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2019: What Has Changed?
By Joseph Ushigiale
Finally, the almighty 2019 general elections have come and gone producing losers and winners in its wake. While the losers are nursing their wounds with some heading to the various election petition tribunals in the coming days, the winners are hugging their certificates of return handed to them by the umpire the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as evidence of their exploits.
In the build up to the 2015 elections, former president Goodluck Jonathan promised to bequeath Nigerians with an electoral body that would deliver free and fair elections. Under Professor Attahiru Jega, the electoral body undertook sweeping reforms including the adoption of the revolutionary card readers.
In the end, Jonathan, an incumbent, lost his re-election bid to President Muhammadu Buhari in the keenly contested 2015 presidential polls considered generally as very free and fair. For the first time, no one headed to the presidential election tribunal nor Supreme Court to seek the nullification of the announced result. Rather, Jonathan who lost, made history by congratulating the winner in a remarkable show of statesmanship.
Given Buhari’s track record as a serial presidential election loser who had lost thrice in 2003, 2007, 2011 before eventually winning in 2015; his past experiences positioned him as the best in class to carry out electoral reforms when he assumed office in 2015.
During his campaigns in 2015, Buhari promised to undertake sweeping changes in the electoral system, set up special courts to deal with electoral matters and review both the electoral act and the constitution to amend areas that needed to accommodate the changes and also reposition INEC as well as prosecute electoral offenders.
Although the president has given assent to about seven or so electoral amendments presented to him by the outgoing National Assembly, so far, feedback from the field in the just concluded polls indicate that it is not yet Uhuru for our electoral system in this country.
So how have these reforms reshaped the electoral system in 2019 or what has changed in the just concluded 2019 polls? Nothing has changed in the real sense of the word. In fact, things have gone from worse to worst. For instance, this is the first time, the electoral body would declare elections in some states inconclusive.
In 2015, Buhari who won the 2015 polls, accused Jonathan and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) of influencing the outcome of that year’s election with money, thugs, military and police. He promised that under his watch none of such unlawful acts would be tolerated and vowed to prosecute all electoral offenders.
However, what Nigerians witnessed in the just concluded polls would go down in history as one of the most corrupt elections ever staged in this part of the globe where the country was literally turned to a war zone. Contrary to his earlier promise, the president himself ordered the military to shoot at sight any person caught trying to snatch ballot boxes.
As if it was payback time, the president went to sleep and turned a blind eye as his Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi desecrated the peace that reigned in Rivers State. In the days leading to the vote, Amaechi boasted and promised the president during his campaign in Rivers that the state would be transformed into a theatre of war.
On election day, Nigerians watched in realtime as Amaechi with the full support of the military held the entire state to ransom. Towns like Buguma, Abbonema, Emohua were highly militarized as residents scampered to safety from the superior fire power as heavy machine guns bellowed in the neighborhoods. In the end, the election was rendered inconclusive by INEC.
In Akwa Ibom State, long before the election, the Commissioner of Police in that state lay siege to the State House of Assembly ostensibly to seize the instrument of power and effect the impeachment of the governor. That attempt was stoutly resisted by the people.
Not yet done, loads of soldiers again converge on the state during the presidential and National Assembly elections where attempts were made to force the people to vote for former governor Godswill Akpabio. During the governorship and state assembly polls proper, another unprecedented move was made to effect regime change in the state and install the former Managing Director of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Nsima Ekere.
Both attempts failed woefully leading to the defeat of Ekere, the All Progressives Congress candidate who lost to incumbent governor, Udom Emmanuel of the PDP. Chris Ekpenyong of the PDP roundly defeated Akpabio in the senate race which witnessed so much drama and influence peddling.
Even the president’s thank you visit to the state where he gleefully claimed that the party was robbed of victory, provoking the withholding of Ekpenyong’s certificate of return, failed to sway the people from voting for the PDP at the governorship and state assembly elections that weekend..
Without a doubt, Buhari has demonstrated his vindictive nature and has shown that his aides can go to any length to break the law so long as the outcome of that illegality would be to his benefit. He ensured that Fayose was paid back in his own coins through Governor Kayode Fayemi; Amaechi is already pulling all stops to upstage Wike in order to pay him back for what he did in 2015. Where is the rule of law?
It is curious that the same Buhari who initially frowned at the use of the military in election duties would now turn around to endorse same in 2019 polls. With this mindset, the president has shown that he lacks the political will to do the right thing like reforming the electoral system.
Every action of his in the last four years has been a direct opposite of what he promised to do when he assumed office in 2015. We wait to see how Buhari would prosecute both Amaechi and Akpabio for the mayhem in Akwa Ibom and Rivers states including his party’s National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu who rubbished the administration anti-corruption fight by ordering the delivery of huge cash in three bullion vans to his residence.
Therefore, as he gets set to commence his second and last term, he has again promised to bequeath a reformed electoral system to Nigerians to make their votes count.
According to Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami who spoke on behalf of the president during the week on the impending reforms, he hinted that “I have begun consultations with the leadership of the National Assembly and the judiciary to identify key laws and priority areas for reform.
“Our priority areas will be clearly outlined in our justice sector reform that we will propose to the National Assembly and align it with their agenda in order to achieve reform within the tenure of this administration.”
If the president is sincere in his quest to reform the electoral system, he should first of all read the report by Justice Mohammed Uwais committee inaugurated by late President Umaru Yar’Adua. He should adopt some of the recommendations which include removing the powers vested on the president to appoint INEC chairman and Commissioners, embrace a technologically driven system by endorsing e-voting, make provision to accommodate The Diaspora votes, set up special courts to try electoral offenders, ensure that all electoral matters are settled before any elected official takes office and any other reforms that would discourage the use of money in influencing polls’ outcome, engender transparency and restore confidence in the average Nigerian that his/her vote would count in the end.