Anyone in doubt that Nigerian democracy is in dire straits and so thinks that we can sit back and bask in our democracy being better than what they have in the neighboring countries needs to read Alabi Williams’ expository interview with Professor Adele Jinadu (Guardian, Sunday April 8).
Jinadu is a former President of the Nigerian Political Science Association and a man many will credit, along with a handful of others, of laying the intellectual foundations of this democracy.
He didn’t mince words in dismissing the regime of consensus arrangement in the choice of leaders as a mockery of democratic principles. Although the ruling Peoples Democratic Party loomed large in the backdrop of this very serious charge, he made no exception for the opposition parties, accusing them of lacking when it comes to internal democracy. “The consensus arrangement is flawed, lacks legitimacy and is undemocratic … unfortunately, the process for reaching consensus arrangement adopted by most of our political parties, including those who flaunt the armour of pro-democracy are gravely deficit in their democratic character.”
With all these things happening in broad daylight, many would wonder what has become of the Independent National Electoral Commission, the regulator-in-chief of the political party system. To begin with, this is not about Professor Attahiru Jega, INEC Chairman, who is a brilliant scholar and a respectable civil society advocate in his own right. From the point of view of this critical admirer, Jega appears to have set himself for a great failure by limiting his sights and work to election management without the necessary attention paid to the legality, validity and the moral and ethical standards of persons and institutions in the party system.
Nigerians have the choice of either dismissing what happened with the circus called party congresses and the long line of rerun elections following various court decisions in the aftermath of the 2011 general elections which, in nearly all of the cases, returned those characters that were sacked following proven cases of fraud and cheating; so we can choose to lie down and pray that the courts, which cancelled those elections may devise new ways of redressing electoral grievances. Alternatively, we as parties, individuals and civil society groups must send out clear, unambiguous message to the INEC and the parties that we are not prepared to accept such outrages as part of the political system and are determined to do whatever it takes to change the unwanted situation. When a court determines that a candidate has cheated or is unworthy of the post for which he/she ran, then goes ahead to nullify that election, what message does a party send by re-presenting the cheater for a re-run? What message does INEC, on the other hand, send by pre-qualifying that candidate, and thereafter declaring him/her as winner of the rerun?
The record of voter turn-out in all these rerun elections is something to cheer. People turned out in large numbers to vote. Their faith in these democratic practices is heartening, which contrasts sharply with the general picture that people are not happy with politics and politicians, mostly due to their pathetic performance.
This large turn-out, I must add, is in recognition and the faith they have that the political process is the only way to deal with corrupt and inefficient politicians. The threat to this is the seeming nonchalance of INEC to the breaches of the democratic value system characterised by impunity and the lack of supervision and control, which the law vests in the INEC. There is a clear evidence that this is already posing a danger to our electoral democracy. Punishing the guilty to the full extent of the law, as recently advocated by Justice Dahiru Musdapher, the new Chief Justice of the Federation, would appear to be the only remedy or deterrent that works. As a social scientist, Jega himself knows that a long term solution lies in behavioural and attitudinal changes in a situation where election rigging has been entrenched in the Nigerian society to such an extent. Equally important is that the INEC and the political class must stop taking the courts and the confidence of the people in the political process for granted.
Are they (parties, INEC) saying that we no more have the concept of free and fair election? Without cheaters suffering any loss or sanction, must we go on wasting public resources hosting reruns when these merely reinforce the given electoral heists?
Are the parties and INEC saying to Nigerians that there is no more a concept of legal redress for purported loser? When court decisions are invalidated and falsified as you had it in the Bayelsa gubernatorial polls, are they telling the courts to stay out and that this window for a redress is also closed?
Are parties and INEC telling us that the concept of candidature is no more, when a candidate wins a primary election (Dr. Musa Babayo) and is armtwisted to surrender the ticket to the loser? With all these acts of crass brigandage, it is difficult to fathom why INEC sits there like a scarecrow, says nothing, does nothing and makes no effort to sanitize the party system as characterless politicians make a mess of it. The threat this poses to the declining electoral democracy cannot be underestimated. Based on this, INEC and the parties must team up with the police in tackling the various manifestations of the shameful reality of election rigging and the rising incidence of impunity and dictatorship by and within political parties. There is no time to waste. The clock is ticking and we can only hope that it is not a doomsday one.
“Democracy,” said Winston Churchill “is the worst form of government, except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
Electoral democracy has emerged as the political system of choice all around the world. In 2007, the Freedom House in the US surveyed the world and reported 123 countries enjoying electoral democracy. In 1950, there were only 22. Of course, a close examination of these countries will show that many of these democracies are far from the ideal. The problem Nigeria has is that INEC, with responsibility for the regulation of the democratic space, seems content being the regulator of elections, leaving the value system, an important part of its regulatory job assigned to no one in particular.
The failure of this responsibility calls for a response from civil society on the scale and intensity of the war against former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s third term aspiration.
Perhaps in recognition of the public perception of INEC’s timorous posture to these undemocratic and unjust practices, Professor Jega recently complained that the provisions of the Electoral Act 2010 have bound the hands of INEC, making it a passive observer in the internal conduct of political parties. According to him, under these legal strictures, INEC can only monitor but cannot interfere or enforce any standard on the political parties.
One, however, feels that this defeatist posture is not enough to extricate Jega from public blame. If INEC is so concerned about this disgraceful and outrageous assault on basic democratic practices, it should initiate amendments to the Electoral Act to give INEC stronger voice or say in the enforcement of internal democracy. There again, some cynical Nigerians may argue that the National Assembly members, as beneficiaries of unfair contest, will be reluctant to strengthen the hands of INEC in this respect. However, INEC should still set the ball rolling by initiating changes to the Electoral laws. Such move may put the lawmakers in the court of public opinion, making them decide between making laws for their benefits or the public interest.