By Tonnie Iredia
At the end of the 2007 general elections in Nigeria, the Election Observation Delegation of the International Republican Institute (IRI) stated in its report that the conduct 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.” Painfully, it didn’t bother our politicians that professional election monitors were imputing that the conduct of our election is the worst in the world. To show that they have no remorse concerning the assessment, our political class decided to even worsen the process of selecting their candidates for future elections. Till date, no one has been able to effect any change to Nigeria’s rancorous party primaries. The latest has been to hoard nomination forms for party primaries or to openly exclude some aspirants so that the preferences of the party hierarchy may emerge. The recent rancorous primaries of our political parties particularly that of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) can therefore not be described as new but it is worrisome that a malaise discovered many decades ago is unabatedly being entrenched by our politicians in the polity.
Again, as if the parties themselves do not know that democracy can only be anchored on the rule of law, they seek to forcefully illegalize the use of the courts for settling party matters which even the blind can see to be unjust. Fortunately, the threats have never seen the light of day just as the judiciary has never been persuaded to shut out aggrieved litigants. Accordingly, after party primaries the battle shifts to the courts and our politicians would ensure that our judges do nothing else other than their contrived pre-election issues. They would go to different courts for the same subject and then proceed on appeal where the judgments do not favour them, before returning to another high court to obtain conflicting judgment. If they first approached a state high court, they would later go to a federal high court. In some cases, they would return to the same type of court but this time in another town. This continues till after the contest seeking to make different courts at all levels to reverse themselves.
To prove that we are a daily electioneering nation, the position now is that at the end of each election, campaigns begin immediately for the next set that would hold four years away. As at today, the heat about who gets what in our national assembly is not necessarily about now but how the alignments for 2023 are to be shaped. Campaign managers are assembled from all sectors of the country including traditional rulers to drum home support for persons who are yet to publicly declare interest for the next contest not-withstanding the law that election campaigns are prohibited until 90days to voting day. Yet, the purpose of the restriction is to avoid distracting office holders from doing their work. We saw how former President Goodluck Jonathan and President Muhammadu Buhari openly chastised in vain, the Transformation Ambassadors of Nigeria and the Buhari support groups respectively. If the campaigns are in favour of incumbents, those breaching the rule are never apprehended by the police whereas opposition groups are usually chased away even during the period allowed for campaigns for not obtaining police permit.
Opposition parties are not alone among those roughly tackled by ruling parties. Individuals and professionals and the media are also targeted. In Oyo state, some months ago, the ruling party demolished a radio station owned by talented Yinka Ayefele having failed severally to coerce him to sing government praises. The demolition was carried out before dawn on a Sunday morning in breach of a court order to the contrary. This establishes that Nigerian politicians are totalitarians and that anyone not in their support is endangered. Painfully, Ibadan where the first indigenous effort was made well before independence to institutionalize balance and objectivity in media coverage and which all should look up to for professional guidance was the exact place where this infamy of media harassment was done.
Politicians in the legislature are often used to impeach persons suspected to be ambitious, especially deputy governors. These happened in states such as Imo, Enugu, Taraba etc. Impeachment being constitutionally guaranteed is a legal option open to legislators but their bizarre approach to it lives much to be desired. It is either they have no quorum for it as stipulated by law or they meet at ungodly hours as if they have an evil intention. Every impeachment recorded in Nigeria since the return to democracy in 1999 has been fake. As for proper electioneering campaigns, incumbents would deny opposition politicians, access to public fora such as stadium and the broadcast media making it hard for the nation to embrace the politics of equality that is premised on a level-playing field. However, many of these anomalies happen only in federal elections. In the case of local government elections, there is usually no contest at all. The electoral bodies for local elections which are often composed of friends of the ruling parties usually operate from government houses, no matter the state. They always ensure that the ruling party ‘wins’ all the seats. In some cases, some of the victors win more votes than the maximum figures in the respective constituencies
It is difficult to find something to be happy about with our politicians. Although they always promise to build strong institutions, they only succeed in weakening all public organizations. The latest is that they appoint inexperienced party supporters to head several offices. Whereas the public is left to believe that there is an embargo on employment, unqualified people are being recruited daily through the back door. Within our poor economy, political office holders are daily acquiring expensive official cars. These hurt many but the greatest victim of Nigeria’s political class is the nation’s electoral body that is being sabotaged daily. Every strategy introduced by INEC to end vote buying is outsmarted by the day hence the decision of INEC to curb vote-buying and vote-selling by prohibiting, cameras and other recording devices in polling booths didn’t work. Intra-party problems also push INEC to the wall all the time
The only institution we can rely upon now to help tame our politicians is the judiciary. In Imo State the other day, judges checkmated political rascals by turning down their contemptuous plan to swear in a new deputy governor for the state. In a historic solidarity, all the judges in the high court in the state resolved not to lend judicial weight to the subversion of the rule of law. The Osun state election tribunal has done well in rejecting altered election result-sheets. The Court of Appeal has told Zamfara politicians to stop shopping for judgments. Only four days ago, the Supreme Court reminded Politicians in Rivers state that there is time for everything. We have to tame our politicians, so our nation can grow.