By Yinka Odumankin
Nigerians want free and fair elections but they really don’t need it. I know what I am saying.
A need is something that is necessary for an organism to live a healthy life. Needs are distinguished from wants in that, in the case of a need, a deficiency causes a clear adverse outcome: a dysfunction or death. Want, on the other hand, is to wish for a particular thing or plan of action.
When you discuss with Nigerians, they fervently want free, fair and credible elections but they hardly act, except episodically, in a manner that suggests they actually need transparent elections .
Part of the problem is that the average Nigerian is an incurable optimist who believes that things will work out even when all objective realities show clearly that they are not going to. This should explain the way politicians run around in contest of polls whose outcomes have been rigged before the cast of ballot. It is only a foolish footballer who will go and break his legs on the pitch playing a match whose result has been posted to the football authorities by the referee before the kick-off. But that is what our politicians do all the time on a rigged turf.
You will almost puke when you listen to our politicians talking before elections about their optimism that the electoral body will do all that is necessary to ensure elections are free and fair while it is already clearly written in the air that the whole process was already rigged. It is only when the drama is over that they begin to cry foul for a while, dry their tears and wait for another encore until they burn out their lives.
They hardly listen to Chinua Achebe who admonished that it is a duty for sensible people to identify where the rain started to beat them, devise mechanism to dry their clothes and put in place strategy to ensure the rain does not beat them again.
The Nigerian political class always behaves in the main like people who can be taken through any ridicule for as long as the outcome moves them to the periphery of power.
That was how General Ibrahim Babangida took them through a humiliating process of banning, unbanning and re-banning without much of a whimper. At a point he called them “old breed” and that he needed “new breed”, only to hand over the entire political process to ‘new greed’.
So, it was that in a bid to get power at all cost, they blindly followed the Gen Abdulsalami Abubakar transition without asking for the constitution under which they would operate. As at the time President Olusegun Obasanjo and state governors were sworn in on May 29,1999, there was no clean copy of the Decree 24 of 1999 aka 1999 Constitution as it was still under print at Heritage Press in Abuja.
It took 20 years after the promulgation of the Constitution for many Nigerians to know that their constitution says you need School Certificate or its equivalent to be President/Governor also interpreted “equivalent “ as any document that is acceptable to INEC and ability to speak and write English.
I have no doubt that we are locked in this rigged arrangement until we realise that we cannot be waiting for the electoral body to deliver to us free outcomes from a compromised system. It will never happen!
When would it then be manifest that Nigerians need free and fair elections? It is the day they would stop blaming the electoral umpire and demand for institutional reforms that will ensure that even if you brought a known chieftain of the ruling party to superintend the electoral process, he would be able to do very little to manipulate the process.
To start with, it was the Soviet dictator, Joseph Stalin who was quoted to have said: ”Those who vote decide nothing. It is those who count who determine everything”. Why do we them concentrate only on running around what determines nothing while ignoring what determines everything? We cannot allow just one arm of government to handpick those who determine everything. The present arrangement where the President alone picks all the regulators of the electoral commission is unhealthy. We must insist on a process that involves all the three arms of government. The judiciary should be the search committee that will throw up names that the executive will pick from and send to the legislature for screening and confirmation. That would bring in some degree of independence for the electoral body.
The police is very crucial in our electoral process and whoever controls it already has won 70 per cent of the contest before the whistle is blown. A police that is answerable to the executive arm during elections easily becomes part of the enforcement arm of the ruling party on election day.
An electoral body that does not control the police is only independent in name. We must empower our umpire like India has done in terms of election policing. All police officers who are responsible for elections in India are not under their regular command for the process.
Representation of the People Act, 1950 of India.
Section 13CC: Chief Electoral Officers, District Election Officers, etc., deemed to be on deputation to Election Commission.—The officers referred to in this part and any other officer or staff employed in connection with the preparation, revision and correction of the electoral roles for, and the conduct of, all elections shall be deemed to be on deputation to the election commission for the period during which they are so employed and such officers and staff shall, during that period, be subject to the control, superintendence and discipline of the election commission.
It is the electoral commission who actually pay the salaries of all such officers, including the police for all the time they are on deputation, deploys them and compiles the list of those who misbehaved for discipline at the end of the electoral process.
The control of the police personnel under it would also enable the electoral commission to be able to fulfill its mandate of prosecuting electoral offenders.The law gives this assignment to INEC presently but how can a body that cannot arrest offenders prosecute them?
In 2007,Nigeria elected a president who was honest enough to admit the election that brought him to power was badly flawed. He put together the Uwais panel to recommend a clean up of the electoral process. The panel produced a beautiful report with key recommendations that have mostly been gathering dust.
A conscious society must insist on the implementation of that report. To leave the electoral process as it is and be wishing for a credible election is like expecting a marble statue to shed tears. That is Nigeria’s affliction.
….How Democracies Die
I have just finished reading How Democracies Die in 2018 book by Harvard University political scientists, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt about how elected leaders can gradually subvert the democratic process to increase their power.
Nigerians do competitive rigging.
(a)Effective punitive measures with stiff penalties should be applied to electoral fraudsters to discourage perpetrators. Although the Electoral Act 2006 makes provision for the punishment of offenders:
10- prosecution for offences are to done by INEC;
11- even when it is common knowledge that INEC and its agents are involved, the indictor and the indicted are one and the same;
12-Hence there should be the establishment of both an Election Offences Tribunal and an Electoral Offences Commission
13-Conducts to be punished should include 10.
See Part VIII, Sections 124-136
See Section 158(2)
See generally, Part X, Sections 157 and 41 on a certificate of indemnity to be issued to honest witnesses at an Election Petition Tribunal
See The Guardian (Nigeria), Friday, June 27, 2008
The book warns against the breakdown of “mutual toleration” and respect for the political legitimacy of the opposition. This toleration involves accepting the results of a free and fair election where the opposition has won, in contrast with advocacy for overthrow or spurious complaints about the election mechanism. The authors also assert the importance of respecting the opinions of those who come to legitimately different political opinions, in contrast to attacking the patriotism of any who disagree, or warning that if they come to power they will destroy the country .
It should be a good read for those closing the democratic space in our county. But do they read?
The authors point out that the various branches of government in a system with separation of powers have actions available to them that could completely undermine the other branches or the opposition. We have seen how we are gradually becoming a one-breach government gradually.
They war against ramming through a political agenda or accumulating power by playing “constitutional hardball” with tactics like court packing, stonewalling nominations, or abusing the power of the purse, and recommend “forbearance” and some degree of cooperation to keep government functioning in a balanced fashion.
Democracy is dying in our space and we must do all we can to bring it alive as all other forms are not for progress.