By Banji Ojewale
JANUS was the Roman mythological god that had two faces, front and back. One looked back into the past, with the other gazing forward into the future. Heaven helps you if you lost your way and ran into Janus at a crossroads. He would blight your plight.
For his mien would indicate two directions when all you required was one to lead you to your destination. But alas the ancient Romans celebrated this god of guile, elevating him as the inspirer of “auspicious beginnings”. That’s how the month of January was imposed on us in honour of Janus.
And that is what the European Union Election Observer Mission, EUEOM, that came for Nigeria’s 2019 poll has given the nation: a report with two deceptive sides. The document has been hailed and condemned by the country’s two major political parties, All Progressives Congress, APC, and Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, suggesting that there are two angles, each suiting or damning one side or the other. You go home with what gratifies you and drop that which offends. Yet it’s one report.
But the idea is to have a presentation that gives a definitive conclusion where none of the parties would have cause to celebrate. We looked for a report that would roundly blame the ballot umpire, Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and the sitting government for their poll misdeeds that disenfranchised tens of millions of Nigerians in February and March.
True, the EU monitors did refer to these, but only timidly, in my view. It’s what has given room to the double face of the document. A place for the opposition to laud itself; and a corner for the ruling government and INEC to extol their prowess. All due to the half-way work of the EU observers.
An aide of the President, Festus Keyamo, appeared to have also perceived these deficiencies. Speaking shortly after the EU team briefed the world on the election, Keyamo faulted the observers for not “coming to a conclusion” in their report. He said: “… If you are an observer you should come to a definitive conclusion, don’t be dodgy about it, don’t run away from that fact…It is not enough for you to discuss the anomalies, they must discuss the overall results coming from the entire country and whether it did reflect the wishes of the people”.
The expectation is that such a report, where the credible monitors spoke of widespread ‘systemic failures’ during the ballot, would lead to grief and remorse, not to blame game or to laudatory remarks by the players. What’s there to be proud of? The report, even with its shortcomings, makes it clear we failed, both at the macro-system level and at all the outer ripple fallout phases of the poll conduct.
The government lost a golden opportunity to give the nation a 21st-century ballot by not assenting to the progressive new Electoral Bill.
The security paraphernalia was porous as to allow grave security breaches that led to violence and deaths, despite a controversial and draconian pre-poll order from President Muhammadu Buhari that ballot snatchers should be dealt with mercilessly.
Voter apathy plagued the process. There was massive underage voting in several places, such that as you stood watching the throng you would wonder if it was a centre for the enrollment for admission to primary schools. How about monetary vote-inducement? Observers saw it in action. Outright cancellations of votes, postponements and undercounting and over-counting of the ballot were also on display to blemish the exercise.
A concerned Wole Soyinka has been speaking of witnessing body count and not vote count. The summary: The 2019 elections were dragged into dishonour by “operational and transparency shortcomings”. EU EOM says the last time it conducted this mission in 2015, it recommended some measures to steer us from repeating our errors. But we didn’t take note of the warning, and here we are four years after falling into a deeper ditch.
The response of others to the EU verdict has been to call for the resignation of Yakubu Mahmood, Chairman of INEC. A civil society group, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, HURIWA, asks: “What is Yakubu Mahmood still doing as chairman when the shoddy and shabby electoral heist he supervised has been discredited locally and globally?”
Our normally tardy Presidency in times of reactions to integrity issues has not given any signal it would do away with the election body boss. But it has promised to study EU’s post-poll ruling and come with something better than what it gave Nigerians in February and March 2019.
Apart from immediate implementation of the new Electoral Bill, the government must go the way of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua. He admitted in his inaugural speech: “We acknowledge that our elections have shortcomings. I…believe that our experiences represent an opportunity to learn from our mistakes.
“Accordingly, I will set up a panel to examine the entire electoral process with a view to ensuring that we raise the quality and standard of our general elections, and thereby deepen our democracy.” He did in 2007 shortly after being sworn in and by December the following year, he gave Nigerians the 297-page document commonly called Justice Uwais Report.
Yar’Adua didn’t live long enough to see to realise the mission of the work he commissioned. More than ten years after the report was prepared and submitted to the government, it’s still gathering dust.
Yet, it addresses demons we have grappled with over the ages: “Nigeria as the arena of electoral contests, weak democratic institutions, negative political culture, weak constitution/legal framework and lack of independence and capacity of the electoral management bodies”.
I have no doubt EU EOM’s report is Janus-faced in giving room for complaisant sentiments from the poll gladiators. But its moral verdict isn’t double-edged. It is crystal clear: it is asking us to go back to what we neglected in Uwais which could have spared us this crushing cudgel of the EU.