Nigeria has a history of poor election management. The nation’s inability to conduct free and fair elections on a general scale has cost her humongous losses in cash, people and property. It has also stymied socio-economic growth. Much more, it has left the polity in sixes and sevens: total disarray. Election-wise, the nation ambles in disoriented swagger.
One good start today, a faulty step tomorrow. This is the consensus even among the political class. But more often, we lay the blame for such electoral malady on the door step of the umpire, nothing more. The rest actors in the political space retreat to their shells in pious withdrawal.
It is a replay from the past. What we see in the polity every election year is a further relapse into election dystopia. The unruly mob of horrendously rascally politicians, an impoverished electorate that is too willing to compromise, a pathetically partisan media, a scandal ridden electoral commission and a cash-for-judgement judiciary among others make up the evil ensemble that haunt the electoral process. At the end, we are left with same of the old: contentious election results.
The auguries never looked good. From the 1959 election that ushered the nation into the hallway of sovereignty, all elections in the country have had one smudge or the other. Sometimes, the aftermath of the elections turn gory and bloody. The result of the 1993 election was generally accepted as reflecting the wishes of the people but the ruling military class had other ideas. It connived with a few civilian elite to annul the election. The aftermath of that action was colossal. Killing, maiming and destruction of property added to the grief of an already distressed nation.
Yet, each time we discuss the way forward, we seem fixated on reductionism. We over-simplify the matter to the extent of believing that once we change the umpire, we would get a better deal. This reductio ad absurdum of arguing that changing the umpire would change the outcome has provided a window of escape for the other culprits in the electoral mess. It makes the politicians look like saints when in reality they are the devils of the electoral muddle.
At conferences, seminars, colloquiums and lectures, the fad is for politicians to mount the podium and pour venom at the electoral umpire without first condemning the evil they themselves perpetrated in the course of any election. No politician publicly owns up to his own malfeasance. All they do is blame INEC, NEC, FEDECO. They all play Pontius Pilate: wash their hands off the electoral stink. I have always argued that changing the referee in the nation’s political game without changing the attitude of the players (politicians), the spectators (electorate) and the usually tensed up political milieu cannot conduce to credible polls.
This was why I felt a sense of relief and vindication the other day listening to the governor of Delta State, Emmanuel Uduaghan. In a lecture titled ‘The Imperatives of Conducting Credible Elections in 2011’ delivered at the Faculty of Arts, University of Lagos, the governor gave a fresh perspective to Nigeria’s electoral morass. He did not walk the path of simplification of a complex national embarrassment. He did not play the Ostrich by pretending to be oblivious of the yearnings of people for a credible electoral process in 2011.
According to Uduaghan, the freeness and fairness or otherwise of any election goes beyond the qualifications, academic and moral, of the umpire. There are good reasons to believe him. Here’s one: the intimidating profiles of past umpires. Step forth: Eyo Esua, a consummate trade unionist whose appointment was well received. But he conducted the 1964 and 1965 elections both of which produced contentious results. End point was chaos and anarchy in the land; Michael Ani, a highly respected retired federal permanent secretary was next. He conducted the 1979 election which ended up with the voodoo arithmetic of two-thirds majority.
Bring on the venerable retired Chief Judge Victor Ovie-Whiskey. His 1983 election results resonated across the nation with outlandish terms like ‘landslide’, ‘seaslide’ and ‘moonslide’ used to describe the outlandish results of that election. The confusion that followed provided a perfect alibi for the military to seize power. Then there were Professors Eme Awa and Humphrey Nwosu, Okon Edet Uya, Sumner Dagogo-Jack, Justice Ephraim Akpata of the Supreme Court fame, Abel Guobadia and Professor Maurice Iwu, a Fulbright and Schulze award winner.
All of these men were accomplished in their previous stations before their appointment as the nation’s electoral umpire but none left his position with his reputation intact. Not even Nwosu often deified as having conducted the freest and fairest election in 1993. A Lagos-based magazine in the midst of the shenanigans that trailed the conduct of his election described Nwosu as ‘Dirty Humphrey’ in its cover. What does this say? It is not the umpire but in the entire polity: in the system. Uduaghan put it most succinctly: “It is lack of will to follow the due process. It is about leadership and the definition of the character of our politics…it is the promotion of the repugnant do or die politics that makes capturing power and being in government the only means of livelihood for some people”.
Here’s the bottom line: The conduct of credible election is everybody’s business starting with the leadership, in this instance President Goodluck Jonathan and the governors etc. It would require the commitment of not only Professor Attahiru Jega and his new team at INEC but every Nigerian irrespective of station or calling.
Strategically, it would require the non-partisanship of the security personnel most of whom had been recruited in the past by politicians to perfect the orgy of primitive rigging that hallmarked previous elections.