By Sani Muhammad Uzairu
The re-introduction of multi-party democracy has brought a promise of peace and a new era of governance to all Nigerians. The 2019 presidential, governorship and parliamentary elections marked Nigeria’s sixth successful election, and the presidential elections particularly would have seen its second power alternation since the 1999 democratic transition if the PDP’s presidential candidate had been declared winner (assuming he won as his party purports) by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The elections are over and all the hype and anticipation have died down, yet we still live in the shadows of uncertainty due to the alleged electoral fraud that occurred during the voting, counting/tallying process.
While the introduction of the biometric electronic system to identify/verify voters’ was a major feat in the country’s effort to improve its election administration, the controversy surrounding the electoral process leaves much to be desired.
Regrettably, two decades after Nigeria’s political transition and despite its recognition by the international community as a democratic state in Africa, the country even yet faces major electoral challenges, as some parties do not play by the rules, and the spectres of violence, intimidation, and fraud still hung over our elections like dark clouds, symbolic of a country in democratic perdition that has gone back to a past practice in the present.
Considering the extent of hardship in the country today, and the retrogression in Nigeria’s economy and its development trajectory in the last four years, the least Nigerians would have expected was another sham elections!
However, if according to the INEC, the putative reforms and investments in the electoral process couldn’t purportedly guarantee a better elections, we should all take precautionary measures in our actions, make some soul-searching and advance a foward-looking perspectives in order to forestall any potentiality for Nigeria’s degeneration into a chaotic environment.
The Need for INEC’s Objectivity, Transparency and Fairness
Looking at the events of the 2019 elections in retrospect, it is justifiable to argue that the INEC must be faulted for its actions or inactions, which sparked controversies in governorship elections in Adamawa, Bauchi, Benue, Kano, Plateau, Sokoto etc. and same across the country for the presidential and parliamentary elections.
As the country’s independent electoral body, INEC is not only required to be circumspect, objective and independent in carrying out its functions, but also abide by the principles of professionalism and high ethical standards for transparency, peace and fairness to prevail in every election.
Nothing should be more rewarding for the INEC than organizing free and fair elections, which is acceptable to all the competing political parties to continue the political stability the country has enjoyed in the past 20 years. While the concerns raised against INEC’s actions and/or inactions make its objectivity and neutrality in the 2019 elections doubtful, the allegation of fraud and conspiracy is up to the claimants to prove in court for the judges to decide.
No matter what the outcome of the case, the most important lessons of the 2019 elections should set the tone for more effective ways of undertaking further electoral reforms in Nigeria.
The Police and the Principle of Neutrality and Professionalism
The Nigerian Police Force has also been faulted for taking sides in the elections, especially in Kano state where the subsisting security arrangement were allegedly set aside by senior police officers sent from Abuja a night before the re-run election.
And grapevine accounts have indicated similar trend across Nigeria. This is certainly not how to promote peace. To preserve the integrity and professionalism of the police as a national institution for peace and security, and dispel the notion that the police service is corrupt, inefficient and serves as a stooge institution for the ruling government, the police must desist from carrying out the wishes of any government in power and protect and serve all citizens and parties equally and fairly as the police behave in other truly democratic countries.
The police must also understand that respect for basic human rights is a major fundamental pre-condition for good governance, social cohesiveness, peace and social justice as well as socio-economic development and nation-building in general. In this regard, they must desist from any unprovoked brutality against innocent citizens regardless of their political affiliation. There is a need for more police integrity, accountability and human rights training because abuse of innocent citizens’ basic human rights is uncivilized, unpatriotic and undemocratic.
Justification for Pursuing a Legal Case at the Tribunal
Given the current situation and all the conspiracy theories circulating from various constituencies across the country, the argument for PDP’s motivation to pursue a legal case in the courts to establish the truth is justifiable and plausible.
If the party’s evidence is proven credible, the PDP would be vindicated for its allegations, the culprits could be punished for breaking the law, and justice would be served accordingly. More importantly, a repeat of what allegedly happened in the 2019 elections could be checked and avoided in future elections by pressuring the INEC to implement reforms in its election reporting and tallying processes.
While it is prudent to pursue the case at the legal front, the party leaders must exercise a great deal of restrain in order not to encourage their members to engage in violent acts or lawlessness to incur the displeasure of Nigerian voters, especially independent and swing voters who may be watching the current post-election events very closely to see how the PDP behaves.
Any act of lawlessness could tarnish the party’s image and have devastating consequences on the country’s peaceful and already fading democratic credentials. Nonetheless, I envisage or speculate three possible scenarios in the outcome of the election petition in the tribunal’s decision.
First, if the court finds the PDP’s evidence credible, the court could declare the INEC’s action in making return unconstitutional and nullify APC’s victory. Second, the court may argue that while the PDP has a case, the evidence could not have had a tremendous impact on the outcome of the presidential election and decide not to nullify the election.
And third, if the evidence provided is not solid, the courts may disagree on the substantiality of the evidence proving beyond any reasonable doubt that any electoral fraud occurred or even if it did, it was not widespread as claimed.
Even though lessons from past presidential electoral disputes show that out of all the election litigations the courts have adjudicated, they have never overturned a single election to put the rightful winner into office; it’s however a different kettle of fish for governorship electoral disputes. Indeed, there are plethora of precedents where elections have been overturned, and the legitimate winners sworn in as governors.
The case may also be prolonged at the tribunals either to avoid increasing the already tensed atmosphere in the country or may come under extreme political pressure to delay the case, but as the saying goes “justice delayed is justice denied.”
Due to the frequent and often unnecessary delays in adjudicating cases, most Nigerians may have lost confidence and trust in the country’s legal institutions’ administration of justice. Hence the present cases will be considered a historic litmus test for the election petitions tribunals to set a precedent for the lower courts in the country to follow its neutrality, objectivity, efficiency and effectiveness.
Despite my misgivings about the various election petition cases as a precautionary measure, I am also optimistic that whatever adjudication the tribunals make would be in the best interest of the nation and not for the sake of any party.
Looking at the current situation and the above analysis, the court cases outcome is unpredictable so all the parties involved should restrain from being overly optimistic about its outcome. Otherwise, shoring up the hope and optimism of party supporters in advance of the final judgement could potentially break their morale, and spark uncontrollable violence and lawlessness by some disgruntled members if the decision is unfavourable to any party.
Democracy and Legitimacy of the APC Government
One of the basic tenets of democracy is organizing free, fair and successful elections to make it acceptable to competing political parties, and more importantly for the legitimacy of the ruling government to promote unity and patriotism.
For national unity, peace and tranquillity to prevail in the country, all parties must be prepared to compete in future elections fairly and win it fairly and credibly. If the alleged widespread electoral fraud is true, then leaders of the APC must realize that we are in the 21st century where most countries are working towards promoting unity and peace through democracy by organizing and ensuring free, fair and transparent elections.
Therefore rigging elections is not a smart thing to do if Nigeria is to achieve peace and national unity. This will not help sustain and consolidate our teething democracy rather it will create disunity in the country and erode the country’s hard-earned democratic gains sustained in the last two decades.
Whenever people are directly or indirectly disenfranchised as it reportedly happened in the 2019 elections, part of the population will see the government as illegitimate, voter apathy will set in, and there is a high tendency that democracy will gradually become unpopular among many Nigerians. As we all know, the alternative to democracy could be very costly and very damaging to everyone and our beloved country.
The Way Forward
The way forward to addressing the on-going election controversy is to find a common ground for a peaceful resolution. The harm and injustice has already been done to Nigeria’s electoral integrity affecting the parties and the INEC for its role.
Nonetheless, all parties involved must adopt a forward-looking approach to address the election challenges appropriately by looking at ideal solutions and ways to prevent such situations in the future. We should understand that democracy develops and grows through nurturing and making constant changes.
As we are well aware, Nigeria’s democracy has come a long way since the 1999 democratic transition, overcoming all kinds of adversities and its triumphant moments – electoral disputes over fraud, and electoral failures to name a few as well as electoral successes and power alternations, respectively.
These show the diverse setbacks and triumphant moments Nigeria’s democracy and electoral system have gone through over the years since the 1999 transition, but in all these, the country has prevailed. Nonetheless, a great deal of weaknesses and challenges remain to be dealt with, such as eliminating electoral fraud towards promoting free and fair elections, educating the masses in voting procedures, promoting internal party democracy and dealing with the emerging threat of the dominance of monetary influence in politics due to weak campaign financing oversight roles by the INEC.
For the sake of preserving Nigeria’s democracy, let’s all look retrospectively at the 2019 presidential election experiences from the bright side of things and understand that no matter the current circumstance, it could have been worse.
The idea of democracy either under a parliamentary or presidential system of government is associated with political parties and elections. Political parties and elections are indispensable mechanisms for promoting democratic governance in contemporary democracies, thus our parties must facilitate free and fair competition for votes and power, because the basic foundation of any democracy is organizing transparent, free and fair elections.
If we truly prefer peace and unity to violence and lawlessness as our political leaders preach to us, then let’s all abide by the laws, rules and regulations, as well as the constitutional provisions and practice it by playing by the same rules in all cases.
In order to address the country’s development challenges adequately and bring progress to the people, we need to imbibe the values of patriotism and bear more allegiance to Nigeria than to our political parties and ethnic groups.
It is the responsibility of the government and institutions of the executive branch, political parties and civil society to sensitize the people on patriotism and the need to consolidate our democracy by creating the right path and setting the right example to place “Nigeria First”. In so doing, the rest of the citizens will follow the set pace as is evident in many Western countries and countries in the Asian Pacific region.
In fact, one of the major contributing factors for Asian countries’ accelerated development is due to their citizens’ patriotism. In nation-building, patriotism is vital for achieving national pride, peace, national unity and ultimately, national development. Unfortunately, many Nigerians and Africans in general do not see things this way and keep promoting partisanship and ethnicity over nationalism.
It is the responsibility of all the political parties to play significant roles as custodians of the country’s democracy by behaving responsibly during and after elections and not act in a way to lead the country into political chaos and anarchy.
We should all understand that whether you are PDP, APC or any party for that matter, the success of our democracy and national development depends largely on how we work together to promote democracy and human rights in our society.
We all need to promote tolerance and cooperation among our parties and people, because the behaviour and attitude of our party leaders greatly affect the citizens’ relations with one another. Where there is antagonism, hatred and vindictiveness at the top, it trickles down to the masses at the grassroots.
Regardless of our political or ideological affiliation, we should always remember that we are “one nation, one people with one destiny” and seek one common goal – development and prosperity for all – and we can achieve this if we bond together as one nation and work together and not against each other. Long Live Nigeria and Long Live Nigeria’s democracy!!
Sani Muhammad Uzairu is a freelance writer, broadcaster and promoter of public service journalism.