During this lockdown period, I managed to read significant parts of Dr.Goodluck Jonathan’s book, ‘My Transition Hours’. I have been trying to avoid the book like others similar to it, simply because I don’tbelieve in the sincerity of politicians telling their own stories.
But, what other ways can you cope under a three-month lockdown? One conclusion I reached was that the former President’s memoir was a tactical expression of his self-convincing feeling that he never lost freely and fairly to General Muhammadu Buhari in the 2015 presidential elections. All other things in the book were in my opinionmore or less secondary to this. The more pages I read in that book, the more I found it difficult to disconnect President Jonathan and his henchmen with the Orubebe incident that largely placed huge question marks over his subsequent democratic heroics.
There was one thing I however liked in the book and it was the provision of more insight on Jonathan’s commitment towards electoral reform. I don’t know what was his motivation, but what I understand, he badly wanted his government and the Ruling Party under him to represent a stark contrast from the garrison and cruel electoral style of the Obasanjo era. Jonathan apparently wanted to win the 2015 elections at all costs, but he wanted it to look clean and the inability to combine the two was what probably led to his downfall. But whatever his shortcomings were, the former Bayelsa State Governor must be given the credit of single-handedly ushering us into a new era from which free and fair elections should become a standard.
Most Nigerians have been wondering whether the credibility of our elections is improving, static or declining. One critical debate that will give an insight into this is finding out which election is better between 2015 and 2019, our two most recent national elections. In terms of the actual elections, 2019 appeared to be a bit better, except for those being carried away by the fact that an incumbent lost is the highest mark of credibility in elections. This is because, we are quite not used to such things in Africa, but that notwithstanding, an incumbent losing is not a global benchmark for credible elections.
In 2015, at least five state governors sat on clearly illegal mandates as compared to just one in 2019. Form the huge volumes of electoralreports and analyses I studied; I can comfortably hypothesize that about 25% of National Assembly members across all parties in 2015 were illegally elected as against about 5 to 10% in 2019. For the presidential elections, the results of about ten states can be said to be truly questionable in varying degrees against the five for 2019. These are not facts. However, on the preliminary and postliminary activities that constitute the electoral process, 2019 is by far the worse; the primary elections that produced candidates were one of the worst in history. The judicial proceedings that decided electoral cases were also one of the most unfortunate in Nigeria’s history.
All of these is by the way. Our concern now should be about how the current APC government is handling the electoral system and how it intends to continue handling it. There have been many allegations of electoral fraud during the 2019 elections, but what was witnessed in the Kano so-called re-run elections has been a subject of discussion. The brutally fraudulent and violent nature with which Kano was taken was not only a sad reminder of the peak Obasanjo days, it was an indication of how APC’s new winning formula. The National Assembly by-elections in the same Kano as well as the Kogi State governorship elections that followed is a practical testimony to this.The mistrust and misgivings of the electoral process by the electorates is back, the 2015 confidence have been destroyed and Nigerians now have serious doubts over the 2023 electoral process.
Though political parties in Nigeria are mere alphabets and acronyms, but the main elements that call the shots within the APC have been the major victims of electoral fraud from 2003 to 2011 and ironically the main beneficiaries of fairly acceptable elections between 2015 to 2019. They are the ones most expected to further reform the electoral process and make it better. No one expects what we witnessed in Kano and Kogi states to have happened under this president who was rigged out several times. Before that, we have seen what happened in Osun Statein 2018. The return of full-fledged electoral fraud is imminent.
One will think certain things are beyond the control of the president and the APC. But, how do you explain the party appointing the Kano State governor as leader of its campaign council in Edo state? The party is well aware that since the infamous dollar saga, Ganduje is gradually becoming the new reference point of corruption in Nigeria after collecting the baton from former Delta State Governor, James Ibori. Furthermore, the fiasco that returned Ganduje to Kano State Government House on March 2019 is the new national reference point for electoral mandate robbery in the country. With APC appearing not to care about all these, we can only conclude that it’s new message to Nigerians, that it no longer pretends, it no longer cares about free and fair elections.
Out of all these, none is the most dangerous. What represent our most critical danger is the attitude of the judiciary towards the electoral process. The courts especially at the highest level have become the new graveyards of electoral mandates. We are yet to recover from how the judiciary stamped its approval on the anomalies of the 2015 elections especially with regards to gubernatorial elections. It takes oneof the most morally bankrupt consciences to rig an election, but it takes even a more morally bankrupt one to legitimize and affirm it.
Irrespective of the technical judicial processes, the various verdictsparticularly from the Supreme Court were greatly detrimental to the well-being of the electoral process. With this development, everybody will now try to win election at all cost, knowing so well the judicial process is less than likely to unseat him. It has gradually become very clear that once you were not declared winner after the polls, you stand virtually no chance of reclaiming your mandate in the courts. First, the tribunals give much emphasis on flimsy technicalities and often dismiss several petitions on such grounds. Secondly, they often summarize all arguments and evidences brought before them as having failed to prove the case ‘beyond reasonable doubt’- an ambiguousphrase now so popularly and notoriously used to dismiss many competent cases.
Another source of concern is how INEC is tactfully returning to partisanship after a brief journey away from it. Before then, the electoral umpire has always not been forthcoming in preventing electoral malpractices, many of its actions even encourage it. Before and after elections, multiple alarms of foul play are being raised in different quarters and during the course of the elections, many candidates usually complain of rigging, violence, manipulation and oppression, but all INEC could do was to tell them to head to court if they were not satisfied. Is this all that the law empowers INEC to do?
Talking of the law, this brings us to the issue of the Electoral Act. The 8th National Assembly did well in comprehensively amending the 2010 electoral act only for President Buhari to refuse his signature for reasons yet to be clearly justified. Lest we forget, the deficient electoral act of 2010 was what gave the Supreme Court the technical window to affirm the hugely questionable gubernatorial elections of Rivers, Akwa-Ibom and Abia states in 2015 on the grounds that the card reader is not recognized by the law. This was what empowered politicians with more impunity into 2019. To date, the 9th National Assembly which is the darling of the administration appears not to have started any move regarding the Electoral Act. Let’s not begin to talk about the performance of local government elections under this administration.
The bottom-line now is that the electoral reform which had begun to make some progress since 2007 has gone back to square zero. Nigeria, courtesy of her leaders is a nation that is famous for taking one step forward and then two or more steps backwards. Whenever one step is taken in the right direction, several other steps would be taken in the wrong one. This is probably one of the major reasons why we have failed to make a lasting and permanent progress in a lot of things.
I have closely and critically observed elections at all levels since 2003and I have researched fairly on the histories of past elections in Nigeria. Inspite of the sham we went through in 2003, 2007 and to some extent 2011, now represents the most disturbing moment in our contemporary electoral history. We use to have credible opposition that fights all these evils, now we don’t; we used to have some courts that deliver justice on electoral matters, now we don’t; we used to have majority of Nigerians fighting the menace, now almost everyone has given up.
Elections appear to be the only potent weapon available to Nigerians against their oppressive leaders. All other constitutional options like impeachment, recall and freedom to protest are either suppressed, too bureaucratic or ineffective. Being aware of this, leaders now misbehave with impunity, use our own money against us with rascalityand when it is election time, they rig with authority thinking that they will live till eternity.