With the declaration that President Muhammadu Buhari is the winner of the 2019 presidential election, there is the urgent need to plead with the main protagonists in this critical situation to make Nigeria the real winner and not the tragic loser.
Declaring Buhari as the winner of the election may be the easier part; but the hard part could be the act of political forces working together to make sure that the nation does not lose at the end.
Nigeria will be the winner if justice is seen to be done with players acting as democrats and lessons are drawn from the observed faults in the process for the purpose of the future. How to summon the national spirit to do this is the problematic of the moment.
It is at once in the interest of the people and that of the ruling class that with the declaration made by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)’s chairman Professor Mahmood Yakubu, the nation should be the winner because the issues already thrown up would transcend the verdict.
The issues are fundamentally those of political underdevelopment. To tackle them after the conclusion of the elections, a lot of work needs to be done at the post-electoral period by all political forces and relevant non-partisan institutions.
For instance, rigorous efforts should made to halt the dragging of the army, police and other security agents into the acrimonious arena of partisan politics. Their professionalism and impartiality is a condition for the stability of the system. This should ordinarily be obvious to all political players. As they say, although the conduct of election is the job of INEC, yet other institutions must play their roles creditably to make INEC accomplish its task. So, it would not be the job of INEC alone.
It is basic that a peaceful atmosphere must be maintained to tackle the issues. After all, it was in this spirit that peace accords were signed by the major protagonists in a patriotic exercise organised by a national group led former Head of State General Abdulsalami Abubakar. In particular, the symbolism of the warm hand shakes between President Muhammadu Buhari of the APC and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the PDP on one occasion of signing the accord was assumed to resonate with clear messages of peace to their supporters. However, not a few must have observed that in contrast, the killings reported in the last weekend election showed that the message of peace has not sunk deep enough to the political actors on the field.
Averting a post-electoral crisis is, therefore, an imperative in the circumstance. That is why those who may be dissatisfied with the outcomes of the last Saturday’s presidential and National Assembly elections should explore the legal option to seek redress. This counsel has been widely offered to all the political competitors. On this note, it is somewhat relieving that legal teams are reportedly being assembled by political parties in anticipation of this peaceful option. Well, as an aside, it is good news for lawyers who appear to have specialised in handling election cases at the tribunal.
A peaceful regime is also important even for the conclusion of the process with the next week’s governorship and State House of Assembly’s elections.
The focus seems to be on the presidential election because of the enormous powers and responsibilities of the President; but the state elections are also very important because of the crucial governance responsibilities of the governors and the state legislators. Almost 48% of the revenues accruing to the federation account are allocated to the states and local governments. The state governments practically control the whole of the allocations and the internally generated revenues in most states. Even pending the restructuring of the federation as some patriots advocate, if governance is conducted in a more competent manner at the state government levels, a lot of improvement could be brought to the quality of the lives of the people based on the existing constitutional powers. For instance, the choice of the members of the state legislators is central to the quality of governance at that tier of government. It is not just enough to elect an “action governor,” his efforts should be complemented with the election of a competent and well-equipped assembly of lawmakers who could scrutinise his budgets and insist on fiscal responsibility.
Since 1999, the national parliament has been variously reported as having disputes with the executive, but hardly do state legislators query unconstitutional steps of the governors some of whom have carried on as local emperors.
While the politicians go the tribunal to dispute the counting of votes, law enforcement agents must ensure that the bodies of those killed in the course of electoral violence are duly counted. Every life should be accounted for in the tragedies unfolding in different parts of the country. In other words, those who kill in the name of elections should be duly apprehended and prosecuted. If those who kill in 2019 are not punished like those who did in 2007, 2011 or 2015, some criminals could be emboldened to kill again in 2023. For instance thugs who later danced with it round a town in Rivers State allegedly beheaded a party official. In another incident a soldier was among six persons killed. A lady, an ad-hoc member of staff of INEC, was reportedly hit by a stray bullet and died. This is simply an unacceptable trend in any social order based on the rule of law. The gory stories of bloodletting should not be a normal part of elections. The normal should be that those voters, candidates and the umpire see elections as periodic celebration of democracy and not warfare. The society should not be turned into a temporary jungle in the season of elections.
Bloodletting diminishes the humanity and hence the legitimacy of the electoral process regardless of what the court says is the verdict. The society is ultimately the loser when men and women are killed in the process of voting. Politicians across the spectrum should be concerned about this destructive feature of their game.
Apart from killings, all cases of electoral offence should be investigated and the culprits are punished as deterrence to such crimes in future elections.
Meanwhile, both the APC and the PDP have made allegations of rigging during the last Saturday elections in different states. Punishing the culprits according the law in proven cases of electoral crimes would help a great deal to clean up the system. Rigging and killings have become features of elections because these crimes are committed with impunity. An end must, therefore be put to this reign of impunity.
The recommendation for the establishment of a tribunal for electoral offences should be implemented. All the allegations against politicians and their agents as well INEC staff and law enforcement and security personnel ought to be handled by such a tribunal in order not to over-burden the INEC which already has a sundry cases in court arising even from party primaries.
The establishment of the tribunal would, of course, be an element of the wide-ranging electoral reforms being advocated by many patriots. The room for improvement in the process is a very wide one. Hence, the reforms should be based squarely on the implementations of panel reports already accepted by government and the signing of the electoral bill passed by the National Assembly. It is also clear that further application of technology would make the process more efficient.
The quality of the democratic content of the process should also be a subject of interrogation. It is expected that experts would later examine some of the hidden messages in the current process. With over 11 million registered voters not bothering to collect their Permanent Voters’ Card (PVCs) and barely 20% per cent turn out of voters in some places on the election day, the degree of participation is far from being satisfactory. This is a huge deficit in the democratic process. After all, for liberal democracy to be meaningfully representative, it has to be sufficiently participatory especially in the process of election. Parties should not be formed just for the sole purpose of nominating candidates for elections. Political mobilisation is another crucial function of political parties. It is the duty of parties to raise the political education of their members. When parties formed few months to the election become victorious in elections, it is often implicit in their stories that the parties must have embarked on massive mobilisation and political education of their members, supporters and voters at large. So the dozens of parties whose names appear on the ballot paper should not proceed on political hibernation soon after the elections next week. They should continuously embark on strengthening their organisational capacities so that they are able perform the other important functions of political parties in a liberal democracy.
Above all, politicians should be reminded that election is not all there is to liberal democracy. Buhari as the winner, Atiku as main challenger and other candidates should ponder the purpose of election in looking into the future of Nigeria.
Democracy should not be reduced to a periodic hollow ritual of voters queuing to put papers into ballot boxes. In fact, election is only a means to an end: the delivery of governance to improve the quality of lives of the people. It is an important way of getting the people interested in the democratic process. This point is often emphasised by social democrats that are active in liberal democratic settings. The content of democracy should include social justice. This should could be concretised, for instance, by promoting social economic rights in policy.
In the current Nigerian context there is hardly any sharp ideological divide reflected in the manifestoes of the main parties. It is because of the lack of ideological boundaries that politicians migrate back and forth among the political parties. Some politicians who contested on the APC platform in this year’s election were PDP candidates in 2015. Nothing stops the same politicians from going back to seek the PDP tickets in 2023. Maybe an unintended benefit of this political culture to the system is that whichever political party comes to power should not have any difficulty in continuing with programmes of the previous government.
To achieve this ultimate purpose of elections, the political elite will have to develop a culture of quickly overcoming bitterness in resolving disputes arising from elections and forge a consensus for planning for Nigeria’s progress and development based on an organising principle.
Suitable elements available in the system should be employed to make the national plans work. When elections have such outcomes, it is not only the candidate with the highest number of votes with the widest spread that would be the winner. Nigeria will be the ultimate winner.
Nigeria will be the winner if justice is seen to be done with players acting as democrats and lessons are drawn from the observed faults in the process for the purpose of the future. How to summon the national spirit to do this is the problematic of the moment