The Path to Peace and Progress



0805 500 1974                    

Amidst the tension that envelops the political landscape as the declaration of the winner of last Saturday’s presidential election was  awaited, a clear path to peace as a condition for progress could be located.

It is the path for the respect  for the law.

However, the deep irony of  this  situation of anxiety is that  all the contending political forces seem to hinge their positions on the laws cited from different the sections of the book. By so doing, they are avoidably raising  the political temperature.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is at the centre of the  mixed expectations of what it means to act according to the law.

About this time eight years ago, “congratulation” was the word. The force of example demonstrated by President Goodluck Jonathan made all the difference. Before the formal declaration of General Muhammadu Buhari as preside-elect by INEC  Chairman Professor Attahiru Jega, Jonathan called Buhari in an unprecedented act to say congratulations. Buhari too  responded with a good measure of grace. The foreboding on the national horizon disappeared. And history was made.

In a sharp contrast, the tension is thickening by the day as the “cancellation” is the word today. Incidentally, both “congratulations” and “cancellation” start with letter c ! The Peoples  Democratic Party (PDP), the Labour Party (LP) and others have called  for the cancellation of the elections and the removal of INEC chairman Professor Yakubu. The “intervention” of President Muhammadu Buhari has been sought. They are asking the President to give directive to an institution that is statutorily immune to  interference from any authority.  The political parties are insisting on the uploading of electoral results on the portals of INEC. They are also accusing INEC of not transmitting the results electronically as required by law. Initially, the demand of the political parties was the halting of collation so that the alleged irregularities could be corrected before proceeding further in the process.

Instead of meeting the demands of the political parties, INEC has continued with the process. The  commission worked  till the early hours of Wednesday. The All Progressives Congress (APC) has understandably expressed support for making the process conclusive.

In the poisoned atmosphere, therefore,  it is difficult to expect the political parties to be sympathetic to  INEC in its Catch-22 situation. Just imagine this possible scenario. The INEC accedes to the request of the PDP and LP to correct the errors pointed out in the process.  The collation  is suspended. After some days, the commission  resumes collation only for the All Progressives Congress (APC) and some other parties to raise their own queries about the process. And INEC stops the collation again and goes on  to attend to the new set of queries. And the back and forth to the earlier stages in the process continues…

It is in order to avoid such a seemingly endless process  that the laws make provisions for electoral tribunals for those who feel cheated to seek redress. To avert crisis politicians should not lose confidence in the judicial process in seeking  justice  despite the imperfections of the system. In a bourgeois  liberal democracy the alternative would political violence.

In the circumstance, it is  in the supreme  interest of  peace and progress for  INEC to conclude the process  while politicians see this moment as a critical one to summon political dexterity to avert a crisis. Anything contrary to that would be an open invitation to anarchy. It would be unwise to render the election inconclusive because of the faults alleged by the aggrieved parties. To postpone a presidential  election before polling starts for whatever reason is probably safer than to cancel the collation of  the results  mid-way. This is because of the obvious sensitivity of that stage.

In a certainly different historical context, Bashorun Moshood  Abiola   likened cancellation of election results to the misnomer of pretending to abort a pregnancy after birth. According to Abiola in his legendary wits, in  that state you would no more be dealing with a case of abortion, but that of  murder. The military government of President Ibrahim Babangida annulled the victory won by Abiola in the June 12, 1993 presidential  election.

Whereas the same electoral laws that the parties cite for contradictory  purposes envisage the errors of omission and commission of which  INEC has been accused by having provisions for legal redress and election tribunals,  cancellation by INEC  would not have no legal basis. The non-electronic transmission by INEC could be challenged in court after the conclusion of the process. Any cancellation of results during national collation runs the risk of generating a profound  crisis. The cost of cancellation is not only material. The political consequences are immense. The extremely toxic tone of the campaigns and other political manoeuvres  preceding  the elections make cancellation dangerous in the circumstance. 

The insistence on cancellation brings  to the fore th spectre of June 12.

Whatever the options politicians are exploring to resolve the issues arising from the election, violence should not be considered at all. A peaceful atmosphere is important for the actualisation of any strategy a politician may have developed. Caution is, therefore, the word. In statements and action, politicians should not incite their supporters to violence.

Progress, Not Perfection

Meanwhile,  it must be duly  acknowledged  that the widespread  disappointment with INEC has a valid  basis. Some of the technical errors are simply not excusable.  Adequate provision of voting materials, punctuality of the ad hoc staff, general coordination, functionality of the gadgets and similar logistical issues ought to be settled before elections. Although, as a human institution INEC is not expected to be perfect. But as an institution of democracy it should do more to  improve its performance. If things are reviewed, INEC can make progress and enhance Nigeria’s democratic development. In the immediate terms, INEC should do better with governorship and state legislative elections coming next Saturday.

The police and other security agencies should be prepared  to deal with perpetrators of violence. Killings, maiming and destruction should not  be turned into routine features of elections. Pending the establishment of the Electoral Offences Tribunal (the enabling law of which is still in the works), INEC should work with the police to ensure the arrest and prosecution of electoral offenders. Members of staff of INEC found to be perpetrating crimes too should be made to face the law. It was unfortunate that despite the commitment of the presidential candidates and other politicians to peace, the message of  non-violence doesn’t appear to be sinking to the level of the foot soldiers and henchmen. It is one thing for the big politicians to assemble at the invitation of  the peace committee chaired by General Abdulsalami Abubakar, it is another thing for their supporters to heed the message of peace 

To make progress in democratic development, the elephant  in the room seems to be declining voter turnout. The trend has worsened in this electoral season. Something is fundamentally wrong when fewer than 25  out  of  87 million holders of voters’  cards actually showed up at the polling booths. Whatever happened to the over 50 million holders of PVCs who never bothered to be part in the balloting  at all? This is certainly  not the way of participatory democracy.

The political parties still have the next few days to change the tide of things in terms of direct mobilisation for the state elections. A huge demobilising factor is provided by   the disruption in the socio-economic situation caused by the scarcity of cash coupled with long queues for fuel weeks before the elections

Maybe, it is  too early to judiciously assess the  democratic progress in this electoral season. It would be interesting to see the political trajectories in the states after March 11.

In sum, in order to deepen Nigeria’s  liberal democracy caution should be exercised by politicians to keep peace. This is especially so given the strong ethnic and religious undertones of the campaigns especially for the presidential election. In the absence  of ideological politics, religion has become the theme of campaigns. Instead of  policy debates the ethnicity of candidates has become the issue of discussions.

The trend has to be reversed for the purpose of making progress.

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