By Tonnie Iredia
The next general elections in Nigeria have become close enough to make some citizens concentrate on a daily prediction of several possible outcomes. Will they as usual be a contest of entrenched interests by the two big divide, simply seen as two-horse race or will a third force emerge and succeed in changing the old order?
Will our electoral body, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and our judiciary function like their counterparts in Kenya? How will the elections look like – transparent and credible or disrupted by unknown actors? Will the presidential election be a straight win by one of the parties or will the contest be pushed to a run-off?
Will there be election petitions or will losers congratulate the winner and move on? If petitions are raised, will their handling by the judiciary be salutary? These questions might be difficult to answer now but the recent Kenyan election can be a base from where to imagine issues
Political developments across the globe already suggest a probable difference between the 2023 elections and previous ones in Nigeria. For example, with current alignments and positioning,the inclination to imagine that there could be landslide victories in certain locations appear improbable.
The fielding again of a Northern candidate, this time by the People’s Democratic Party PDP and the same faith ticket by the All Progressives Congress, APC will ruffle some feathers though its extent is hard to foresee. Peter Obi’s Labour Party and Musa Kwankwaso’s New Nigeria Peoples Party, NNPP may push the country to a level in which big parties may still fly but not high enough. As Kenyans have shown, it was William Ruto, the candidate many voters were excited and enthusiastic about that carried the day despite opinion polls favouring Raila Odinga.
Unlike Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), our own election officials have no business working at cross purposes with one another. Since 1987, we have managed to install commissions that work by consensus in which the chair is not only the chief executive but also the accounting officer.
INEC should therefore avoid what happens in many African societies, where some electoral officials are easily monetized to play dirty games. In Kenya last month, the good works of officials of the IEBC were disrupted by four electoral commissioners who at the point of the announcement of results suddenly broke away from their chairman to disown the results. The commissioners claimed there were mathematical errors in the prepared results.
One way of ensuring this does not happen is to make sure that only persons of proven integrity who are visibly non-partisan are appointed to INEC. This is why Nigeria has to take seriously, allegations making the rounds that at least 4 of the 19 newly nominated Resident Electoral Commissioners are tainted.
Considering the familiarity with the terrain of those making the allegations, the argument that those penciled are victims of media trial is not enough. As the saying goes, INEC must like Caesar’s wife, be completely above board. Commissioners must not only be non-partisan they, should not be feared or suspected to have political interests that can becloud their capacity to be impartial in a country where every ruling political party has since 1999showed the urge to surreptitiously influence INEC.
It is therefore necessary for INEC and our courts to take a look at the recent elections inKenya with a view to distancing themselves from what can erode their credibility while embracing a few areas where Kenya’s IEBC and Supreme Court did well. The case of Nigerian top political office holders who sought to replace others after they had lost at a higher level is one which if not well handled can erode public confidence in the electoral referee.
INEC should be commended on its decision to reject APC’s nomination of a candidate for the Yobe North senatorial election because the nominee did not participate in the relevant primaries held earlier. By keeping to the monitoring report prepared by her Yobe State office, INEC has made a bold statement that its headquarters and state offices are one.
Also commendable is the decision of INEC to clarify the erroneous impression that she was prioritizing manual collation of results over the electronic transmission mode. No matter the pressure, the commission should insist on this because it was what saved the day in Kenya according to its Supreme Court. It should surprise no one if political parties collude with officials to resort to manual processes ostensibly because BVAS or any other technology introduced by INEC could not work in their localities.
This has always been a ploy used to bring-in fake votes in the past. Convoluted outcomes like inconclusive elections arising from such smart games should not be entertained just as the judiciary should place premium on INEC documents and not those brought in by agents and security personnel.
Strict adherence to electoral guidelines and provisions of the Electoral Act 2022, would easily set empirical standards that would be hard to change at will. For this to be achieved, the Chairman of INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu must remember at all times that he has a date with history. As we have seen in the case of Kenya, it was the steadfastness of the chairman that made the 2022 presidential election of that country to be successfully concluded.
The gang-up by the four commissioners had already cast huge doubts on the entire process which could have been exploited by a pro-establishment judiciary to set aside the elections. Unfortunately, the history of election petitions in Nigeria does not show that the dubious use of the judiciary to win elections is involuntary. One can only admonish INEC to close all possible loopholes that can be exploited to destroy a good work plan.
It is important to pay some attention to the frustrations of election petitioners in Nigeria against the backdrop of the commendable judgment of the Kenya Supreme Court which upheld the election of William Ruto. At the fore of Chief Justice Martha Koome’s lead judgment was the apt recognition of not just the letter but also the spirit of the law. She refused to allow her hands to be tied by technicalities which at the end of the day would not move the country forward.
One of the grudges of the electoral commissioners was that their chairman arrogated to himself the power to verify and tally the presidential election results. While agreeing that the law did not empower the chairman to so act, Justice Koome refused to nullify the result because “aside from their 11th-hour walkout, the four commissioners could not place before the court any document to show that the election result was altered.”Instead, they were into “a last minute boardroom rapture.”
In a recent workshop, one sociologist was greatly applauded when he drew attention to some naughty issues in our election petition process. One of them was the Osun governorship case of Adeleke V Oyetola of 2018 where Adeleke’s victory at the tribunal was upturned on appeal on the ground that the tribunal judge was reportedly absent for a few days during the proceedings.
The sociologist wanted to knowhowthe judge’s alleged absence increased Adeleke’s votes and why the latter was the one punished. On the defections of governors to other parties the sociologist agreed that the courts could not have sacked the governors but contended that since votes belong to parties and not individuals, the courts should have returned the governors to their original parties by declaring their defections null and void.
The point the sociologists was making was the need to curtail political rascality in Nigeria. Take the more difficult point of fake certificates and dates of birth. When such cases are dismissed because the petitioner was reportedly not the right person to sue or did not follow certain court rules, does it prove the innocence of holders of such fake documents?
If not, how do we dissuade frauds from hiding under technicalities to get in or remain in office only to commit more fraudulent activities?While lawyers can see the issues differently, it would appear that Kenya may handle some of these cases differently in the interest of society.