Elections Belong To The People
Elections all over the world are seen as the very embodiment of the political culture of a people. It is on the basis of this, that demographers and development experts use elections as one of the broad-based criteria to classify countries into developed, developing or underdeveloped nations.
There is no gainsaying that the way and manner a people elect their leaders can be used as a good barometer to safely calibrate or measure their level of civilization as a society. The measurement of how civilized a society is, vis-à-vis public elections, can be deciphered by their disposition towards the electoral process.
In other words, the more peaceful, responsible and law-abiding a people are in conducting themselves to carry out their civic duty in an election, the more civilized they are. By this logical reasoning, the reverse also holds true: the more violent, irresponsible and lawless a people are towards elections, the less civilized they are.
Abraham Lincoln, one of the best Presidents that had led America, made a profound statement about elections. He said, “Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.”
In America, where the Presidential System of Government in Nigeria was imported from, people don’t elect leaders with guns, machetes, bombs, and other dangerous weapons, but with their votes or ballots. However, the picture of elections in Nigeria is a graphic portrayal of war, violence, criminal impunity, abuse of public institutions, oppression and subversion of that will of the people that gives credibility to the electoral process itself and legitimacy to the government so elected.
While in America, the military as a defence institution has no business whatsoever with the electoral process, whereas, elections in Nigeria are militarized, especially in the Niger Delta states, with the consequent result that the inviolable or inalienable right of the people to freely exercise their franchise is infringed upon. Thus, the goal of conducting free, fair and credible elections is hampered.
Moreover, the Nigerian media is replete with reports of isolated cases of molestation of law-abiding citizens, hijack of election materials and killings by military personnel at the behest of public functionaries during elections, as was the case in Akuku-Toru LGA of Rivers State, and at Oweikorogha in Southern Ijaw LGA of Bayelsa State, during the Presidential and National Assembly elections there. Sadly, the perpetrators of election-related crimes such as these are often not brought to justice.
In America, elections are fairly free and fair, and no citizen is made to vote against his conscience or choice under duress, but in Nigeria, elections are a do-or-die affair, in which even electoral officials themselves are kidnapped and forced to falsify and declare election results at gunpoint.
In America, the electoral will or mandate of the people is respected and kept sacrosanct, because elections carry the voice of a people’s consent to be governed by whomsoever they freely choose. But in Nigeria, more often than not, the opposite is the case because those in the commanding heights of political power have little or no respect for the Rule of Law, and Democracy as an institution with laid-down procedures and rules.
Nigeria has failed to attain her full greatness as a nation largely because she is yet to pass the test of leadership selection. The real march to national greatness actually begins the moment elections reflect the true will of the people, and when this is seen to be done through a transparent and credible process which measures up to international best practice.
The only time Nigeria came so close to achieving this in her post-Independence Republics was during the NRC/SDP political era, wherein the presumed winner of the June 12, 1993 Presidential Election, the late Chief MKO Abiola, was stopped by the Nigerian military Establishment from assuming office as President.
As one did mention in an earlier piece, the flawed electoral process had been a major source of infamy to the country right from independence in 1960. It is remarkable that the 2019 Presidential and National Assembly Elections, as many independent election observers had also pointed out, were way off below the standard attained in the 2015 elections under the Goodluck Jonathan Administration.
In fact, there are a lot of issues raised by the manner the INEC conducted the February 23 elections, after it had maladroitly called them off just hours to the commencement of voting on the original election date of February 16. One of the issues on the spot light is the use of the Electronic Card Reader (ECR) for the accreditation of voters. Whereas, the ECRs were used in states in the south, it was reportedly not used for accrediting voters in many states in the north, with the result that there was a wide margin of votes between states in the north and those in the south. This may explain why a terrorism-ravaged Borno State in the north could have almost twice the votes of Lagos State in the last election. Moreover, in many states where ECRs were even used, countless voters were disenfranchised because the devices fail to read or recognize their demographics.
The February 23 elections were also characterized by the over-delayed commencement of voting in many centres and the hijack of election materials and violence in some wards and constituencies, as was the case in parts of Southern Ijaw and Nembe LGAs of Bayelsa State, and yet, the INEC went ahead to declare "results" from elections that didn't hold in the affected constituencies!
One is of the belief that the Gubernatorial and State House of Assembly Elections this weekend will be a departure from what one saw in the Presidential and National Assembly Elections. Nigerians must rise in one accord to ensure that their votes count in the election and that they are not forcibly subjected to political incapacitation.
The INEC must ensure that all necessary logistics for a hitch-free election are provided and it must demonstrate to the world that it is truly an unbiased, non-partisan electoral umpire that is resolved to uphold its independence at all times in the interest of the nation's democracy. As the flagship of the electoral process, the INEC must respond responsibly to genuine and evidence-supported complaints bordering on electoral fraud and other irregularities before, during and after the election.
Furthermore, the nation's military and security agencies deployed for the elections should operate strictly in accordance with the rules of engagement. The Nigerian Army, Police, NSCDC and other arms of the nation's security infrastructure have no duty to perform at the elections other than to secure INEC staff and materials, and to ensure the peaceful and orderly conduct of voting, counting and collation of results in the manner prescribed in the Electoral Act. Instances where military officers on election duty desecrate their high professional training and make themselves errand boys for some politician and snatch ballot boxes to aid rigging of election results is not only worrisome but insulting to the Nigerian defence institution that is held in high esteem all over the world.
Democracy and elections are all about the people. No matter where the interests of the key political actors lie, the will of the people must be respected.
As Napoleon Hill puts it, “An educated man is not just someone who has acquired a degree from the university, but is someone who has gained knowledge and wisdom to get something from society without violating the rights of other people.”
After all said and done, this is the central message for the political class in this critical election season in Nigeria.