By Clifford Ndujihe, Politics Editor
TODAY is a unique day in Nigeria’s electioneering history. It is the 28th anniversary of the June 12, 1993 presidential poll, still dubbed as Nigeria’s freest and fairest election even though voters crudely had to stand behind the candidate/party of their choice to cast their ballots.
Today is also the second anniversary of the Federal Government’s recognition of June 12 as Democracy Day.
While marking June 12 in 2018 President Muhammadu Buhari apologized to the family of Chief M.K.O Abiola, the presumed winner of the 1993 presidential, which was annulled by the military regime of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, and conferred a posthumous award on him as the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, GCFR.
In 2019, President Buhari took a step further by assenting a bill to law and officially recognizing the date as the nation’s day for commemorating the return to civil rule.
By the act, May 29 gave way to June 12 as the country’s Democracy Day.
As the nation marks June 12 amid a cloud of insecurity and a salad of unity-threatening challenges, many questions are begging for answers.
Abiola’s aborted welfare programm Late Chief M.K.O Abiola’s campaign was anchored on welfare of the people with ‘’Farewell to Poverty’’ as the theme. Almost three decades after, has Nigeria waved poverty farewell? If Abiola had been allowed to exercise his mandate would things have been different?
Few months to the 1993 election, according to the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics, NBS, 1992 data, no fewer than 39.2 million Nigerians were living below the poverty line, that is 42.7 per cent of then 91.5 million population.
Following the truncation of the 1993 transition programme, the number of those living below the poverty line (less than $1a day as of then) jumped to 67.1 million, representing 65.6 per cent of the 102.3 million population, NBS data showed.
In 2018, a report by Brooking’s Institution said at the end of May 2018, Nigeria had about 87 million people living in extreme poverty, compared with India’s 73 million. And extreme poverty in Nigeria was growing by six people every minute, while poverty in India continued to fall.
Faced with rising insecurity, the herders/farmers’ crises, and the damaging impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of extremely poor people in Nigeria has gone up since 2018.
Another question is: When will Nigeria have free and fair polls like that of June 12, 1993? It was an election that the results were known to all parties – Social Democratic Party, SDP; and National Republican Convention, NRC’s agents without disputation before being officially announced by the then National Electoral Commission, NEC, led by Professor Humphrey Nwosu.
There were no incidents of ballot box-snatching, and falsification of election results at collation centres among other electoral infringements.
Beginning from the first series of elections on December 5, 1998 when the first local council polls of the Fourth Republic were conducted to the 2019 general elections, balloting has been characterised by ballot snatching, falsification of figures, fielding of unqualified candidates, malfunctioning of card readers, intimidation and harassment of voters, and violence among others.
Consequently, the outcome of many elections have been nullified by the courts, a reason we now have staggered governorship elections in eight states.
So far, transmission of election results is still an issue. Diaspora and electronic voting is far from sight. Already, future polls and the 2023 general polls are being threatened by insecurity, and burning of Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC offices and electoral materials by arsonists. In less than 24 months, the commission has suffered 42 attacks across the country.
Attempts by the National Assembly to give Nigerians an amended Electoral Act that will take care of some of these challenges did not hit the bull’s eye because President Buhari did not assent the bill and the lawmakers could not veto him with two-third majority.
Less than two years to the 2023 polls, it is uncertain if a new electoral act will be in place to save voters the heartache of having the courts ‘electing’ their leaders.
After the 1999 general elections, outcomes of most polls were decided by the courts as attention shifts to the courts after every poll.
Apart from 2015, when out-going President Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, refused to challenge the victory of Major General Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress, APC, other presidential polls had been subjects of litigation.
In 1999, Chief Olu Falae, who flew the Alliance for Democracy/All Peoples Party joint ticket challenged former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s victory in 1999 but did not pursue it to the Supreme Court. Buhari and other candidates challenged the victories of Obasanjo, late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and President Goodluck Jonathan in 2003, 2007 and 2011 respectively.
After the 2019 general polls, focus immediately shifted to the judiciary where 77 election tribunals constituted by President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, addressed 786 petitions.
The 786 petitions were the second highest since the return to democratic rule in 1999. The highest was in 2007 when 1,291 petitions heralded the infamous ‘’do-or-die’’ elections held that year. The winner of the 2007 presidential election, late Dr Umaru Musa Yar’Adua admitted that the election that brought him to power was flawed. Consequently, he set up the Justice Mohammed Uwais Election Reform Committee to hammer out solutions.
Indeed, the Uwais panel made far-reaching recommendations that have been implemented in breach or piece meal hence the country is still mired in controversial elections.
Uwais committee’s work
Following the work of the Uwais’ committee, noticeable improvements were witnessed in the 2011 general elections when the number of petitions went down to 732. More improvements were recorded in 2015 as the figure further went down to 611 petitions.
However, the gains of 2015 appeared to have been eroded in 2019 as the number of petitions rose to 786.
According to data released by Engr Iro Gambo, director Voter Registry of the Independent National Election Commission, INEC, dated April 19, 2017, the electoral body conducted 167 elections after the 2015 electoral cycle and most of them by the Professor Yakubu Mahmood regime.
Three types of elections conducted since 2015 were: Re-run elections by court order following nullification of 80 elections; End of tenure (four governorship, and 68 Area Council, Abuja), 72; and Bye elections caused by death or resignation of lawmakers, 16. Of this number, 123 were concluded at first ballot and 44 were inconclusive.
And at the law courts, 80 of the 167 elections were nullified of which Rivers State accounted for 37 of the 80 annulled polls. Also, of 44 polls concluded with supplementary elections, two happened in Rivers Of the re-run election ordered by the Court of Appeal in 2015, the North-Central had 14; North-East six, North-West, one; South-East 13; South-South, 46. And upturned elections for which certificates of return were issued by court order were as follows, North-Central, five; North-East, three; North-West, one; South-East, four; South-South, eight; and South-West, two.
1999 No Data