How Not to Conduct Elections

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  • By Emmanuel Onwubiko•

 “The witnesses standing at the edge of the field were staring in horrified silence, too stunned to speak. The nightmare dredged up from some deep, dark depths of primitive man’s collective unconscious. Each witness had a different reaction. One fainted. A second one vomited. A woman was shaking uncontrollably. Another one thought: I’m going to have a heart attack! The elderly priest clutched his beads and crossed himself. Help me, Father. Help us all. Protect us against this evil incarnate. We have finally seen the face of Satan. It is the end of the world. Judgment Day has come.”

The above is the prologue of an award-winning novel titled ‘The Doomsday Conspiracy’ by Sidney Sheldon.

But these scenarios painted graphically herein in this novel represents the clearest description of the atmospheric trailing the conduct of the February 23rd 2019 election in which several conspiracy theories have been unleashed by the sheer volume of empirical evidence of dereliction of duty by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The main conspiracy theory is that the prolonged delay in publishing the results of the Presidential election is surely one way of manipulating the outcomes to favour the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari against his main challenger Atiku Abubakar who is the favourite to win going by several pre-election projections and opinion polls.

To begin with, we need to note that election is the process of selecting through the exercise of the right to vote by citizens, the group of persons or the individual that would pilot the affairs of the nation state or a part thereof for a given period of time.

In the case of Nigeria the constitution that is the grand norm specifies that there is a four year tenure for all elected executives and legislators both of the national and state levels.

The exercise of the right to vote or the civil and political rights as enshrined in the nation’s supreme law is said to be the most sacred national task of all eligible citizens. Those who get elected by the free will and free choice of the voters are then clothed with the legal authority and legitimacy to preside over the affairs of the nation politically for the constitutionally allowed duration.

Emeka Onwubiko who is a philosopher and a post graduate Law student in Australia informed this writer that the Australian nation makes voting by all citizens compulsory so long as you are up to the age of universal adult suffrage just as he disclosed that defaulters are fined around $30 dollars for failing to vote.

In Nigeria, the institution created by law to conduct periodic elections is known as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) just as Third Schedule, part 1, article 14 (1) provides as follows: “The Independent National Electoral Commission shall comprise the following members – (a) a Chairman, who shall be the Chief Electoral Commissioner; and (b) twelve other members to be known as National Electoral Commissioners, who shall be persons of unquestionably integrity and not less than fifty years and forty years of age, respectively.”

INEC is created by virtue of section 153 (1) even as section 158 (1) confers autonomy to INEC thus: “153 (1) There shall be established for the Federation the following bodies, namely: (a) Code of Conduct Bureau; (b) Council of State; (c) Federal Character Commission; (d) Federal Civil Service Commission; (e) Federal Judicial Service Commission; (f) Independent National Electoral Commission; (g) National Defence Council; (h) National Economic Council; (i) National Judicial Council; (j) National Population Commission; (k) National Security Council; (l) Nigeria Police Council; (m) Police Service Commission; and (n) Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission.”

“158 (1) In exercising its power to make appointments or to exercise disciplinary control over persons, the Code of Conduct Bureau, the National Judicial Council, the Federal Civil Service Commission, the Federal Judicial Service Commission, the Revenue Mobilization and Fiscal Commission, the Federal Character Commission, and the Independent National Electoral Commission shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other authority or person.”

These constitutional provisions are put in place to safeguard the credibility and integrity of the electoral process even as the independence of the body is also provided for in such a robust manner that the tenure of office of those who constitute the hierarchy of the electoral process are protected from undue infringements by the executive given that it would take the national Assembly’s vote to terminate their appointments.

However, since democracy came in 1999 till date, the electoral body has consistently lowered the standards and ethical frame works under which elections have been conducted even as corruption has eroded the integrity and credibility of the electoral system to such a toxic extent that majority of the electorate see election as cash-and-carry transactional activity.

The February 16th 2019 presidential poll which was postponed and later conducted around February 23rd is the worst in terms of credibility and trust of the people of Nigeria given the numerous hiccups and the inefficient; inelegant and corrupt tendencies being exhibited by officials of INEC to an extent that 48 hours and counting after election was held and results collated at the points and units of actusl voting exercises, there are no results officially released by the national Returning officer who is the head of INEC.

The undue delay in releasing the results by the electoral body has generated a groundswell of doubts, scepticism and erosion of trust by Nigerians; most of whom believe that INEC has compromised the integrity of the process by manipulating the results in favour of preferred presidential candidate.

The tardiness of the Yakubu Mahmood – led INEC takes us to the recent book done by two Harvard University Professors titled “How Democracies Die”.

This award winning book is of the position that the deliberate undermining of the legal autonomy of the electoral body is the fastest way of the collapse of democracy and the birth of autocracy and tyranny.

Chapter 4 of this book by Professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt narrates the ordeals of Peruvians in the hands of Alberto Fujimori; the one time elected democrat who later transmuted into a full-blown dictator by blowing off the roofs of institutional independence of democratic institutions and the judiciary.

The story of Fujimori is not fundamentally different from that of Muhammadu Buhari who became president through a democratic process in 2015 but who has progressively destroyed legislative and judicial independence of key institutions and has become the incumbent president in whose tenure the country witnessed the bloodiest election.

The authors of How Democracies Die stated in short that: “Fujimori got off to a rocky start. Congress failed to pass any legislation during his first months in office, and the courts did not seem up to the task of responding to the mounting terrorist threat. Fujimori not only lacked experience with the intricacies of legislative politics, he also lacked the patience for it. As one of his aides put it, Fujimori “couldn’t stand the idea of inviting the President of the Senate to the Presidential palace every time he wanted Congress to approve a law.” He preferred, as he sometimes bragged, to govern Peru alone – from his laptop.”

They wrote too that: “The assault rarely ends there. Though observers often assure us that demagogues are “all talk” and that their words should not be taken too seriously, a look at demagogic leaders around the world suggests that many of them do eventually cross the line from words to action. This is because a demagogue’s initial rise to power tends to polarize society, creating a climate of panic, hostility, and mutual distrust. The new leader’s threatening words often have a boomerang effect. If the media feels threatened, it may abandon restraint and professional standards in a desperate effort to weaken the government. And the opposition may conclude that, for the good of the country, the government must be removed via extreme measures – impeachment, mass protest, even a coup.”

In the same vein, Buhari dismissed the chief Justice of Nigeria in flagrant violation of the constitution and the presidential election in which he is a contestant has become muddled up in needless controversy because INEC is currently taking ages to reach a determination of who the winner is even as the security forces interrupted the conduct of the polls and disrupted the process. The World is taking note and the global media are paying considerable attention.

Few hours back, one of the foreign online medium reported that Chris Smith, a ranking member of the US House Subcommittee on Africa, has alleged that votes are being tampered with in the ongoing Nigerian elections.

In a message posted on the US house website, Chris Smith is quoted thus”

“Yesterday, Nigeria voted. Today, votes are being counted. I am very concerned by credible reports that the vote is being tampered with. To avoid any manipulation of the tally, it is critical that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announce without delay actual results — which are certified by party agents and observers — at each polling unit as the vote is tabulated.

“Well-placed sources report that in some states and localities — including Anambra, Enugu, Ebonyi, Imo, Abia — INEC commissioners are receiving enormous pressure to alter poll results.  This must not be allowed to happen.

“The eyes of the United States, of Africa, and the world are upon Nigeria and INEC.  I also ask Secretary Michael Pompeo to hold accountable anyone who seeks to cheat the Nigerian people — who have waited patiently — of their vote or foments violence.”

The media went further thus: Nigerians voted, with minor glitches, on Saturday for presidential and National Assembly positions in the 36 states of the country.

The country’s electoral body, INEC has announced that the announcement of results will commerce 11 am on Monday.

The media rightly reported that sporadic violence were reported in some parts of the country mostly in the South South, South West and North central regions. Figures of death casualties stand at 20 with 15 being shot dead by the military in the riverine community of Abonnema in Rivers state.

According to the report, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) earlier accused the ruling All Progressive Congress of planning to rig the elections.

The APC has also accused the PDP of planning to procure a court injunction to stop INEC from announcing the result of the elections tomorrow.”

To be very candid, this isn’t how elections are conducted. INEC under Yakubu Mahmood has brought global opprobrium to Nigeria. Big shame!

Nigerians must organise and take back their Country from reactionary forces.  Sadly, as we await the announcement of the muddy and compromised election, Nigeria may never be the same for at least a decade.

  • Emmanuel Onwubiko is Head, HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA)



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