CAN BUHARI ORGANISE A FREE ELECTION?                                                               

Wednesday comment1

Sonnie Ekwowusi urges the electorate to ensure that their votes count during the forthcoming elections

The above question, in my view, is the most important question to be tackled at the moment. Why? Because if the 2019 election had been rigged or will be rigged then we are just wasting our time preparing for elections that had been ‘won’ and ‘lost’. Therefore all the political parties jostling for the 2019 election should be asking themselves this question on the threshold of the elections. Ditto for the electorate.  Beyond mounting their campaign posters and photographs along the major streets, the political candidates should similarly be asking themselves the same question. Former President Goodluck Jonathan gave INEC a free had to organise the 2015 election. He even accepted defeat and congratulated Muhammadu Buhari even before the official announcement of the result of the presidential election by INEC. Now, will President Buhari, in the same vein, give INEC a free hand to organise a free and fair elections in 2019? I have my doubts. For example, the scientific rigging that occurred in Edo and Ekiti States governorship elections and recently in Osun governorship election is indicative of the monumental rigging that will occur in the 2019 election especially in the Presidential election.

Undoubtedly President Buhari and his followers know very well that all the things that could possibly go wrong in a country have all gone wrong under this government in the last three and half years. For example, in 2015 Nigeria had a fairly robust economy with a GDP of N600 billion (largest in Africa) and an annual growth rate of 6.4%, a single digit inflation rate and an unemployment rate of 13%. But alarmingly, since Buhari came to power unemployment rate in Nigeria has now risen up to 33.1%. More than 10 million Nigerians have lost their jobs within the same period. Nigeria is now the poverty capital of the world. Recently we were told that Nigeria has now overtaken India as the country with the largest number of people living with extreme poverty. The Buhari government came to power on the cheap mantra of fighting corruption. Now the Buhari government has become the nerve-centre of corruption in Nigeria. Imagine US 2.5 billion missing at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). US 3.2 billion illegally withdrawn by the government from the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) company’s dividend account. Over US 1 billion missing from the accounts of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA). N117 billion missing at the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA). N5.8 billion unaccounted for by the Nigerian Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). In the 2018 Global Ranking of the OXFAM and Development Finance International (DFI), Nigeria is ranked 157 out of 157 countries.  Nigeria is now the third worst country in the world to live in. In fact, Nigeria is ranked 152 out of 157 countries in the World Bank’s Human Capital Index which was released last week. The latest UNICEF report ranks Nigeria as the 11th highest on newborn deaths, that is, Nigeria is the 11th country in the world with the highest number of new babies that are dying every year. Corollary to this is that Nigeria is the 11th most dangerous country in the world to be delivered of a baby. Nigeria is now ranked second among the 137 countries with the worst electricity supply in 2017 (I hope Fashola is listening). The 2017 Global Terrorism Index (GTI) has recently been released and Nigeria, for the third year running, still occupies the third position (after Iraq and Afghanistan) as the most terrorised country in the world.  Nigeria has the worst Police Force in the world.  According to a recent BBC Report on July 25, 2018 “Nigeria has the largest number of out-of-school children (totalling 13 million children) in the world.” JP Morgan Chase has left Nigeria. Prior to pulling out, it warned the Buhari government about the suffocating effects of its foreign exchange fixing policies. HSBC has also recently left Nigeria.

The deduction from the above is that the Buhari government has woefully failed. Except the government rigs the 2019 election it will be voted out. If you carry out a random poll, say, on the 2019 Presidential Election, you will discover that eight out of 10 eligible and PVC-carrying voters in the streets of Nigeria have sworn that they will never vote for Buhari next year.  Although President Buhari has said that he is committed to a free and fair election, his actions betray his words. For example, the president has for the umpteenth time withheld his assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2018 which many believe is a great antidote to election rigging.   Last week the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) released a pessimistic report on the 2019 elections in Nigeria. The report states that the 2019 election in Nigeria might not be free and fair and might be marred by electoral violence. In his paper titled: Nigeria’s 2019 elections: Change, Continuity and the Risk to Peace; Summary of key Findings, a fellow of USIP, Mr. Aly Verjee said that it is doubtful whether INEC will conduct a free and fair and violence-free elections in Nigeria in 2019. He said that there is the possibility that the APC may “use intimidating tactics to shore up the votes while similar intimidation could be applied to deter large turn-out of electorate in the opposition strongholds”. In conclusion, Verjee advised INEC and security agents in Nigeria to eschew bias, political partisanship and undue influence in the discharge of their duties.

So you can see that the main assignment at the moment is to get the Buhari government, INEC, Police and the security agents deployed to supervise the elections to organise a free and fair elections in Nigeria in 2019. It will be naïve for the opposition to relax on the assumption that the elections will be free and fair. The opposition should carry out finding on INEC chair Prof Mahmood Yakubu to ascertain whether he is capable of organising a free and fair election in 2019. And if the result of the finding reveals that he is biased in favour of any political party then the opposition should demand for his immediate removal. Oftentimes elections are rigged at the state level by Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs). The pertinent questions are: who are the current RECs involved in the 2019 election? Are they secret card-carrying members of any political party?  Can the opposition vouch for their character? The answers to these questions will determine to a large extent whether the 2019 election will be free and fair or not. The leaders of the international community should write to President Buhari and urge him to organise a free and fair elections in 2019.  They should also let him know the terrible consequences of a rigged electoral process. International and local election observers and monitors should start their respective observations and monitoring now. They should understand that election rigging does not only occur at the polling booths on the Election Day. On their part, the people must shed off their cowardice now. They should stand up and be counted. Instead of grumbling on WhatsApp platforms that President Buhari has ruined Nigeria, the people should troop out en-masse on Election Day and cast their votes. Equally they should ensure that their votes count.

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