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The 2023 elections did not reflect the will of the people, contends Chekwube Nzomiwu

The most common definition of democracy often attributed to Abraham Lincoln, is “government of the people, by the people and for the people.” This definition presupposes that democracy is dependent on the will of the people. The nature of democracy is that elected officials are accountable to the people and hence, they must face the voters at regular intervals as prescribed by the constitution, to seek their mandate.

However, Italian elite theorists, such as Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923), Gaetano Mosca (1858-1941) and Robert Michels (1876-1936), differed. In separate writings, they argued that power is concentrated in the hands of small minority elite, and independent of democratic elections.

Similarly, Italian anarchist propagandist and revolutionary socialist, Errico Malatesta (1853-1932) also criticised democracy, albeit dogmatically, in his 1924 article, titled, “Democracy and Anarchy.” He posited that “Democracy is a lie, it is oppression and is in reality, oligarchy; that is, government by the few to the advantage of a privileged class. But we can still fight it in the name of freedom and equality, unlike those who have replaced it or want to replace it with something worse.”

Looking at the outcome of the just concluded general elections in Nigeria, one begins to wonder if we are practicing democracy as professed by Lincoln or government of a few, according to the Italian scholars.

Prior to the election, the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, severally assured that the electoral body would conduct a free, fair and transparent elections. One of such assurances was given when Prof. Yakubu spoke at the Chatham House, an independent policy institute based in London.

His assurances notwithstanding, both international and local observers found the outcome of the first round of the elections – the presidential and national assembly elections – short of the expectations of Nigerians. Even the Chatham House reprimanded the electoral umpire for failing to adhere to its own guidelines, especially the one bordering on the upload of results real-time to the INEC result viewing portal (IREV).

 Regardless of the condemnation that trailed the shoddy handling of the first round of the elections on February 25, especially the presidential election, the second round – the March 18 governorship and state assembly elections – turned out to be worse than the first round. In a post election statement, the United States condemned voter intimidation and increased violence that marred the second polls in many states, despite the massive deployment of security agencies in many locations. Across the country, 21 persons were killed during the second elections.

The United States particularly singled out Lagos and Kano among states that recorded high incidence of intimidation and violence. Lagos, for instance, was noted for the use of ethnically charged rhetoric before, during and after the election. Similarly, the European Union Election Observation Mission to Nigeria condemned INEC for failing to live up to expectations in the electoral process. In his preliminary statement, the Chief Observer, EU Election Observation Mission, Barry Andrews said Nigerians yearned for democracy and were ready to be involved in the process, but the appetite was lost, owing to the failures of the political elite and INEC.

The findings of the foreign observers were corroborated by domestic observers, such as Situation Room, Connected Development (CODE) and Yiagra Africa who complained about violence, voter intimidation, and vote buying, among others. Besides, election observers themselves got a share of the violence. Premium Times, a leading online media organisation in Nigeria chronicled attacks on election observers in different parts of the country during the elections. 

But, for a few cases of inconclusive elections, INEC declared winners in most of the elections, leaving the losers with the option of seeking redress in court. Of course, many of the losers have taken the legal option in a country where majority of the citizens do not trust the judiciary. The confidence of the people in the judicial system had since been eroded by court decisions on past electoral matters, such as the Supreme Court judgment on the 2019 Imo State Governorship Election, which declared the candidate that came fourth on the ballot as the winner of the election.

The latest elections equally generated frightening statistics in the history of democracy in Nigeria and the African continent. According to Premium Times, the 26.7 percent voter turnout is the worst turnout in the history of democratic elections in Africa and placed Nigeria among the 10 countries with the lowest voter turnout in the world.

Out of the 93.47 million registered voters and 87.2 million who collected their Permanent voter cards, only 24.9 million persons voted in the election. The winner of the presidential election, Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) secured 8.8 million votes to get the mandate of over 220 million Nigerians to preside over the affairs of the country for the next four years, beginning from May 29, 2023. The scary implication is that Nigeria’s next president was elected by four percent of the entire population of the country. If he eventually assumes office, he will be faced with legitimacy crisis. Prior to the 2023 elections, voter turnout has been identified by researchers as an impediment to democratic consolidation in Nigeria.

Besides, INEC not only circumvented its guidelines, but also brazenly engaged in selective application of the electoral laws in the conduct of the last elections. The commission refused to review the result of the presidential elections, in spite of anomalies pointed out by agents of the opposition parties including the non-upload of the polling unit results to the result viewing portal (IREV) real time as stipulated in the commission’s guidelines. Curiously, the same INEC reviewed governorship election results in some states, including Enugu, Abia and Adamawa.

Besides, nobody can exonerate INEC from the violence that marred the election because it is the institution saddled with the responsibility of conducting the exercise. The conduct of elections includes the provision of security and other logistics needed to make the exercise credible, free, fair and transparent. The federal government approved and released hundreds of billions of naira for the elections. It is the job of the commission to tell the security operatives the areas to man during the elections. Hence, if voters were harassed and intimidated away from the polling unit, the electoral body cannot completely absolve itself from blame.

The Electoral Act prohibits the use of hate speech in the course of elections, especially during the campaigns. Hate speech was freely deployed in the last elections, but nobody was sanctioned. In some states, non-indigenes were told to stay away from the polling units if they were not ready to vote the preferred candidates of their landlords. Where such threats were defied, the non-indigenes became targets of physical attacks by political thugs.

Concerns were also expressed before, during and after the elections about the impartiality of the electoral umpire, INEC. While reacting to the violence and other irregularities that marred the governorship and state assembly elections in Rivers State, former Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi said he was among those that kicked against the appointment of Yakubu as INEC Chairman. He said a member of Tinubu’s camp nominated Yakubu for appointment. Amaechi belongs to the ruling APC but his political rival in the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Governor Nyesom Wike worked for Tinubu’s victory in Rivers State.

In August last year, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) petitioned against some of the 19 nominees for appointment as Resident Electoral Commissioners over alleged affiliation with the ruling APC. The Senate overruled all the petitions against the REC nominees and confirmed all of them. These same questionable RECs presided over the elections in the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. Who dictates the tune? The piper or he who pays him?

However, it will be unfair for INEC alone to take the whole responsibility for the noticeable irregularities that marred the election. It is a known fact that Nigerian politicians want to win at all costs. Security operatives at times allow themselves to become willing tools in the hands of such unscrupulous politicians.

Finally, I heard some people arguing that there is no perfect democracy anywhere. Truly, nothing is perfect in this world except God. But, in a democracry, election should be free, fair and transparent, and reflective of the will of the majority and not a few privileged citizens. If errors are committed in the process, the margin of error should be negligible and not monumental.

Nzomiwu writes from Awka, Anambra State

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