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RANDOM THOUGHTS ON 2011 POLLS

By NBF News
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2011 elections mean different things to diverse people. While some believe it will usher in a brand new era for Nigeria others do not think it holds much hope. Those who hold the view that there is not going to be any significant changes after the elections are definitely suffering from the giddiness of the massive rigging that characterized the 2007 polls.

But in whichever divide one may find oneself, the riddle will be solved in the next 21 days when the 2011 elections kick off formally. According to the timetable released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) the elections will start on April 2 with the presidential election. It will be followed by the National Assembly election on April 9, and governorship and state Assembly elections on April 16.

However, if we go by the recent ruling of an Abuja High Court on the order of elections, it means the governorship and state Assembly elections will hold on April 2, National Assembly on April 9, and presidential election on April 16. This, nonetheless, depends on how INEC plans to go about the ruling.  

For close observers of national events the 2011 elections have attracted more publicity and global interest than any other in the annals of our dear nation. The reason for this is not too difficult to find: it has the capacity to make or mar our collective effort to entrench a sustainable democratic culture. The United States, United Kingdom, and other European countries have signified interest to assist Nigeria organize credible elections. According to them, their support is hinged on the fact that Nigeria is too important to the democratization process in Africa.

The 1999 elections would be remembered by Nigerians for a long time, as one of the freest and fairest. The feat was achieved by the chairman of INEC at the time - late Justice Ephraim Akpata. Akpata was a great man - he devoted the greater part of his life to the pursuit of justice and peace. He left a legacy too valuable to be forgotten and for which his name will be immortalized. No wonder, then, he died peacefully and fulfilled.

The only election that could be compared to the 1999 elections was the 1993 elections that produced the late M.K.O. Abiola as winner. Though it was annulled it remains a watershed in Nigeria's socio-political development.

Unfortunately, the period between 1999 (after the emergence of the civilian administration) and 2007 saw an unprecedented growth in violence and brigandage in the name of elections. Politics, which hitherto was played with moderation and focus, suddenly became a do-or-die affair – with politicians and political parties throwing caution to the dogs in the struggle for power. As a former Nigerian president unrepentantly boasted the 2007 elections turned out most notorious. The election was so unabashedly and mindlessly rigged that the late President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua publicly acknowledged it was compromised. Even though he did not live to effect the far-reaching reforms he had planned for future elections in Nigeria, the little he achieved is still effective and appreciated. His reform programme forms the basis for the ongoing effort to eliminate sharp practices at elections.

It is regrettable that President Goodluck Jonathan has not got enough time to continue with the reforms before the dawn of the 2011 elections. The period between his metamorphosis as president and April when the elections will hold has been spent on electioneering. How I had wished the entire period had been used for ensuring that adequate preparations were made for the elections!

The success of the 1993 and 1999 elections were generally successful because those at the helm of affairs at the time did not contest in the elections. We were witnesses to what transpired in 2003 when the incumbent was a contestant. He paid the piper and called the tune. That election bred the current crop of do-or-die politicians, terrorising the political landscape and threatening the peace of our nation. It was probably also in 2003 that the infiltration of the security agencies to facilitate the victory of certain candidates at elections started.

If we go by history, then what do you think would obtain in the presidential election this year? Will it take the form of its precursors: 2003 and 2007 or will INEC and security agencies collaborate to ensure that the elections are free and fair? The president has continually assured the nation of his willingness to conduct free and fair elections. As a person, I believe he is eager to achieve that near-impossible feat. But the problem lies in the fact that his cronies and acolytes may not be as enthusiastic as he is to achieve it. What happens if they chose to toe a different path - path of infamy? What if desperate politicians hijacked the show and turned the table against the lofty expectations of the masses? Will the rancour and bitterness that hallmarked the primaries of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) not recur in the elections proper?

It is not contestable that there is no state in which the party does not have one case or another hanging on its neck over its ill-fated primaries. How the cases are resolved without much bad blood is yet to be seen. My fear is that it is possible for those aggrieved to settle their scores in whatever way they may deem fit. Violent altercations may not be ruled out.

I have expressed these fears, because there are ominous signs all over the place about plots by disgruntled politicians to rig the forthcoming elections. It will be a tragedy of huge dimension if these politicians are allowed to have their way. As I have always posited, those that have held this nation prostrate form an infinitesimal percentage of the whole population. A significant few indeed! It is these people that have made it impossible for Nigeria not to develop as it should. Through their greed and avarice they have destroyed our common heritage and portrayed all of us as a bunch of desperadoes to the outside world.

If nobody else is worried about the spate of criminality and misdemeanours ravaging our nation, I am. Name them: assassinations, premeditated murders, arson, terrorism, blackmail and use of foul language at electioneering, negative media onslaught against perceived enemies, violence at rallies, unbridled defections, bribery and intimidation of would-be voters, etc. What about the unrelenting attitude of politicians to litigate? According to the INEC chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, there are over 120 cases standing against the commission. In his opinion, these cases pose a serious danger to the 2011 elections.

Much as I share Jega's apprehension, the import of the litigations should not be lost. Resort to litigation is a veritable sign that our democracy is deepening. I find it more tolerable that an aggrieved person seeks redress in court rather than resort to self-help. Obedience to court orders is an important ingredient for the sustainable growth and development of democratic ethos. One wonders then what would have happened if the judiciary had not lived up to its billing? The continued survival of our democracy can partly be attributed to the courageous pronouncements by the courts, especially the Appellate Courts. The annulment of governorship elections in Anambra, Ondo, Edo, Ekiti and Osun are instances where the judiciary had excelled.

The major lesson from these rulings is simple – rig and have your elections annulled. I am certain that some of those plotting how to rig this time round will have a re-think. Rigging elections is as demonic as it is destructive. It is a shortcut to perdition.

This brings us to another critical issue: Amendment of the 2006 Electoral Act ousting the powers of the election tribunals to order for persons who won their cases before them to be sworn in. The amended version instead compels the tribunals to order for a re-run in each case, if need be. I find this amendment reprehensible and flawed. It is nothing but a well-designed plan by the PDP to promote underhand deals. We all know the notoriety the party has acquired in such matters.   

As stated above, some politicians promote activities that are capable of endangering the people and democracy. Government must, as a matter of urgent importance, make conscious efforts to deal with the insecurity across the nation. The threats by the various militant groups, especially Boko Haram, should be taken more seriously. It is not proper for people to live in fear of the unknown. There are situations where politicians have been seen having unholy romance with some security agencies. For instance, is it right for some politicians to be treated like sacred cows? Imagine a politician having the temerity to go about town with soldiers and armoured cars? Are we in a military era? Soldiers should not be involved in dealing with purely civil matters. That is why we have the police.

I read the other day about how Governor Martin Elechi of Ebonyi State attempted to sabotage the effort by a rival political party – the All Nigerian Peoples' party (ANPP) - to hold its campaign in the state. Was that not the height of puerility and meanness? I could not believe that such a contraption would happen in a modern Nigeria. The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees the alienable right of every Nigerian to freedom of movement and association. And nobody, no matter how highly-placed, has the power to abridge this right. Therefore, I expect the leadership of the PDP to call him, and others of his ilk, to order before the situation gravitates to a more serious confrontation.

I think Mr. President has a moral duty to ensure that he keeps to his word to organize free and fair elections. It will be to his credit and the benefit of all Nigerians if he succeeds in this respect. I maintain this position, because events in the past have shown a morbid penchant by politicians to easily renege on their word. No leader can be taken seriously if he failed to keep to his word.

Since the President has, against all odds, offered himself for election in April 2011, it behoves him to eschew parochialism and undue pandering to the whims of only his party men and women. He should rather remain open-minded and treat every Nigerian with equal respect and consideration. Certainly, some discredited politicians will try to influence him negatively, but he should resist it. History will write his name in gold if he succeeds in this onerous task.

As much as he is a product of PDP, he is not a PDP – president. Rather, he is the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and, therefore, owes his allegiance to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Now let us take a look at INEC's preparedness for the elections. So far, the commission has done everything to ensure that preparations for the elections are squarely put in place. Nevertheless, it seems the commission still has a long way to go. Apart from the flurry of litigations staring it in the face, it also has a number of other obstacles to surmount. I read this week that the commission is yet to get the ballot boxes for the election ready three weeks to the D-day. The same can be said of the ballot papers since the courts ruled in some outstanding cases over contentious primaries just last week. What this means is that the printing of the ballot papers would commence very late – creating the possibility of the stuff not being ready before April 2.

Painfully, there is an important area INEC has not done a very tidy job: it is in the voters' register. There are still controversies trailing the entire exercise with conflicting figures. The commission, as a matter of urgency, should move fast to rectify whatever anomalies are associated with the register. There is no way it can conduct free and fair elections with a register that is compromised. Jega and his retinue of aides owe this nation a huge responsibility to ensure that it conducts credible elections. Posterity and God will judge him if he gives in to designs of evildoers to influence him negatively. He should stand up against the cabals that have continually destroyed the effort to move Nigeria forward.

As for the voters they have a duty to shun enticements from corrupt politicians to buy their conscience. They should know that the consequences would be dire if they allowed themselves to be willfully manipulated. As has been regularly said, they should vote and defend their votes. If, for whatever reason, they failed to live up to their civic responsibility and allowed politicians to have their way then they will have consigned themselves to another four years of suffering. And what right will they have to protest when that time comes?