Challenges to credible elections in 2011
Quite interestingly moved by the heated arguments over the forthcoming 2011 general elections, I have watched the unfolding events of recent and have decided to explore the greatest challenges that may hinder the conduction of credible elections that will be accepted by the common Nigerians who really are the voters. The electoral observers whether within the shores of Nigeria and outside should begin to gird up their loins to another hot event in Nigeria in just few months from now.
First in the list of these factors and basically the greatest is the interest of President Goodluck Jonathan. Nigerians have waited for so long for the position of the president: whether or not he wants to contest the Presidential Poll in 2011. It is scaring why the president has kept silent over this matter that has put so many citizens in suspense. It has slowed down the tempo of politics that used to characterize the nation especially in 2003 and 2007.
But one may not be surprised if the President tells us that he was still consulting God and Nigerians on what to do. For those who know what happened since 1999, this is clearly the tactics of former president Olusegun Obasanjo. It is always Obasanjo's ploy to take Nigerians by surprise even when God and Nigerians say no to his desires. But Jonathan is not Obasanjo, though a political son. However, an intelligent matured son should part ways with a deadly father if he (the father) conspicuously insists to ruin his (the son) life and endanger a society.
This is because the fame and achievements of leaders should manifest in the love of the people for them after they have left offices. How many Nigerian leaders especially at the federal and state levels can freely move on the streets of Nigeria, including their immediate birth places and ancestral homes without armed guards? This is a lesson our leaders should learn.
Therefore, methink the time is ripe for the president to make his position clear so that those feasting on his declaration will soft pedal and find something more worthy to engage in. And as far as many true Nigerians are concerned, it will be a miracle for Jega to conduct acceptable elections when the President declares interest in the contest and when Obasanjo remains the Chairman, Board of Trustees of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Obasanjo cannot be divested of the ever penchant to do-or-die maneuvers and meanders to hold onto power.
If President Jonathan finally declares to join the presidential race, then Jega's work is at risk. Jega will have the better option of resigning midway or tarnishing his hard-earned reputation as not only a first class professor, but a well-respected compatriot who has affected positive changes in his profession. But if Jonathan decides otherwise and opts to support a political son, then Jega may well play a fair umpire.
Yes, who says Jonathan cannot have a political son. Who says he cannot assume the power Obasanjo presumes to maintain. Critics believe that there are already serious reservations in the presidency over Obasanjo's interference in the affairs of the nation. There should be clear demarcation between PDP affairs and the President's because while the former is a platform for a far less than half the population of the country, the later is the leader of all the 150 million people Nigeria has born.
Reports are commonplace that Jonathan's campaigns are allegedly being sponsored by some ministers and aides of the president. Two questions that arise are: if the claim by the presidency that 2011 elections will be free and fair, what role will these political appointees play in making or marring the elections which involve their master. Secondly, what is the source of the funds allegedly spent for the campaigns which have not even reached the starting point? Here, we must have a rethink on the pronouncements of these people who tell us the opposite of what their minds conceive for and against us.
The second factor is the credibility of the primaries of all the registered political parties. And the leading party, the PDP must show that the past trend of imposing a candidate is over. Here, it is still fresh in our memory the assertions made by Governor Sylva when he represented the President at a political rally organized by Edo State Governor tagged “One Man, One Vote”. According to the assertions, Nigerians should embrace democratic ideal of respect for the individual voter, because any nation that repels democratic ethics and values cannot develop at a reasonable pace. Said he, “Where there is no opportunity for one man one vote, there is no accountability and corresponding responsibility.”
“Party elections and party nomination elections should rise to the same level of credibility as the general elections. It will be unfair for candidates to emerge from undemocratic and fraudulent party nomination exercises to contest general elections and win based mainly on the strength of their political parties.”
Any indicator that the primaries would witness fairness may yet be veiled if the key players in the party politics are key contenders for the coveted position. As for now, Jonathan is the leader of PDP. How would it be easy for any party member to challenge him and win if he is going to contest. Ranging from the National PDP chairman to the local chairmen, the big hand of Jonathan will be overpowering. It is so in other parties. But we await a time in Nigeria, maybe soon, when a sitting president can be dislodged by an opposition.
Another factor is that related to the state machineries which rig elections at ease. The presidential candidate has to be voted by states. It is from the states that candidates to national conventions are selected or nominated. Former governor of Cross River state, Donald Duke recently made shocking revelations of how election riggers are mostly associated with the state governors.
Duke insisted that replacing the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was not the only recipe for holding credible elections in Nigeria. The greatest factor for a credible election is organizing a critical mass that will come out and vote and ensure that their votes count. The mass must not be in hurry. They must not go home and relax after casting their votes until the results are announced.
Because of our usual ways of doing things, the resident electoral commissioners who are often posted to states other than their original states would pay courtesy visits to the state governors. The commissioner of course has no immediate official accommodation and even if he or she had one, money is need for maintenance and other logistics. The commissioner will seek the SUPPORT of the governor to ensure free and fair elections. Remember that the state police commissioner will be there in the closed-door meeting. Governors provide the large chunk of presiding officers to be trained by the REC for the elections.
The governor would always be glad to pay the cost for the training of the presiding officers and participate prominently, directly or indirectly, in the whole electoral processes in the state. In short, he is the real REC because the REC comes into his state, seemingly hungry, wanting and greatly expecting to be rich or richer. The officers, in turn, are not properly trained on how to conduct free and fair elections. They are more importantly told that they would be paid to deliver.
Another factor will be the real independence and funding of INEC. In his first Presidential Media Chat two months ago, the president gave the assurances that INEC will not be limited by funding problems because in addition to the funds provided by the Nigerian government, the United States and the European Union have also pledged to finance the 2011 elections. He said he is personally committed to hold clean elections in this country, whether or not he is a candidate, because he was often confronted by foreign officials wherever he goes that Nigeria's elections were not credible. He said he has also told the PDP to brace up for free and fair elections and that its new chairman, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, is even more committed to free elections than he himself is. Wonderful! Splendid!!
INEC has demanded for N74 billion to correct the electoral shortcomings of the past and therefore hold acceptable polls. Criticisms have trailed this amount which Jega is trying to claim. But to be close to reality, one cannot be sure that Jega practically made the estimate based on reality. He assuredly has developed good rapport with certain elements in the old INEC who did the assignment and gave him the figures to quote. We cannot be fooled to believe that the contractors who have been handling supplies and stuffing for INEC are away. We are sure that the same contractors who were accused of sharp practices with some foreign companies in INEC dealings during the past elections have not been trapped by EFCC and ICPC or any other anti-corruption agency. What has been rebranded of INEC. Definitely, only the staging of Jega and RECs who are Nigerians in the first place and human beings.
I cannot be among those who believe that Jega is new in the job and so should be given anything he demands. He should be supported by Nigerian in such a way that if he succeeds, the glory will go round, not to the extent that he will carry his cross alone when he fails which cannot be impossible when these factors are not arrested.
More so, there are many Nigerians waiting to benefit from the fallouts of the elections. If the elections are free and fair, from where will come the extra earnings of those who will work at the Election Petition Tribunals, the Appeal Courts, the Supreme Court and all the courts that Nigeria is blessed with. The traditional courts and shrines also benefit because when the heat of the elections are up, people of the do-or-die type will drag their opponents to different levels and to different places.
All of these are factors that can truncate democratic sustenance. But the greatest challenge will be the stand of the ever growing and enlightened electorate.
Muhammad Ajah is a writer, author, advocate of humanity and good governance based in Abuja. E-mail [email protected]