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Electoral conduct in Nigeria: We are the change we need

 

The recently concluded off-cycle elections in Kogi, Bayelsa and Imo states have come and gone with the usual complaints of manipulation and fraud from the electorate, a section of the civil society and the politicians who lost. It is the usual cry that follows every election. Everyone points fingers in one direction and complains as if the electoral process was conducted by terrestrial beings with no involvement of us, the Nigerian citizens. With every election, we go back to the question: when will we witness substantial improvements in Nigeria’s electoral processes?

It is settled that in today’s Nigeria, achieving victory in an election involves a three-step process: success in the primary election, triumph at the general election, and ultimately prevailing in the courts.

With each of the above steps the agency of humans, in the form of party officials, contestants, agents, electoral officials, the electorate, media, lawyers, judges, police, etc, determine the quality of the outcome. But at the end of every cycle, almost everyone’s role is forgotten as fingers all get pointed at the umpire, INEC. “INEC has failed”, we say. Really?

While accusations against INEC for manipulation and fraud persist and calls for holistic reforms echo, while clamouring for elections whose final outcomes are not determined by Supreme Court justices, we should pause and do a soul search. The sought-after change may not be too far ahead.

The fact that these lamentations and condemnations of our elections’ outcome persist tells us that we may have either pointed accusing fingers wrongly all the while or we need to point more fingers in more directions.

In the aftermath of the 2007 elections, it was called the greatest sham. Condemnations trailed it. Even the then-elected president, late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, acknowledged the fact that the election that brought him into office was fraudulent. The Uwais Committee was formed in response to the heavy criticism. Despite subsequent reforms, including the introduction of card readers in 2011, dissatisfaction with results persisted. Then BVAS was introduced and we have then heard of how BVAS is bypassed and compromised. The courts took the next step to declare it not more than a useless prop in the process.

In terms of improving human conduct, we jettisoned the use of random persons as ad-hoc staff for the elections. INEC is accused of hiring the wrong hands with politicians often populating the lists with their own persons. It was decided that corps members, who are mostly non-indigenes to start with, be involved. Lecturers, thought to be the finest of our patriots and idealists were settled on as returning officers. Vice-chancellors are now being used as State Returning Officers, all as part of measures implemented to tighten the sanctity of our elections. Yet, concerns about the quality of elections persist.

The root of the problem, it is now apparent, lies not solely with INEC but with the collective Nigerian society, especially politicians. We have mastered the art of bypassing fool-proof processes.

Despite INEC’s efforts, the conduct of elections relies on individuals. The issues extend beyond INEC to encompass society as a whole. Instances of corruption involve youth corpers, security personnel, low-level INEC officials, voters selling their votes, and even civil society members choosing when to be truthful or partisan. Some individuals become political thugs for monetary gain, while media outlets flout rules of engagement to serve political interests.

While it is easy to scapegoat INEC, a more comprehensive examination involves scrutinising the actions and responsibilities of all stakeholders in the electoral process.

This starts with us, the masses; we need that conscious realisation that the right to vote and be voted for is not a commodity to be sold to the highest bidders.

Security personnel should understand that they owe the country a fiduciary duty to ensure that elections are free and fair without succumbing to corruption and bribery. INEC officials, permanent and ad-hoc should understand that the sanctity of our elections lies in them being impartial umpires.

Our youths need that resolve to resist being used by greedy politicians as political thugs to cause havoc on election day. In this regard, parents and community leaders have a great role to play in rolling back this odious practice.

As for politicians, it is high time they realised that elections are not a do-or-die game and played safely. Only when all of us come together and have a change of attitude and mindsets can the reforms we crave to materialize.

As it stands, it seems BVAS and IREV are the best the government can offer. Even in the advanced world, elections are transmitted electronically, and just as we thought the introduction of BVAS and IREV would be the masterstroke, the proverbial last straw that would break the camel’s back as far as electoral fraud is concerned, they are being rendered useless. The politicians are the biggest culprits manipulating everyone and everything on their way to their desired destination.

However, while we think the excesses of the politicians could get tackled at the courts, the summersaults we are currently witnessing in our courts leave little to be desired. The saying, one law for the rich and another for the poor is getting a vivid expression as judgments are often delivered based on the faces of the parties in a case, not the facts on the ground. This has further increased the confusion in our electoral process and the resultant litigations.

In the end, it is evident that what we need is a reform of our mindset and correction of our collective ways, not the often-mouthed electoral reform. The history of our elections from 2007 to date has shown that any electoral reform is a window-dressing if there is no consensus to do the right thing at all levels

 

Sanusi, a political analyst, sent this piece from Abuja

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