Election offenders

By Tonnie Iredia

One interesting venue I have missed since Covid-19 pandemic emerged early this year is the typical Nigerian airport where one learns so much about the country’s politics from fellow travellers who engage in debates and discussions while awaiting their usually delayed flights.

But all through last week, I got more than I bargained for, with friends and relations expressing their divergent views on the governorship debate which featured the two leading candidates in yesterday’s edo governorship election, Governor Godwin Obaseki (PDP) and Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu (APC).

Comments by two of my visitors were particularly hilarious and significant because their posture easily helped me to arrive at a topic for today’s piece. While one of them confessed he didn’t know there had been a debate between the two candidates, the other said even if he knew, he could not have watched the programme because he had no light throughout the week.

Both were however convinced that they missed little or nothing as they were sure the candidates would not have departed from the usual unrealizable promises which politicians make every four years. To me, their cynical political posture merely underscored the unending low voter-turnout in Nigerian elections

In the last Presidential election in the country in 2019, voter turn-out wasas usual, abysmally low. Whereas Rwanda recorded 98.2 percent, Equatorial Guinea 92.7 percent, Angola90.4 percent, and Seychelles90.1 percent in their own elections,  \Nigeria recorded 34.8 percent which was the least in Africa.

As for Edo state, the immediate past governorship elections held in the state, was in 2016 with a turn-out of 32percent. Now that there are more visible restraining factors such as Covid-19 in addition to the general apprehension over political violence, the figure is not likely to improve.

In earnest,not many Nigerians are ever excited about their country’s elections. But then it is hard to blame their scepticism about safety during elections bearing in mind that assurances by INEC, opinion moulders and the police that all will be well,are never fulfilled.

This also makes it difficult to agree with some analysts that what the nation needs,is more and more of voter education. Perhaps something more reassuring would be to find a compelling scheme that can change the behaviour of political actors.

A few days back, President Muhammadu Buhari admonished such actors to endeavour to be neutral while chastising the politicians to reverse their appetite for ‘do or die’ elections.

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The President’s statement was timely, coming amidst allegations of massive thumb-printing of ballot papers in some hide-outs and other electoral malpractices before official voting day. The most important segment of the President’s statement was where he said: “I am passionately committed to free and fair elections but my own commitment is not enough if other actors at ground zero refuse to abide by the rules.”

One can only hope that this time around, the President would take drastic steps against election riggers and those who aid them to continue to bastardize our election process. Two imperatives that we believe would alter the situation drastically are a) deliberate alteration of the lucrative nature of political offices and b) a greater effort by our electoral body to evolve more technology-based innovations that can make malpractices fruitless

Before then, we salute the decision of INEC to publicise its current efforts at prosecuting election offenders. It is a right step in the right direction whose degree of efficacy is far greater than thousands of security operatives that are usually deployed to secure elections.

The press conference organized by the Akwa Ibom Resident Electoral Commissioner, Barrister Mike Igini on the prosecution of some university lectures for their nefarious roles during the 2019 elections was well received. It is indeed salutary that it came on the eve of the Edo governorship election which was like serving a notice on those who had planned to help rig the election.

By his conduct, Igini again displayed his well-known patriotism and diligence in handling national duties. Credit must also go to his colleagues particularly the Chairman of the commission, Professor Mahmood Yakubufor allowing Igini to so shine. In other Nigerian organizations, a person who behaves like Mike Igini would have since been treated as an outcast or have several fake petitions organized against him.

The disposition of INEC suggests that she has opened a new vista of zero-tolerance for poor conduct of elections in our country. It is hoped that other election officials would quickly adopt such a commendable stance.

At the same time, we urge INEC to focus more on preventive policies rather than punitive measures. Our electoral process no doubt requires a greater reliance on technology and pragmatism in following current global practices in the conduct of elections

It is however one matter to prosecute election riggers and their collaborators, and quite another to successfully elicit cooperation from those who have roles to play in the prosecution. For example, will the judiciary be ready to support the new vista?

There are Nigerians today who are encouraged to play negative roles in our elections with the guarantee that their sponsors would use their friends and associates in the judiciary to neutralize any case raised. What makes this thrive is the new trend whereby it has become most difficult to prove any allegation of election violence in court.

Although top officials of the judiciary are known to preach against technical justice, the primacy of technicalities over and above the substance of a case has become quite common. This is perhaps a major reason why many applauded the steps taken last week by the US government to place a visa ban on some Nigerians said to have played negative roles in our election.

The argument is that if to prove notorious cases of violence has become an impossibility in our justice delivery system, then we must all celebrate the decision of the US to which Britain has also subscribed to complement INEC’s new vista of dealing with election offenders by placing them under some restrictions. It is probably the only area where election riggers, be they in the political class, the security agencies or the judiciary etc. can be held accountable.

Periodic free and fair elections are certainly one of the major pillars of democracy which ought not to be aborted but we all know as a fact that there is hardly any election since our new experiment which started in 1999 that has been hitch-free.

We have seen elections described by the powerful as free and fair, yet several deaths of innocent citizens were recorded before and during the process. Under that circumstance, many look forward to bigger sanctions than visa ban on the identified but unnamed culprits.  To see the American and British decision as interference in Nigeria’s internal affairs simplistic.

To start with, the foreign countries have not stopped the riggers from enjoying their Nigerian illegalities, they have only decided not to grant their country’s visa to anti-democratic actors for entry into such countries.No one is entitled to a foreign country’s visa because the grant of a visa is discretionary. How we wish the list of those banned can be made public!


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