Election Versus Selection: Democracy In Nigeria Is A Huge Joke

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By

Rahman Owokoniran

My empathy goes to the Nigerian people who had been consistently taken advantage of over the years. Imagine seating in a flight that took off to an undefined destination and landed at the same point of takeoff. It would not stop you from enjoying the flight all through the journey to nowhere. But the question is whether or not your destination is reached. In this instance, Nigerians’ destination is a successful democracy defined by its tenets. Learning from the advanced democracy worldwide, there are recognised institutions that sustain democracy such as

1) The Judiciary

2) The Press

3) The Political Parties

4) Those organs of government mandated with functions to guarantee safe delivery of the processes of elections e.g. INEC

5) The Citizens.

Our destination in Nigeria might have been democracy, but where are we today? What we have looks like selectocracy and autocracy.

1) Is it not evident that most advanced democratic nations worldwide are guided by their constitutions and their electoral guidelines that make the interpretations of their court judgments more predictable? Thus, election cases are fewer in most advanced democracies. In Nigerian democracy, our Judges exercise tremendous influence over the subject of litigation. Because of the pivotal role Judges play on the outcome of election matters, plaintiffs and defendants bid for Judges favours. The preponderance of unprintable verdicts from the Judiciary has diminished the confidence the people have in the Judiciary. There are cases of those who did not participate in a primary election contest but who were awarded by the Supreme Court the rights to be the nominee of their parties. There are cases where the Judiciary became the umpire awarding and juggling in the law court figures awarded by INEC.

Thus, the courts have exceeded their roles of interpreting the law and guiding the process. The Judiciary arrogates to itself the Alfa and Omega of deciding who won or lost the election.

This undue interference of the court has today eroded the confidence of the people in the Judiciary. Moving forward it may regain its rightful position if it learnt to refrain itself from politics and strictly to comply with its constitutional duties of  interpreting the law.

2) The Press is regarded worldwide as the Fourth Estate of the Realm. Its members serve as the eyes and the megaphone of the people. Promoting transparency in government policies is their responsibility. Until the recent discovery of the social media, very few print media publications and the electronic ones had limited outreach. Though the social media in this part of the world still surfer some setbacks, there is no doubt that their outreach had been tremendous. However, a lot more still needs to be done to moderate their output.  That said, our democracy has failed to give the Press its rightful place in our democracy. Pressmen and Presswomen are still being harassed, hounded and mistreated in the execution of their duties. Their organisations are constantly under threat of being demolished or closed down by the authorities, for publication found unsuitable by the powers-that-be. Journalists and their families are constantly harassed and threatened for doing their jobs. The Press has a much wider outreach to gather information and make them available to the public. It is the watchdog of our democracy. However, it has been a struggle for the Press to perform its role. This has contributed largely to the deficit of our democratic process. But for the Press serving as huge megaphones, how would the fight over the duplicity of the 25th February and 18th March elections be fought?

We have the Press to thank for the uncompromising role it has played throughout the process of these elections. We can only hope that the Press will be appreciated and permitted to perform its constitutional role.

3) The political parties are at the front and centre of our democracy. They went to this race with the determination to succeed. On the campaign trail, it was a fair contest. Parties ran issue-based campaigns. Although you saw propaganda targeted at discrediting opponents, there was nothing that couldn’t be handled. The only extreme propaganda was the Igbo targeted one, aimed at changing the minds of the Yoruba, who voted the Labour Party in the first election, to turn around and vote APC  at the governorship election. It was also intended to intimidate the Igbo to vote for APC or be disenfranchised.  This was a very dangerous propaganda that suppressed the votes in Lagos because most voters were disenfranchised as they abandoned the poll . This resulted to less than 40 percent of the voters turning out for the governorship election, when compared with the presidential election. I cannot speak for similar occurrences in the various parts of the country. Nonetheless, the Election Day came and the episodes witnessed became a far cry from the much expected peaceful, free and fair process. To compound the problem, INEC and security agents became complicit in the daylight rubbery.

4) Several organs of government under the covers of INEC were mandated to be the umpire supervising the counting of results of the election, while security agents were to secure voters and protect the results. Rather than performing its supervision role, INEC became complicit and instead allocated votes to political parties as desired . The presidential election is a typical example of the wreckage done by INEC and its officials to our democracy. According to INEC, the huge investment on electronic devises, meant to obtain the results in real time, failed because of some hitches after the accreditation had been successfully accomplished. Therefore, INEC resorted to collating manually. By the third day, the Chairman of INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, upon the completion of the manual collation of the election results, declared the winner of the election despite the objections raised by other parties especially the two leading opposition parties. The Chairman told the agents, on the second day of the collation, that they should go to court if they had objections. By the second day of INEC’s collation of results, not one of the results was posted on the server. Some results were eventually posted and removed almost immediately.  By the time the Chairman was announcing the results and declaring the winner, only 120,000 polling units’ unverified results were uploaded out of the total 176,000 polling units. As we speak two weeks after the declaration, there is still over 9,000 polling units yet to be uploaded. INEC violated its own rules and guidelines, and still demands our trust. Isn’t that spurious? Many unanswered questions remain. Why was the Chairman in a hurry to declare results being contested by opposition parties? Overnight, the Chairman couldn’t have checked the complaints of the opposition parties. If he did, why did he not alleviate their concerns about issues raised, by addressing those issues, instead of his flagrant dismissal of the complaints. He told them to go to court if they had issues with the election. Yet they didn’t have issues with the election. They had issues with the results being collected in its raw form without being verified or reconcilable with the accreditation as posted on the BVAS.

Any result in contrast to the BVAS accreditation is null and void; without accreditation there is no election.

5) The citizens are the sovereigns with the power to decide the election. Yet election after election, they are blindsided. Their votes never count. So they neglected and abandoned the elections and its processes. The people rejected the meaningless ballot boxes without credibility. The ballot boxes were stuffed up by the same parties that control the state at every election circle. The only time you have a change is when a bigger war chest came in to challenge the ruling party. But the peoples’ hopes were raised by the government investing more money to introduce electronic devise, in the form of BVAS, to upload the accreditation and the results of the election of voters in real time. Also, lots of donations were made by America, the United Kingdom, Europe, China and others, to promote democracy by encouraging more citizens’ participation. Much money was spent on voters’ education, resulting in huge turnout to collect PVCs. The politics of issuance and collection of PVCs is another ballgame entirely. The number of PVCs used is inversely proportional to the number collected. Most of the PVCs collected were actually not in circulation. That explains why only 10 percent of voters voted for the presidential election, which is more than double the turnout in the governorship election. Ghost voters are the product of the excessive distribution of PVCs, which is the more reason why the BVAS was avoided. Again, despite the introduction of the BVAS, INEC failed to supervise the collation of election results. Why? Because there will be human elements in every electronic device. And it was the human element that corrupted the use of BVAS and the server. It was also the human element that devised the means to suppress the votes by sabotaging PVCs’ distribution.

The question therefore is: Are we ripe for democracy, since individuals and institutions failed us in the conduct of free and fair election?

Thus far, our democracy appears to be a huge joke. I believe that it amounts to slave mentality to assume that a boss must supervise for a job to get done. If we are ripe for democracy, we should be able to conduct our own elections. Also, we should be able to conduct our own census. These two vital elements are important for us to get right in order to be able to make progress in every aspect of our national development. Unless sovereignty in the true sense of the word belongs to the people, we cannot lay claims to democracy. And our democracy will continue to suffer from our own lack of trust in pursuits of the goals as a nation. How are we going to hold our government accountable when we don’t know our population figures? How can we respect our individual rights when we cannot conduct our own elections? If we must have a democracy, we should be able to conduct our own election in our various communities with the different political parties as observers. After all, estate do have their elections to elect their executives because it is worthwhile. It will be more cost effective and more inclusive to involve our communities.

What I advocate is integrated community investment in governance. Imagine that every institution inherited from the British government had been bastardised and every attempt to evolve new ideas had failed.

Finally, unless proper definition is given to our democracy, it will continue to erode as a result of constant disruptive attacks by the retrogressive minority, who will rather see us divided because of our diversity. Today our fragile democracy is under threat because of these parochial individuals’ love for control. They are control freaks who want to remain in charge regardless of the outcome. To achieve their selfish objectives, they care less if the heavens should fall. You and I don’t matter as long as they are in control. We need a Nation where our lives matter. And this is our country where our lives should matter a great deal.

HON. RAHMAN OWOKONIRAN IS THE PEOPLE’S DEMOCRATIC PARTY (PDP) SOUTH-WEST ZONAL SECRETARY

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