April 14, 2024

Conduct of Elections: IBB Better Than Nigerian Democrats

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Tonnie Iredia

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By Tonnie Iredia

Well over three decades ago, one of Nigeria’s respected political scientists, Professor Oyeleye Oyediran, now late, ignited a controversy when he opined that “only a military FEDECO” could successfully organize a national election in Nigeria.

Several political analysts publicly and violently disagreed with him.

Oyediran’s controversial viewpoint must have been informed by the unwholesome electoral dispensation of the political class of the 2nd Republic as well as the perverse performance of the then Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) – a commission that reportedly declared winners of election before votes of the same contest were counted in full.

It was also accused of announcing election results for polling centres where voting did not even hold.

Oyediran was perhaps moved to  praise the military because of the relative peace which attended to the1979 and 1999 general elections which they supervised.

Of course, loud disapprovals of Oyediran’s eulogy of the military were led by those who held-on to the world-wide belief that military rule should always be condemned as an aberration.

Till today, Nigerian politicians take pride in chorusing the saying that the most benevolent military administration is worse than the worst democratic dispensation making it obvious that democracy is the best system of government.

However, whereas the statement is a true representation of happenings in many climes across the globe, it is unfortunately not so of Nigeria especially in electoral matters.

The June 12 1993 presidential election internationally acclaimed as Nigeria’s best was ill-advisedly annulled. 

Every well-meaning Nigerian did deprecate and still loathe the annulment by the military but we must never forget to utilize some aspects of that election that showed a huge degree of efficacy.

While president Ibrahim Babangida has taken vicarious liability for the annulment because the buck stopped at his table, there were military and non-military actors who played ignoble roles during the period and who are now our political manipulators.

Such people make it easy for us to suggest that IBB’s controlled elections have proven to be better than those organized by supposed democrats.

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One aspect of political engineering which IBB, sought to redress in his days as military president was the proliferation of political associations that merely created tension in the polity.

What he did was to initiate a design that streamlined the nation’s political groupings into two for easy handling. But our democrats argued at the time that parties not being government agencies, ought not to be so regulated. Today, how many Nigerian political groups that call themselves political parties are real? We can hardly find more than two and a half viable parties; the rest are populated by political jobbers who merely complicate the logistics of elections.

Smaller parties that could have become viable are not allowed to grow by the big two that constantly use huge resources to dismember them.

This played out just before the governorship elections scheduled for yesterday in Imo, Bayelsa and Kogi states. In Bayelsa state, for instance, nothing else better illuminates the emasculation of the Labour party which disowned its own governorship candidate a few days to voting.

If politics and elections are appropriately organized, we shall see less of political speculators who defect to the ruling party on the grounds of wanting to help build a better Nigeria. What type of democrats abhor the existence of opposition political parties in a democracy?

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During the transition to civil rule era, there was a consensus that democracy ought to be premised on the ‘politics of equality’ where every actor is seen as equal to the other.

For this to be achieved there was the need to bring to an end, the old practice of money bags taking ownership of a political party, hence a party secretariat was built in each of Nigeria’s 774 local government areas for the two registered political parties of the era.

The idea was to involve more persons in the decision making process of a party by creating a neutral venue for party meetings instead of the private residences of money bags. Rather than modify the initiative to suit the times, it was thrown overboard by party chieftains who restored their own control of the parties.

The results of the manipulation of political activities in Nigeria are not too difficult to see. Party primary elections are not only rancorous, those who eventually emerge as winners are replaced at will by the choices of their chieftains to the extent that in some of the primaries held to pick party flagbearers for the 2023 elections those who allegedly won were non-aspirants who never took party in the contestations.

Yet, such atrocious outcomes were ratified by the judiciary. Ordinarily such illegalities could not have happened in a party that is supposedly anchored on one man one vote, one woman one vote.

Alas, Nigerian political parties are run as businesses with certain well placed persons functioning as undertakers and proprietors.

Perhaps the greatest feature which distinguishes elections held under the period of aberration from those of our democratic era is the new trend of electoral commissions which consist of members of the ruling party.

Last week, virtually everyone was incensed by the nomination and confirmation of some resident electoral commissioners who are reportedly well-known chieftains of the ruling party.

Although many analysts have taken time to quote provisions of extant laws which forbid a partisan INEC, one wonders the logic behind the support of any true democrat for the idea of one of the teams in a contest providing the umpire.

In 2019, president Buhari nominated one Olalekan Raheem a card-carrying member of the APC as the Resident Electoral Commissioner for Osun State. The Ninth Senate however declined to confirm the nomination.

At other times, all efforts to resist illegal nominations into the nation’s supposed independent electoral commission failed because members of the same ruling party work assiduously to ensure senate’s clearance of such tainted umpires.

Today, it is the APC that is perpetuating the anomaly, but it was not started by that party. In its days as the nation’s ruling political party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP consistently smuggled politicians into the management of the electoral commission.

In addition, adulterating the electoral framework has always extended beyond the federal level. State governments are actually worse as virtually every member of a state electoral commission is either a member of the ruling party in the state or an associate of the governor.

Interestingly, Nigerians have always frowned at the idea of politicising their electoral umpire. Just before the latest assault on INEC by the ruling party, a former chairman of INEC Professor Attahiru Jega admonished the political class on the subject.

Speaking at a retreat in Ikot Ekpene, Akwa Ibom State, Jega observed that, “We have seen, in 2023 elections, the damaging effect of how people in the corridors of power get their client/partisan nominees appointed, without being thoroughly screened, and then they are influenced to compromise the integrity of elections.”

This timely warning like all others before it was ignored by the relevant political actors. Is it not time to establish an electoral commission made up of nominees of all political parties?

The point must however be made that Nigeria may never attain free and fair elections considering that the relevant leaders are benefitting from electoral malpractices.

After all, over 197 electoral offenders who were apparently sponsored by politicians are yet to be prosecuted several months after the 2023 general elections.

Why has nothing been done about the issue despite the fact that the Nigerian Bar Association, had offered pro bono legal services for the effective prosecution of arrested electoral offenders?

To find an answer to this question we need go back in history to review some electoral reforms of old which solved certain problems.

One factor causing immense disquiet of recent is the number of people among them senior lawyers who are dissatisfied with several judicial pronouncements on election disputes and petitions in Nigeria. 

Perhaps it is time to fall back on the old provision that judges should only nullify problematic elections, they should no longer determine the winners but allow voters to do so through a rerun election.

That would certainly stop those using courts to win elections. It would also establish the rationale for certain innovations in the past.   

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