Point Of Order With Nonso Ezeani: Flawed Elections In Nigeria; Who Takes The Blame?

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On a personal note, I have asked and will always ask: Does the INEC rig elections? 

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) have been in the eye of the storm lately in view of popular perception held by Nigerians that the commission is not prepared to handle the task of conducting credible elections. Overtime, matters related to elections have continued to generate tension amongst stakeholders. Some political parties have continued to cry out to the heavens about INEC unpreparedness to conduct credible elections. Civil society groups have accused the commission of fraternizing with politicians that have vested interests in elections.

The 2003 elections saw the INEC receiving kicks from prominent Nigerians and groups that felt the INEC under Dr. Abel Guobadia was substantially compromised; the election petitions tribunal had a field day hearing cases bothering on electoral fraud. A couple of those cases are yet to be decided till this day. I wonder when they will and what the effect of that ultimate decision will be. In 2007, the outcome was not very different from what was obtained in 2003. Incidences of snatching of ballot boxes were heard, seen and reported in many places. Alhaji Lamidi Ariyibi Adedibu was known to have instigated several incidences of electoral fraud in Oyo State. Sen. Chris Ngige was also a known beneficiary of electoral fraud in Anambra State. The E.U and a host of other independent observers had described that election as a massive fraud. Prof. Maurice Iwu, the Chairman of the INEC at that time obviously did not give a damn.

In 2007, Late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was applauded for his admittance that the electoral process that saw him emerge president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria was fraught with irregularities. As an individual, I had expected that such an admission on his part will have caused the entire process to be nullified but that was never to be hence justifying the position of the group of Nigerians that believed that the independence of the electoral commission have been compromised. Shortly after the death of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, then President Goodluck Jonathan offered himself as a participant in the 2011 elections. At that time, he enjoyed more goodwill than he currently does. A family member that had gone to vote described the process as seamless. He further opined that it were as if the voters had agreed that every vote must be cast in favor of the PDP candidate. 

At the end of the exercise, the PDP carried the day. It is important that I stated here that as a result of the goodwill enjoyed by the PDP candidate, there was a significant drop in the volume of election petitions before the courts. The INEC did a good job then. In recent times, the lowest point came for the commission following the recently concluded Anambra State gubernatorial elections. While the opposition were of the opinion that the INEC had connived with agents of the federal and state governments to rig the elections, the commission gave itself a few knocks before going on to imply that the process was credible. A few candidates formed a coalition and voiced out their misgivings as it related to the outcome of that elections. In their opinion, the election was rigged!

Dr. Donald Duke (Former Governor of Cross River State) once gave a lecture on how elections are rigged in Nigeria. That lecture notwithstanding, it is important to note that following the emergence of Prof. Attahiru Jega as Chairman of the INEC there has been a major paradigm shift from the old order to a new order in the conduct of elections. With the emergence of this new order in the conduct of elections, more than ever, Nigerians have been asked to take charge and decide how elections will turn out. While in times past, we witnessed card carrying members of political parties emerging as polling clerks, presiding officers and returning officers in elections, these days, the youth (the leaders of tomorrow) are in greater charge.

While members of the NYSC are been recruited as adhoc staff of the INEC as polling clerks, federal civil servants are being appointed as returning officers. This is an area that should be considered before further accusations are heaped on the INEC for conducting flawed elections. The Chairman of the INEC is a single individual that cannot afford to be in two places at a time. The commission is known to have spent huge funds in training and orientation of ad hoc staff. The essence of this exercise is to make it known to the ad hoc staff that a huge responsibility has been placed on them as umpires. The hugeness and importance of this responsibility cannot be underemphasized.

If members of the NYSC and the federal civil servants so recruited allow themselves to be used as tools in the hands of desperate politicians, will we be fair to accuse the INEC of being the brain behind rigged elections. Even though the INEC cannot be totally exonerated in its capacity as the main umpire, it is important that we considered the fact that larger society has a great role to play. Every society gets the kind of leadership it deserves hence this is a wakeup call to Nigerians. We are and will remain major stake holders in our electoral process. If we refuse to participate actively, dubious persons will keep taking us for a ride, desperate politicians will never get tired of stealing votes during elections and it will continue to be to the detriment of ordinary Nigerians.

On the home front, parents should as a matter of service to Mother Nigeria urge their undergraduate wards to shun the antics of desperate politicians that rely on them to perpetrate fraud during elections since they are normally part of the adhoc staff that the electoral commission will always employ. Wives and Husbands should decide never to be willing tools in the hands of dubious persons that will court their friendship during election periods. The clergy appears to never want to be involved in politics, but it is only necessary that they reconsidered their positions as history has it that in several incidences of government excesses, it only took a major action by religious bodies to get the government back to the right track.

The Churches and Mosques should learn to shun politicians that stole their way to electoral victory. That category of politicians should stop being invited to fund raising events to “build for the Lord.” The traditional system should discontinue the rat race of conferring chieftaincy titles on thieves in government. The judiciary has an indispensable role to play in this issue. Legal practitioners should rise to the occasion and learn to decline certain briefs irrespective of the fees attached to them because some politicians are known to bask on the euphoria that the electoral laws are full of loopholes which they can exploit in connivance with lawyers that feel they owe Mother Nigeria no moral obligation as it relates to the kind of briefs they accept.

Political parties also have a major role to play in the task of making our electoral process better. The just concluded gubernatorial elections in Anambra State witnessed a remarkable incidence of voters’ apathy. While some parties to that election were swift to have heaped the blame on the INEC, they exonerated themselves making it appear as if besides contesting elections and hurling abuses at one another on newspapers and social media, they have no other civic function. Hell no, it is the responsibility of political parties to go an extra mile in educating Nigerians on the dangers of sitting on the fence and feeling indifferent to matters related to elections. This, the political parties should do alongside warning their members on the dangers they subject Nigeria to if and when they choose to aid and abate electoral misconduct.

Beyond the One man, one vote slogan, if with one voi ce and the right attitude Nigerians rise and say a resounding no to electoral fraud and other forms of irregularities and malpractices, the scourge will die a natural death.

I adjourn!

Ezeani, Chukwunonso Elvis is the Convener, Friends of Nigeria; the green group. He writes in from Lagos, Nigeria.

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