Nigeria’s governance culture

By Tonnie Iredia

Less than a month ago, some opposition politicians alleged that there was a plan to subvert arrangements made by the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC, for the conduct of next year’s general elections. Since then, several groups and analysts including INEC itself have tried to explain what they see as the impracticability of such an allegation.

As one of the principal actors in the conduct of the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential elections, I am unable to share in the positivist inclination of those who doubt the possibility of some people using imaginative strategies to scuttle the nation’s 2023 general elections.

It was done before and can be done again because Nigeria’s political system is an all-consuming zero-game in which the winner takes it all. Contrary to claims by many of our candidates that their participation in elections is not a do or die affair, most of them are ready for a fierce battle in which the end justifies the means.

As a result, our politicians will stop at nothing,both fair and foul, to attainelectoral victory. INEC and the government should therefore belt up for the battle. The electoral body in particular should never dismiss any information including what looks like fake news, because that is usually the starting point.

In 1993, those in a position to know had warned us that a group known as Association for Better Nigeria ABN led by late political pundit, Arthur Nzeribewas planning to scuttle the June 12 election of that year. We naively dismissed the confidential alerts. Such warnings have started coming in and INEC is already seeing them.

As if to confirm that INEC is in full control of its assignments, the Commission’s chairman Mahmood Yakubu told the third quarterly meeting with political parties that 23 of its officials who carried out fake voter registrations, have been uncovered. He said that in some cases, the affected staff made as many as 40 attempts or more to register one fake voter. Interestingly, this gave some credit to the alarm raised earlier by the Coalition of United Political Parties CUPP that the voters’ registration exercise had been compromised. 

An alarm about attempts to coerce INEC to stop the electronic transmission of election results by deactivating the Bi-modal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) during the 2023 general elections has also been raised. Expectedly, INEC has downplayed it, but those raising the alarm insist that some governors are now making frantic efforts to cause a leadership change in the electoral management body which can consume the chairman and other top officials who have been identified to be resisting the pressure.

Although INEC has more than once, confidently given assurances of its determination to do a good job, the electoral body is not in a position to dismiss an allegation about other people. From history, we know that Nigeria’s ruling political parties both past and present have a habit of using different strategies to gain reelection. It is therefore expedient for well-meaning Nigerians to,on behalf of INEC, be steadfast in rejecting any such unwholesome plan.

Only 3 days ago, an opposition politician,Buba Galadima raised the same alarm on national television premising his belief on the statement credited to the chairman of the Senate Committee on INEC, Senator Kabiru Gaya that theelectoral body must be given an alternative to use BVAS only where it is feasible. The reasoning of Buba is that Gaya’s alibi of no good network in his constituency (in metropolitan Kano)to transmit results confirms that the ruling party has a sinister motive.

Buba therefore used the opportunity to call on President Muhammadu Buhari to distance himself from some of his party members whose undemocratic disposition may smear the image of the president. Whereas Senator Gaya’s call to allow INEC to use her discretion to determine where to employ BVAS looks harmless, it is certainly too late to be making such an old point that had been rejected when the electoral bill was in the making. At this point therefore, everyone should endeavour to play the game of elections not by arguments but by its approved rules

Another reason why we must call for greater monitoring of the election process is the experience in the past where those unable to have their way with one plan would usually unfold another. This point becomes clearer when viewed against the numerous calls on Nigerian judges by Mike Igini, former Resident Electoral Commissioner(Akwa Ibom state) to reject plans by politicians to use the judiciary to win elections.

It is difficult to ignore Igini’s reference to a new trend of warehousing election cases by the judiciary. Too many cases are yet to be resolved. In truth, the only politicians campaigning now are presidential candidates, almost every other candidate at lower levels is unsure of his candidature because of many unresolved election disputes.

We recall that some of our judges in the past played ignoble roles for making it impossible for some aspirants to be given a chance to even campaign as their cases were only concluded a few hours before voting. For example, in 2016, the rightful PDP governorship candidate for Ondo state, Eyitayo Jegede was not cleared until 48 hours to voting!

There is also the issue of too much reliance on technicalities in the settlement of election disputes. The immediate implication of this is that it can raise the number of undesirable elements in the nation’s political leadership. If for example a dishonest candidate known for falsifying documents is cleared by the court because his challenger did not dot the (i) and cross the (t) of his application, are our people not being unwittingly positioned to vote for crooks into office that will in due course swindle the state?

While not canvassing a system which encourages litigants to ignore court rules and other approved legal procedures, we need to be weary oftechnical justice which will not assist the nation to weed out fraudulent leaders from top political offices that should ordinarily be reserved for persons of integrity. Those who think that the 2023 election cannot be rigged because of what they see as the efficacy of the Electoral Act 2022 should notethat the presence of great minds in the judiciary does not mean there are no smart characters within that can be monetized to derail the system.

In 1993, the electoral body in which I served had what we thought was a water-tight enabling law – Decree No. 13 of 1993 for the conduct of the June 12, presidential election, but two judgesstill threw us under the bus.  In the middle of the night on June 10 1993, an Abuja High Court presided over by Justice Bassey Ikpemein a case instituted by the Association for Better Nigeria ABN ordered the Electoral Commission, to not hold the June 12 1993 Presidential elections.

We were however encouraged to ignore the order and hold the election because it ran contrary to section 19 of the relevant Decree which ousted the jurisdiction of the court in the matter.  We were also persuaded to rely on an earlier decision of the Court of Appeal concerning another case with similar facts in which Justice George Oguntade held that”where a court makes an order in contravention of a statutory provision which forbids it from making such order, the order so made is null and void and no appeal need be filed against the order.”

Everyone would have thought we made a good decision but exactly 3 days later, the powerful forces behind Nzeribe’s ABN got the then Chief Judge of Abuja, Justice Dahiru Saleh to make another ruling suspending further release of the results of the election. In fact, the Chief Judge also issued a bench warrant for the arrest of our Chairman and a few of his officials for non-compliance with the earlier ruling of Justice Ikpeme.

The identity of those seeking to scuttle the use of BVAS for the 2023 general elections may not quite certain for now but there is an allegation that a case against it is already secretly filed and warehoused in a Nigerian court. INEC should note that to an election management body, the fear of election riggers is the beginning of wisdom.

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