By Jerome-Mario Utomi
The central interest of this piece is not to spot leadership faults in Nigeria, or proffer solutions to what the present administration is not doing well to salvage the socioeconomic wellbeing of the poor masses. Rather, the present piece is out to perform two separate but related functions.
First, as the nation races towards 2023 general elections, the piece x-rays the volume/strength with which foreign observers have in the past two decades raised strong voices against uncivil antics particularly the thorny transparency-challenge that characterized concluded elections in Nigeria and the organized resentment it brought to the nation at the global stage/ exposed the nation to the pangs of sociopolitical challenges that prevent her from enthroning true democracy that ensures a corruption free society.
Secondly, it is primed and positioned to find both practical and pragmatic ways Nigerians and particularly the present administration can use the forthcoming 2023 general election to correct the nation’s leadership challenge which is gravitating towards becoming a culture. Aside from the fact that we cannot solve our socio-political challenges with the same thinking we used when we created it, the 2023 electoral project will among other things demand finding nations that have met the electoral challenges that we currently face, how they had tackled it and how successful they had become. We must admit and adopt both structural and mental changes, approaches that impose more discipline than is conventional.
Indeed, we are challenged to develop the world perspective in performing the traditional but universal responsibility which the instrumentality of participatory democracy and election of leaders confers on us, as no individual or nation can live alone and our geographical oneness has to a large extent come into being through modern man scientific ingenuity.
Again, with the amendment of the electoral Act that presently accommodates the electronic transmission of results, one can say that as a nation, we have made some political/electoral gains. However, to help achieve electoral perfection in the country, there exists also, a Study report which provides a link between the factors that impede credible election in Nigeria as well as made far-reaching measures that could pave way for development and orderliness in the nation’s political sphere. The report was put together by the Centre For Value in Leadership (CVL), Lagos in partnership with the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC), and supported by MacArthur Foundation. It has 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, it 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 settle election disputes.
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 bodies. And, the procedure for appointment and removal of INEC chairman and members of the board should be reviewed.
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 expertise as well as political independence. There should be adequate time between resolution of conflicts and swearing-in of elected officials; section 134 (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 underlying legal grounds in their consideration of injunctions.
Aside from adopting or enforcing 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.
Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via;email@example.com/08032725374.