few Nigerians go to the polls with correct enlightenment and political orientation to empower a candidate with a genuine democratic mandate to represent them dutifully in our democratic setting.

In order to achieve the above goals at all costs the electoral process, which is favoured with various environments conducive for various malpractices, is flagrantly and multi-dimensionally abused in various complex ways including: Intimidation of Voters, causing confusion at voting stations, falsification of documents and voters lists, making false radio and TV announcements, using the law courts for unfair injunctions, deliberate miscalculations, compromising security agencies, compromising polling agents, compromising electoral officers, stealing ballot boxes and ballot papers and attacking or even eliminating opponents.

But why is electoral system vulnerable to abuse? The first factor that renders the electoral system vulnerable is institutional. In this respect, I am not talking about the electoral act or any other guidelines for election, but the enabling law that sets up the electoral commission or the body that is charged with the responsibility of conducting elections in the country. What level of independence from the arms of government, especially the executive, does the law give to the electoral commission? This is the fundamental basis of the electoral process itself. As long as the law that creates electoral commission, by whatever name it is called, does not in the first instance make it independent and autonomous from the executive, legislative and judicial arms of government, then the electoral system is already porous and conducive for abuse from the onset.

A situation where the electoral commission is by law made an appendage of an arm of government, often the executive, and where the operators of the electoral commission are conscious of that very fact, the electoral system is always prone to manipulations, distortions, and over bearing influence from the authority in power. This explains why the Federal Electoral Commission, FEDECO, of 1983, the National Electoral Commission, NEC, of 1989, the National Electoral Commission of Nigeria, NECON, of 1995 could not bring the various transition programmes they served into a logical conclusion, mainly due to the fact that they could not take bold decisions independent of the government that set them up.

Perhaps, this is where the present administration is trying to make a remarkable departure from the past in the constitutional provision that set up the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. In India, the Electoral Commission is totally independent of the arms of the government and so conducts the most difficult elections peacefully and successfully.

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In Nigeria, we have a case where the Chief Executive would appoint Supervisory Officers for the Local Government elections. These appointments should be a product of carefully selected broad based platforms to ensure equity and fairness, and subject to the ratification of the State House of Assembly.

Apart from the institutional constraints of the electoral commission, another factor that has rendered the electoral system vulnerable to manipulations and abuse is the funding of the electoral commission. Over the years, the electoral commissions have had their funds provided by the executive arm of the government. It is a well-known maxim that he who pays the piper dictates the tune. A situation where the executive appoints and funds the electoral commission predetermines where the loyalty of members of the commission lies. Added to this is the state of the welfare of the operators of the electoral commission.

If we assume that the enabling law gives the electoral commission, the required independence, and they also receive funds independently, what is the guarantee that the electoral commissioner in a state for instance, will not find himself in a moral dilemma if a highly placed political actor tries to compromise him with some inducement. The subsistence package of the personnel of the Commission- remunerations, housing, motivations and insurances- will play a critical role here in order to resist temptations for the abuse of the system.

The next factor have to do with the attitude, ethical behavior and the level of moral restraint among members of the society.

Perhaps, the electoral process is prone to abuse because our democracy is still new. People are yet to cultivate the right attitude to democracy while; we think democratically, we still act militarily. Even if the electoral commission is constituted the way it is, INEC for instance does not have the resources and logistics to deploy personnel to all the electoral wards in Nigeria. They would still have to make use of the indigenes in the states and local governments as electoral officers, polling clerks, supervisors, etc.

The attitude of these people which of cause constitutes a reflection of the grassroot mentality would determine whether the system would be abused or not. Perhaps, we may have to exercise patience for our citizens to gradually imbibe the culture of democracy as a new way of life.

The politician who knows he is not qualified and favoured by the people, and goes into election can only hinge his hope on one thing—abuse of the process. It is this type of politician that is initiator of abuse in the electoral system. Who are the people that are directly employed to perpetuate electoral violence? They are the youths. Why do such unpatriotic politicians find these youths willing tools for electoral violence and abuse? These young people are largely idle, and the idle mind is the devil’s workshop.

We must be cautious of the fact that the most conducive environment for crime and violence among the young people is created by idleness, occasioned by unemployment. It is both social and economic. These young people do not only engage in electoral violence to make money, some are also e expressing their frustrations by letting out steam violently.

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It is the politician, who in the first place goes into an election he is convinced he is not favoured to win, hoping to win by all means. That is the beginning of the process of abuse in the electoral system. In this regard, the political parties have a pivotal role to play here. It is the party that fields candidates for election.

What quality of candidates do the parties field? The watch word must be electability. Do these parties assess the chances of candidates they field for election, knowing that a wrong candidate can only win through an abuse of process? The political parties can only field wrong candidates at the detriment of the electoral system itself. The political parties are vehicles for political transformation and development. Therefore, the quality of candidates they present for election would to a large extent condition the electoral system itself”.

Eric Teniola, A Former Director At The Presidency Wrote From Lagos.


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.