By Jerome-Mario Utomi
Looking at the strength with which foreign observers in recent weeks raised strong voices against uncivil antics that characterized the just concluded elections; it again raises a concern about the thorny transparency-challenge confronting the nation.
Essentially, aside from the organised resentment, the above has brought to the nation at the global stage; it has for about two decades exposed the nation to the pangs of sociopolitical challenges that prevent her from enthroning true democracy that ensures a corruption free society.
However, from their commentaries coupled with useful concerns expressed by the vast majority of Nigerians, is it possible to think in the meantime that mere condemnation is enough to change these old of our nation? What about the future? Will it still be marked by the same type of action? Or are the days of electoral manipulations in the country numbered?
Indeed, in providing answers to these questions, we need not go far as the solution is in my views contained in a recent study report which provided a link between the factors that impade credible election in Nigeria and far-reaching measures that could pave way for development and orderliness in the nation’s political sphere.
The report which was put together by the Centre For Value in Leadership (CVL), Lagos in partnership with the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre(PLAC), and supported MacArthur Foundation had as title; Ethics And Standards in Electoral Process in Nigeria (guiding tools/principles).
Going by the content of the report, an election is said to be credible when it is organized in an atmosphere of peace, devoid of rancour and acrimony. The outcome of such an election must be acceptable to a majority of the electorate and it must be acceptable within the international community. If elections are to be free and fair, laws designed in that regard must not just exist; they must be operational and be enforced. And the power of freedom of choice conferred on the electorates must be absolute and not questionable.
But contrary to these provisions, since the re-emergence of democracy in Nigeria in 1999, our country has conducted different elections. These elections have many common features and few things differentiate them.
For instance, the elections were all conducted periodically as expected. They were closely monitored by domestic and international observers, and they aroused varied contestations from Nigerian politicians and voters and they were marred by varying degrees of malpractice.
The implication of this finding is that, the electoral process in Nigeria is rendered vulnerable to abuse, through massive rigging and other forms of electoral malpractices by political parties- especially by those in power as they seek to manipulate the system to serve their partisan interest. Elections, which are a critical part of the democratic process, therefore, lose their intrinsic value, and become mere means of manipulation to get to power.
This, the study noted derogates the sanctity of elections as an institutional mechanism for conferring political power on citizens in a democratic dispensation.
As a way forward, the report underlined four basic conditions necessary to create an enabling environment for holding of free and fair elections. These include; an honest, competent and non-partisan body to administer the election, the knowledge and willingness of the political community to accept basic rules and regulations governing the contest for power, a developed system of political parties and teams of candidates presented to the electorates as alternative choices. And an independent judiciary to interpret electoral laws and settles election disputes.
Stakeholders beginning with the independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) were not left out in this call for a new order.
As an illustration, for transparency and accountability during and after the election, INEC should; be free from any form of financial encumbrance, funding of INEC should henceforth come from the first-line charge. The commission should also be removed from the list of Federal body. And, the procedure for appointment and removal of INEC chairman and members of the board should be reviewed.
Again, based on the successful introduction of the smart card reader, INEC should consider the real-time transmission of results from polling units to the central database. Develop a central nationwide database similar to what obtains in financial institutions to allow voting irrespective of locations on the Election Day. And provide opportunities for Nigerians who attained voting age to immediately register to vote in order to avoid the usual congestion during the election period.
To perform its role effectively as the final arbiter of electoral dispute, and curb the excesses of the politicians, the court must possess both juridical expertize as well as political independence. There should be adequate time between resolution of conflicts and swearing-in of elected officials; section134 (2) and (3) of the Electoral Act 2010 should be reviewed such that election tribunal cases are expedited. And finally, the court must resist the political or financial pressure and adhere strictly to the underlining legal grounds in their consideration of injunctions.
Aside from adopting or enforcement of provisions requiring aspiring candidates to have been a member of a political party to address a high prevalence of defections before elections which dilutes political party growth and development, political parties should act as a bridge between people and the government and help integrate citizens into the political system. Also, they should inform citizens about politics through socialization and mobilization of voters to ensure that the decisions are made by the people.
While the report stressed that any discussion on democracy without the right to receive and impart information is empty. It, however, regretted that journalism in Nigeria with regard to its constitutional roles is not scientific; adding that Nigerian politicians have always used the media in an unwholesome manner.
To exit this state of affairs, the report urged practitioners to help build enlightened electorates as public enlightenment is a prerequisite for free and fair elections. The Nigerian Broadcasting Commission, private and state-owned media outlets should strictly enforce, and adhere to regulations on media neutrality and take steps against hate messaging and misinformation in the media. The media should uphold the ethos of providing accurate and factual information to the citizens at all time.
While this is ongoing, the Nigerian Police Force should be guided by, and conform to the appropriate principles, rules, codes of ethics, and laws governing police duties especially in relation to crowd control and use of firearms. They should maintain impartiality and eschew partisanship or discrimination between the ruling and non-ruling, big or small.
In the same fashion, adequate study and discussions should be made by citizens to enable them to arrive at positive electoral decisions- and should also learn to desist from electoral malpractices such as selling of their votes for stipends.
But my question is; will the stakeholders have the will to implement these recommendations or will the report, as usual, be allowed to gather dust at our various shelves?