If there was any hope of free, fair, and credible elections in Nigeria last month, that hope was dashed the moment President Goodluck Jonathan decided to run for president. I shall return to this.
After the 2007 electoral heist, it looked like we couldn’t sink any lower in electoral malfeasance. We thought we had seen it all and nobody could take 150 million people for a ride ever again in the name of democracy. It looked increasingly likely that election 2011 would bring the political change the country so desperately needed.
Based on this assumption, Nigerians were willing to make the necessary sacrifice. There were protests across the country when the National Assembly infamously balked at using its authority to resolve the power vacuum in the country; just as there were protests calling for the removal of Maurice Iwu, the man that supervised the 2007 election.
And so we approached the 2011 elections with a lot of hope and plenty of promises from the president and the electoral commission. The elections have come and gone. Unfortunately, they were neither free and fair nor credible. Electoral malpractices were widespread. The fraud was manifest in the inflation of votes, multiple thumb printing (evidence abound on Youtube), buying of voter’s card, inducement and buying of voters on election day, the seizure of polling stations and sharing of ballot papers, underage voting, violence, and intimidation of voters. The list is endless.
The point is that the election fell below expectation. Some would argue that it was a marked improvement from 2007. That may be the case. But that argument is meaningless if one considers the unprecedented post-election violence and the fact that other parties have rejected the result.
It seems our greatest undoing as a nation is our predilection for mediocrity and perversion of transformational values. We have forgotten that there was an election in Nigeria in 1993 that was universally adjudged free, fair, and credible without any violence. Almost two decades later, we still justify our inability to conduct credible elections.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) may not have been in a position to deal with a lot of the anomalies witnessed during the election, but that is not to say the commission is completely blameless. Clearly, INEC was not prepared for the election and it showed a lack of authority and determination at every turn.
For example, in some states, there were marked differences in the provisional and final figures after the voter registration exercise which INEC could not explain. The number of invalid votes during the elections shows that INEC did not take seriously the issue of voter education. In a country with one of the highest level of illiteracy, why did INEC make the sample ballot paper a mystery?
When a court ruled that INEC was the only body with the authority to fix the order of election, after President Jonathan had colluded with the National Assembly to subvert that power, why did INEC appear helpless? The lame excuse the commission offered was that ballot papers had been printed, as if that had any bearing on the date the election would take place. So much for commitment to free and fair election! With 100 billion naira and a lot of goodwill from Nigerians, INEC ought to have done better.
But if we focus on INEC we miss the point. President Jonathan’s entry into the presidential race changed the dynamics of the election. Was he going to run to lose, in a country where money is everything and incumbency rules, no matter the level of incompetence?
There were all kinds of twisted reasons why the President had to run. There were those who said he was fulfilling a divine mandate; for others, it was a chance for someone outside the three main power blocs in the country to be elected president. The media couched it as clash of cultures and civilizations. A Harvard-trained friend of mine said he was supporting Goodluck Jonathan because he was angry at those who said he (Jonathan) should not run for president, a phenomenon he said was against the tenets of presidential incumbency.
Regrettably, these compatriots didn’t want to see the whole picture: that Nigeria is bigger than President Jonathan or his ambition. Of course, there was the moral burden he faced in his party. But beyond that was the inability to appreciate that one of the greatest problems confronting us as a nation is bad leadership.
Since independence, we have had the misfortune of being saddled with morally bankrupt, inept and visionless leaders. And this has persisted because we haven’t been able to conduct credible elections. It is either competent people are rigged out or they do not trust the system enough to run for office. President Jonathan had the golden opportunity to change that.
Those who see Goodluck Jonathan’s rise to the presidency, and therefore a perfect opportunity to run for president, as divinely ordained refuse to admit that there is another side of the argument: that it is possible the role divinity had for him was that of precursor of free, fair, and credible elections in Nigeria.
Once he decided to run, President Jonathan had to do all he needed to do to win, whether it meant running what perhaps was the most expensive presidential campaign in history, in total disregard of the country’s electoral laws, bending the rules to favour him or coercing governors to get their support.
We need a courageous leader; one who is willing to make sacrifices on our behalf. President Jonathan failed Nigeria in this regard. The just concluded elections were not what we bargained for when we laid siege at INEC headquarters calling for the removal of the Maurice Iwu. This democracy is not what we asked for when Nigerians protested severally across the country against military intervention and for Vice President Goodluck Jonathan to be made acting president.
As always, there are those who would want us to be amnesiac. We need to move Nigeria forward is their ever ready answer to our political and social problems. But the next four year will not be dedicated to governance in any form. From May 29, 2011, the race will begin in the ruling party on who will succeed President Jonathan in 2015, that is if he keeps his promise to serve only one term. In the months ahead there will be political jobbers who will resurrect the debate of a single 7-year tenure for the president.
Whatever serious analysis that ought to follow the election has been buried in the violence that claimed the lives of many innocent Nigerians, including young corps members, whose only crime was their service to their fatherland. Let’s hope for their sake, we have learnt our lessons!