INEC and Off-season Elections

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EDIFYING ELUCIDATIONS BY OKEY IKECHUKWU 

There is often the assumption, mistaken in my view, that there should be far less security and other challenges any time elections are taking place in only one or two states of the federation. It is easy to argue that we need not deployment tens of thousands of police and other security personnel on such occasions. But is that correct? Is it actually a waste of resources and manpower, as well as a pretense that the people so deployed are useful in determining the extent of security and the integrity of election outcomes? Are we right in inferring that the repeated cases of electoral misconduct, and even untold mayhem, which followed some off-season elections, including in particular the recent one in Kogi State, justify the view that the extra security on such occasions is unnecessary?

But this argument, plausible it may seem, does not have very strong legs to stand upon. It draws its apparent strength from a failure to distinguish between the actual needs of any electoral environment and the failure of those who should secure the environment for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to perform its duties. Security is needed but it is not the duty of INEC to own an army, or command same, in the process of preparing for, conducting or managing elections. That is the job of the police and other security agencies. It is only by collaboration and synergy that things can go smoothly. This is without prejudice to the activities of political mischief makers, as well as the possibility of having compromised security personnel during some elections.

Another point of interest in examining election issues in Nigeria is that there is actually more danger when elections are taking place in only one or two states. We forget that the thugs and sundry never-do-wells at the disposal of many politicians in other states are largely idle when there is no election in their states. This means that many such characters are available to be recruited. Their “seasonal trade” cannot be booming in another part of the country and they will fold their hands and resolve to be of good behaviour. That is why the keepers of these “hunting dogs” will naturally be on the lookout for “customers.” Not for them the fine talk about patriotism, rule of law, electoral transparency, citizens’ right to choose, etc. Utter bunkum, they would say, if anyone cared to hear! All that they can see at such times is “business.” And any INEC official, policeman, State Security or Civil Defence who stands in their way is a challenge to their business and means of survival.

It is against the background of the foregoing that one cannot reasonably deny the compelling need to beef up security, far beyond what would ordinarily be needed during any election, if such elections are taking place in only one or two states of the federation. It is also against the background of the foregoing that a blanket condemnation of either INEC, or the national security establishment, for whatever happens during elections can be said to rest on a fundamental misunderstanding. While the misuse of the national security apparatus must be seen for the crime that it is, we must pay close attention to the fact that the travesty occurs at the higher levels of political leadership. That is where the threat of sack for non-compliance that hangs over most public office holders, military or not, comes from. But any discussion about the dearth of men and women of integrity who can stand up to be counted, by refusing to bow to questionable political pressures, is a matter for another day.

But it is not for us to throw up our hands, or slap INEC in the back and say, don’t mind them you are very helpless in all of this. We cannot stop focusing on the ideal at all times, refusing to accept the misdeeds that are now beginning to look normal in our clime. But we must also simultaneously acknowledge that we are still in a largely immature political environment, where electoral processes, structures and templates are still far from sacrosanct. There are still far too many political actors who try by all means to influence both the processes leading to the elections and the election outcomes themselves. Yes, desperation thrives here. Yes, the violation of the peoples’ right to free choice is not yet seen for the anathema that it is. But a day will yet come…

For now, money is still generously deployed as lubricant for the desperate designs of both political aspirants and their sponsors. The internal democratic practices of the political parties themselves stink of perfidy. Party primaries are mostly grand conspiracies. This defect cuts across all the political parties, big and small. Financial settlement of persons with measurable nuisance value is still a consciously and deliberately executed programme of appeasement and agenda setting. The godfathers are still calling for the common till.

Now, put all of the above together. What do you have? Do you not see a thriving leadership elite that knows anything about loyalty to the people, service delivery and positive role modelling? Do you not see a nation with the right concept of development? Is it right to carry on as if leadership and national development are all about budgets, the award of contracts, expansion of elite entitlements and allowances? Should we not be embarrassed that, after trillions of Naira and 20 years of democracy, we still have no electricity, no good roads, no security, worsening education outcomes, more privileges for former office holders and elected officials? Is it right that the budget for the National Assembly should be more than that of the ministries of education and health put together? Do you not see why it is sometimes unfair to isolate INEC and blame it for a national malaise that is enough go round the Peloponnese four time and back?

Our political parties, to the extent that we insist on calling them that, are a far cry from what they should be. They make no investment in the political education of their presumed members. There manner of proceeding has put paid to the question of whether they have any interest in the people at all. All they plan for in the bid to get power is or “win” elections is (1) compromise whoever is available to be compromised, (2) take over the space where an electoral contest is to take place, if they can, (3) terrorize or subdue INEC officials, if that is the only way to determine final election outcomes, and (4) try any other thing they think they can get away with, based on their political clout.

That is why our politicians and our political parties do not see any need to go around random and recondite neighbourhoods, in the name of asking for votes. They can, and do, invent the votes. Why should they not want a political process wherein it does not matter in the end whether the people vote for you or not; or even whether they even vote at all?

But, notwithstanding all of that, I still think that it would be incorrect to say that ours is not a full blown democracy. It is! The caveat, though, is that it is perhaps one of the few democracies in existence today that operates without the people. Well, not quite, if you think seriously about it. We now have in our country a new type of democracy that can best be described as “government of the people who wield the instruments for perfidious engagements, by the people with great capacity for debauchery and the enactment of the absurd, for the people who believe in nothing, live for nothing and worship plunder and power at everybody’s expense; and without regard for INEC’s Statutory duties.” That is why we are where we are today. That is why there is a radical disconnect between the democratic enterprise, the welfare of the people and the popular conceptions of democracy elsewhere in the developed world. That is why, despite pretensions and appearances to the contrary, the Nigerian State stands in bold relief as a criminal enterprise.

And it is within this environment that poor INEC is expected to perform wonders. It is within this environment that INEC is deemed to be unilaterally capable of securing the space by itself. Does the organization command an army, or is it just another institution of state that can only function effectively and efficiently in collaborative endeavours with security agencies? Can INEC perform the role of high priest in a room full of drunkards where, as a rule, it is a crime to be sober; or act sober? What do you expect of an electoral body saddled with the unenviable task to teaching table manners to angry and hungry bus conductors at Ojuelegba roundabout in Lagos? People with the slightest modicum of political table manners will starve, of course. So, how will majority of the players in this game see anyone who tries to enforce table manners, or who tries to teach “live and let live?”

At one level, there are political actors who would always like to compromise INEC, so that it facilitates their violation of the rules. At another level, there are those who would like to prevent it from performing its lawful duty, even when it is determined to be objective, impartial and committed to its assigned role as neutral umpire. For a regulatory agency charged with the task of moderating the political behaviour of politicians, political parties and the citizenry, INEC faces a most unenviable assignment. That is why it is always in the line of fire for both foreseen, unforeseen and even unforeseeable events; including even bad weather in Sao Tome. It comes with the job, I guess. While admitting that the electoral body has improved in many ways since 1999, it still has some challenges – mostly exogenous and surmountable challenges.