Beyond election manipulations and nullifications

Published: Sunday, 2 Mar 2008
Of all the victims of the recent spate of election nullifications, the person I pity most is Murtala Nyako. Shortly after his inauguration as the Governor of Adamawa State mid last year, his four wives started fighting over who should be rightfully addressed as the First Lady of the state.

To appease his wives and maintain the peace, the man reportedly shared the position among them. One was said to be in charge of Abuja affairs. Another took charge of health matters while the other handled political affairs and mobilisation. The fourth one took care of the home front. Nyako and his women had hardly settled down to enjoy the fruits of governance when the Court of Appeal in Jos upheld the nullification of his election by the state’s election petition tribunal. The court, which gave its verdict last week, ordered a fresh election within 90 days.

The same fate had befallen Ibrahim Idris of Kogi, Theodore Orji of Abia, Sullivan Chime of Enugu and the Senate President, David Mark. With the exception of Idris, who is already waiting for a fresh election, the rest still have their appeal pending at the Appeal Courts.

Also last week, the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal in Abuja upheld the election of President Umaru Yar’Adua as it dismissed the petitions filed by the opposition presidential candidates, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. As soon as the five-man panel gave its judgement, lawyers in the court chorused, “As the court pleases,” even when it was obvious that the ruling didn’t please the counsel for the defeated candidates.

To Yar’Adua and his friends, cronies, subordinates and hangers-on, it’s been celebration galore. In Abuja, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Katsina and some other friendly states, people have popped champagnes and clinked glasses. Some have placed congratulatory adverts in the media. And some have toasted to the President’s more victories against his “enemies”. It was as if the people were saying, “This is our beloved President in whom we are well pleased.”

But beyond the backslapping of Yar’Adua’s acolytes and the teeth gnashing of Buhari/Atiku’s supporters lie a fundamental truth and fundamental problems. The truth is that power is sweet. It intoxicates. And whoever holds it does not want to easily let go. That is why Mrs. Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama are fighting, though legitimately, to be the next president of the United States. That is why President Robert Mugabe (83) of Zimbabwe does not tolerate any opposition to his desire to win another landslide victory on 29 March. And that is why President Paul Biya of Cameroon is itching to change the constitution to extend his rule beyond 30 years from 2011.

As for the fundamental problems, some are universal; some are local. Universally, the desire of man to acquire power often comes with some altercations. That, perhaps, is why Europe’s main election watchdog, Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, accused Russian authorities of imposing restrictions to make it difficult for the body to monitor the country’s presidential election holding today, March 2. In Kenya, over 1,000 people have died over electoral violence that engulfed the nation a few months ago. The violence was sequel to the alleged rigging of the Presidential election by the incumbent President, Nwai Kibaki.

Locally, Nigeria has unique problems that have stalled its political cum economic growth since it gained independence in 1960. From the First Republic to the present dispensation, the country has tried to hold free and fair elections without success. The April 2007 elections that threw up the incumbent characters parading the corridors of power as leaders were also marred by irregularities.

Nigerians variously described the polls as a sham, a charade, an imposition, a do-or-die affair and so on. Many have called for the sack or resignation of the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Maurice Iwu. Some have suggested an outright disbandment of INEC. These outbursts only show the level of anger and discontentment among Nigerians that at over 47 years as an independent nation, we are yet to get it right with our electoral system.

Where then did we go wrong? Some Nigerians have come to realise that the root cause of the problems lies with the country’s entire electoral and political system. For instance, the Chairman of the electoral commission and the Inspector-General of Police on whose shoulders a free and fair election stand are appointees of the President, and invariably, the ruling party. No matter what, these people will remain loyal to the man who appointed and exercises control over them.

Besides, our system makes public office so rewarding that people consider getting in there a do-or-die affair. With huge resources at their disposal, rich politicians bribe returning officers to ignore any rigging going on before them. They compel law enforcement agents to provide protection to those who manipulate election results. They hire thugs to inflict violence and injuries on opponents. And they tell judges, who also witness massive irregularities, to rule that all is well with the system. This, perhaps, was why past electoral umpires – Ovie Whiskey, Humphrey Nwosu, Eme Awa et al failed. This is why Iwu also failed. And even if Archbishop John Onaiyekan or Alhaji Lateef Adegbite is put there tomorrow without serious reforms of the electoral system, the cookie will still crumble.

As the Nigerian Bar Association put it in its memo to the Electoral Reform Committee, “The political environment is defective by design, the legal framework is inadequate and electoral process neither guarantees nor respects the will of the people. The basic indices for a democratic system are both absent and lacking.”

The NBA made a number of recommendations. Among them is a suggestion for a review of the Electoral Act. The body also recommends conduct of elections not later than six months before the expiration of the incumbent’s tenure. The idea here, the association says, is to ensure that the judicial certification processes are concluded well before the inauguration of a new government. It recommends the reform of INEC to ensure its independence. One issue that must feature in the reform is a review of the sole appointing authority of the President. On the nation’s corruption infested political culture, the NBA suggests a reform to re-orientate the electoral values and beliefs of the people right from primary schools.

I agree with the NBA. It is my sincere hope that the Electoral Reform Committee will do justice to the task of reforming our electoral system. The beauty of our democracy is that it has not gone the way of Kenya in spite of inherent problems. If Governor Peter Obi could win the case to regain his governorship seat in Anambra at the Supreme Court despite losing the same case at the Appeal Court; if Governor Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State could retrieve his mandate from Celestine Omehia only after an appeal to the Supreme Court; and if former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar could only be allowed to participate in the presidential poll by the apex court after losing the case against his disqualification in the Appeal Court, then nothing says that the dismissal of Buhari and Atiku’s petitions by the tribunal will not be upturned by the Supreme Court.

There is also no guarantee that Nyako, with the help of his wives, cannot win back his coveted governorship seat in the upcoming fresh gubernatorial election in the state. At all times, the rule of law must be our guiding principle. One day, we will get it right.

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