By Eddie Mbadiwe
These are integrity times. It is proper therefore to start with a confession. I was one of those that congratulated Professor Jega and the Independent National Electoral Commission at the conclusion of the 2015 polls. That congratulation was however qualified contextually vis-à-vis earlier elections. In our recent history (Pre 2015) it is fact that a few governors were thumb-printed, results written and elections won before the actual voting. Such governors served out their terms in spite of tribunals and courts.
Massive rigging, thuggery and brigandage which unfortunately are integral parts of the Nigeria electoral cycle also played out in 2015. Any movement to transparent elections must have truth as the foundation. Any other premise will be self-denial and chasing shadows. Nigerians must look at ourselves eyeball to eyeball and say it is as it is.
Nigeria must worry about the long-term prospects for democracy in our land. True democracy involves the unfettered freedom by eligible voters to get into polling booths and cast their votes in the firm belief that their votes will decide who rules them. In the same vein, it is worrying that people can blatantly commit election crimes, then perjury in court and openly boast about it, ‘O’ rule of law why have you abandoned us?
There is trepidation in the land and hence this clarion call to INEC to do all that is humanly possible to stop this electoral rut. Forces of evil seem to be in the ascendency fighting to eclipse the good people of Nigeria. When wise people withdraw and fail to speak up, evil blossoms as nature abhors a vacuum.
Mr. President in his recent visit to London in an interactive session appealed to Nigerians resident in the U.K to come home. This must have pleased David Cameron for there are millions of our countrymen living permanently in Britain. Mr. President, they heard you loud and clear but let me save you the stress. The simple response is that they will not come. Abike Dabiri-Erewa who you recently appointed SSA with duties including Diaspora will confirm this. Many of these are hard-nosed professionals and business people are among the brightest and best in the world in their chosen professions. A few who dared to join the political train here were frustrated by the reinforced brick-wall placed as a barrier by their home resident peers. Penetration was impossible and majority hurried back with red eyes and bloody nose. They would rather forget the expense and have their peace of mind.
The other reason is that a number of Nigerian elite do not have the liver to fight and effect meaningful change. Every change comes with sacrifice and a price and many are not prepared to pay the price. Their comfort zone is much more enjoyable and it is easier to be arm-chair critics and all-knowing pundits.
To ensure that politics does not get entrenched as it is at the moment, we have to do serious re-thinking and do a re-jig of the salaries, perks and allowances of political office holders. Politics must be and also be seen as an avenue for service to humanity. It does not have to be the only business in town as people are now saying.
As long as these fundamental issues are not addressed and sorted, elections will continue to be fights to the finish in which the winner takes all. The whole election cycle has become a circus and one huge joke as an American visitor recently put it. Even in this change agenda with a 2016 padded yet to be passed budget, there are loud rumblings about staccato distribution of major projects. Is it all doom and gloom? Far from it: Nigerians are ranked among the happiest people in the world who will never accept a state of anomie. Most of us are incurable optimists and Fela captured the mood of the nation graphically when he composed “Suffering and Smiling” na so e be my compatriots.
An attitudinal change similar to what obtains in the North with comparatively few election petitions because everything is interpreted as ‘the will of God’ will help keep hope alive.
The National Assembly owes Nigerians an urgent duty to dissect, revamp and put together a new Electoral Act. The current one has so many lacunae which trigger the numerous and unnecessary election petitions and court cases. INEC spends billions unnecessarily in legal fees.
The Judiciary will also have to brush up its act for different judgements for similar cases cannot build confidence. An example is Senator Uche Ekwunife in Anambra State and Governor Ishaku in Taraba State and Uche seems to have gotten the rough end of the stick. The more important function of the Judiciary which is concerned with creation and maintenance of a just Society is being neglected and pushed to the back burner. The recent vituperations against the Judiciary must be condemned for the day we destroy the judiciary, it is nunc dimitis and to thy tents ‘O’ Nigerians.
Until these issues are addressed and rectified and INEC produces results that have the public trust, politicians will stupidly continue to create many SAN lawyer billionaires with the plethora of court cases.
Mbadiwe was the Deputy Chairman, National Security (7th Assembly)