BY High Chief Sen. Ben Ndi Obi
The beauty of every democracy is periodic elections and such elections must pass all the known characteristics of an election in a democratic setting.
Abraham Lincoln, the 16th American President, probably, gave us the basic tenets of what an election ought to be in a democracy, when in his famous Gettysburg speech, he defined democracy as a government of the people, by the people and for the people. As simple as that definition was, it contains all the requirements that are expected of a credible, fair and free elections. The central idea in Lincoln’s celebrated speech is that in a democracy, elections are meant for the people and its outcome must reflect the wishes and aspirations of the people the elections were meant for. What this means and implies, is that sovereign authority belongs to the people and flow from them. Anything outside this cannot be said to be an election. It is either a magic or a mere selection which has no place in a democratic setting.
The danger of a regime without sovereignty of the people, is that anarchy and chaos are bound to loom, this is because, man is naturally a political being and he is bound to revolt when his rights are violated, such rights as determining who rules and govern over him. When such rights are violated, they become an invitation to anarchy, chaos and anti-regime profiling.
This is better explained in the theory postulated by Thomas Hobbes in explaining the social contract theory between the ruled and ruler. According to Hobbes, to escape the state of nature that is gloomy, sordid, brutish and short, man willingly surrendered his rights and entered into a contract for the establishment of a state. The social contract obliges citizens to respect and obey the state, in exchange for stability and security that only a system of political rule can provide.
In modern day democracy, that social contract is renewed every election year. The implications of a forceful contract, presupposes a return to what Hobbes described as state of nature as the people who were supposed to freely consent to the contract through elections were neglected, this happens when politicians rig elections and impose themselves on the people, the danger of such undemocratic move, is that anarchy is bound to reign supreme under such circumstances.
Since the return to democratic rule in 1999, Nigeria has had a chequered and sour history with regards to the sanctity of the electoral process. While we may have tolerated the electoral malfeasance for the past 20 years now, as periods of experiment and learning, the 2023 general elections was the height of electoral heist ever witnessed in the history of this country, despite providing the umpire with all the necessary tools it required to conduct a credible and free election . Armed with a solid improvement in technology, one would have thought that the electoral body would have leveraged on them to make the polls credible, rather, the elections as widely reported by international and local observers failed to meet the standard expected of an election.
During the old good days, in description of a new invention and innovations especially in science and technology, and in exclamation to surprise inventions, we usually respond with that timeless old song: Come and see, American wonder, Come and see, America wonder, who no know, American wonder, who no know, American wonder. The song and caption of this piece reminds us of how time has changed, and the American Wonder has been replaced with such negativity as fraud, stealing and electoral abracadabra.
Maybe, the Nigerian version of American wonder could not have been properly expressed than what INEC did in the last presidential election, leaving some of us who sang the American wonder song in those days to wonder, if our own version of Nigerian Wonder connotes everything fraud. The Nigerian wonder that INEC showcased to the world bequeaths everything negativity in direct opposite of the American wonder.
The joint election observation mission(JEOM) involving The International Republican Institute (IRI), National Democratic Institute (NDI) led by Her Excellency, Joyce Banda, former President of Malawi, in their preliminary report, indicted the electoral body of erosion of confidence and trust. In their report, she said and I quote ‘’at the close of the polls, challenges with the electronic transfer of results and their upload to a public portal in a timely manner, undermined citizen confidence at a crucial moment of the process ‘’
The report continued, ‘‘Moreover, inadequate communication and lack of transparency by the independent National Electoral commission (INEC) about their cause and extent, created confusion and eroded voter’s trust in the process ‘’. End of quote.
The report of JOEM, clearly indicted the electoral commission. Prelude to the conduct of the general elections, INEC had promised on several occasions to the chagrin of stakeholders, to transmit the results of the Presidential elections in real time, for the public to view. For clarity, let me quote the chairman of the commission, Prof Yakubu, in his words, “let me once again reassure Nigerians that there is no going back on the deployment of BVAS for voter accreditation.
There is no going back on the transmission of results to the INEC result viewing portal (IREV) in real time on Election Day. “. Rather than stick to their guidelines, they hoodwinked Nigerians on the Election day, and technically refused to upload the Presidential election results in real time, thereby eroding the confidence and trust of Nigerians in the whole process. The inability of INEC to upload results, even one month after the polls, smacks of a hidden agenda.
To worsen the matter, when opposition parties drew the attention of the commission to the obvious flaws, rather than address the issues raised before declaring a winner, the commission, responded with the now infamous “GO TO COURT”.
To subtly tell Nigerians that the results they are about to announce does not reflect their wishes, while Nigerians were yet asleep, in a manner only akin to a thief, the electoral body announced the result of the presidential election.
This to me was an indirect way of sarcastically telling Nigerians, you don’t need to be awake to hear the results as it does not reflect your wishes.
While Nigerians thought the electoral body would have redeemed itself with the next scheduled elections as the governorship and state assembly, the electoral body once again failed Nigerians and recorded high spate of inconclusive elections across the country. The INEC imbroglio was compounded by the embarrassment in Adamawa, were against any known law, the REC who is not empowered to do so, arrogantly announced a winner in the Adamawa Guber even when collation was still ongoing .
The impunity displayed by the Adamawa REC, Mr. Hudu Yunusa, were derived from the posture of unprofessionalism and illegality by its national Chairman, who despite severally been reminded of fragrant violation of its own guidelines, went ahead to announce a winner in very odd hours of the night. Mr. Hudu must have been bolstered by the impetus of its chairman in doing the wrong thing, if not; I wonder what gave him the audacity to announce a result without figures, even while collation was still ongoing. What a bizarre.
While aggrieved parties have heeded to the infamous “go to court”, it now behooves on the judiciary to prove to anti- democratic forces, that the judiciary remains the last hope of the common man by righting the electoral wrongs of the last general elections without fear or favour.
If we must progress as a nation, our electoral institutions must be so strong as to eliminate any possibility of seeking redress in the courts. We must do everything within the armpits of the law to make every vote count.
A government without the sovereignty of the people will only return us to a state of nature were life is short, brutish and nasty. None of us can witness the revolt of the people.
The revolt may not happen now, or in the next election, but what is certain, if we continue in this cruel way of recruiting leaders through a very crooked and flawed process, without little or no approval from the electorates, perhaps, just one day, the owners of political power shall revolt, to end the Nigerian version of American wonder.
MR. PRESIDENT’S APOLOGY MANTRA
While I was rounding up with this piece, I just read over the news that Mr. President has asked Nigerians to forgive him. While there is no problem in seeking for forgiveness, after all, God almighty admonished us to forgive those who have wronged us, but Mr. President did not tell us what offense he has committed, at least that would have afford Nigerians a clear understanding of what sin they are pardoning for Mr. President, in any case, I wish him good luck as he retires from service to the nation.
•High Chief Sen. Ben Ndi Obi, CON, FNIPR writes from Abuja