The article first appeared on June 12, 2009. It is excerpted from the book, Time to Reclaim Nigeria.
It has been 16 years since the groundbreaking election of June 12, 1993. As far as elections go in Nigeria, that election was one we cannot forget in a hurry, not with the debacle we witnessed in two local councils in Ekiti State a few weeks ago. In a way, it appears Nigeria is still haunted by the ghost of June 12, 1993. I have often wondered why after almost two decades of that historic attempt to entrench the fundamentals of genuine democracy - the right to vote
and be voted for - which took place under a military regime, we are still struggling to get our electoral act together.
On May 29, our rulers reminded us we needed to celebrate a decade of uninterrupted democracy. What they failed to tell us was why after a decade of so-called democracy, we have not conducted any credible election. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), under Maurice Iwu who in the most scandalous display of self-adulation has scored himself more than 80 per cent in his conduct of elections, says it is “the major driver of Nigeria’s democracy”.
With what we witnessed in 2007, and in Ekiti in 2009, the “undertaker of Nigeria’s democracy” appears to be a more befitting appellation. I was in Imo State around the period the re-run election in Ekiti State took place. Just as in other parts of the country, the late release of the results was the major topic of discussion in many of the places I visited. In one such spot, an elderly man, probably in his 70s, feeling so pained about the tragedy of our electoral misfortunes, remarked that the only way we could exorcise that demon was for the country to seek for forgiveness at the grave of Moshood Abiola, winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election. He insisted that unless that was done the country would never have credible elections.
I didn’t have any problem with his proposition. I thought Abiola deserved it and more. No national honour would be too much for a man who won an election and was murdered for attempting to claim his mandate. He lost his business empire, and his wife was assassinated in the process. But June 12, 1993, was not just about Abiola; it was about so many other things. It showed that Nigerians are a sophisticated people; that we are a great nation of good people, not minding the voluble campaign of latter-day nationalists.
On June 12, 1993, Nigerians conducted themselves in an orderly manner. The electoral commission played by the rule it set for the election. That election witnessed a real presidential debate — which helped many voters to make up their minds — something we haven’t had in our ten years of uninterrupted democracy! Unfortunately, General Ibrahim Babangida annulled the results, shredding the fundamental right of Nigerians to vote.
Even though we have had a decade of democracy, our rulers have been able to successfully undermine the basic tenet of democracy which is the right to vote and be voted for. The lesson we can draw from Generals Ibrahim Babangida, Abulsalami Abubakar (who handed over to a civilian government in 1999) Olusegun Obasanjo, and now President Yar’Adua, is that the insincerity of our rulers remains the single most important reason for lack of credible elections
If General Obasanjo, and by extension the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), wanted free and fair elections in 2007, we would have had free and fair elections. If the president’s words, actions, and body language had indicated that credible election was a national priority in the attempt to sustain democracy, we would not have witnessed the travesty that took place in April 2007 in the name of elections. The loquacious INEC chairman and his commissioners would have performed their constitutional duties creditably and all political actors would have acted in accordance with the rules.
But Obasanjo’s words, actions and body language, which Mr. Iwu read and understood clearly, were that uninterrupted political power was a “do or die affair”. Fast forward to Ekiti State in May 2009. If President Yar’Adua had shown the slightest commitment to electoral reforms, considering his admission of the charade that brought him to power, we would not have brought international opprobrium on ourselves for using a whole week to conduct elections in just two local governments.
Yar’Adua may not be the most garrulous of presidents; he may not be predisposed to body talk or much action like his predecessor, but his lack of action also says a lot. For him, less is more. Mr. Iwu equally understood that. We have heard the last of the Ekiti re-run election unless, of course, the judiciary lives up to its billing as the bastion of justice. Nothing will come out of the committee set up by President Yar’Adua to investigate the electoral robbery in Ekiti State; the president and his party have bigger fish to fry.
Our rulers have taken us for granted in the last 10 years; they have exhibited enough insincerity not to be taken seriously any longer. Our ruling elite are too blind to see the link between electoral fraud, for example, and the violence and attendant genocide in the Niger Delta, the corruption, poverty, and underdevelopment that has been our lot in almost five decades of independence.
Nigerians can no longer wait for the current crop of corrupt politicians to give them true democracy. Isn’t it regrettable that after 10 years of democracy, a pivotal institution like the National Assembly uses voice vote to determine the outcome of deliberations? One wonders how it can work to ensure the votes of Nigerians are protected during elections. After 10 years of our so-called democracy, Nigerians should be able to go to the National Assembly and study the voting patterns of their representatives and know what position they took on critical national issues.
2011 beckons and it is not too early to start preparing. We must not and should not allow history to repeat itself. We were lucky to survive the brazen disregard of our collective will in 2007. As a nation, we may not be twice lucky. The essence of democracy is to ensure that voters decide the outcomes of elections, and by extension, the kinds of leaders that will come to power.
The future of this country lies, literally, in our hands. We must as a people devise ways to make sure our votes count during elections. That is the only way we can build the kind of society we want. Nations that have been able to move ahead are those that have instituted mechanisms that ensure that at every election, the electorate, through the ballot, can change their leaders.