By Taoheed Ajao
One of the more serious challenges that threatened to blight Nigeria’s Fourth Republic was her seeming inability to conduct a free and fair election. The fragile structural imbalance which was a result of the skewed power configuration made the country rather unstable to withstand the powerful quakes resulting from election related disputes. The centre, contrary to the dictates of true federalism, was made so powerful and attractive that most elections became do-or-die contests. Matter of fact, the country had been at the brink of implosion three times because of election related problems.
The Fourth Republic, which began in 1999 with the swearing-in of a civilian President Olusegun Obasanjo, has had its fair share of electoral misconduct which reached the apogee of international opprobrium during the 2007 elections when most gubernatorial elections – under the watch of an unbelievably pliant INEC chairman, Maurice Iwu – were rigged on a scale that beggared belief! So ashamed were most Nigerians of this unwelcome notoriety that people started calling for election sanitization to curb the high litigation that attended every election.
So, why does it seem as if Nigeria cannot organize a clean, fair and credible election to satisfy one of the irreducible requirements of democratic governance despite our much touted human and intellectual capital? Why is the country appearing jinxed in this crucial democratic enterprise? From the first Chairman of the Electoral Commission in the First Republic, Chief Eyo Esua, to Chief Michael Ani and Justice Victor Ovie-Whisky in the Second Republic, down to Professors Eme Awa, Humphrey Nwosu, Okon Uya and Chief Sumner Dagogo-Jack of the infamous and most tortuous Babangida transition programme, to Justice Ephraim Akpata who conducted the transitional election into the Fourth Republic in 1999, to Dr. Abel Guobadia, to discredited Prof Maurice Iwu, to the much respected Prof Attahiru Jega, and finally to the present Mahmood Yakubu, the conduct of elections in the country has always been fraught with problems and the outcomes have been invariably followed by embarrassingly litigious spree by disaffected candidates.
The administration of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan started an election sanitization program that was much heralded for its timeliness and commended for its drastic reduction in election litigation and boost in international esteem for the country. From being the butt of international jokes on the inability to conduct any election that could pass the tests of fairness and transparency; from a country where elections were considered armed warfare, organized electoral brigandage and a do-or-die affair, former President Jonathan changed Nigeria through the sanitization of the electoral process such that, winners now don’t suddenly turn to losers and losers don’t get sworn into offices on the directive of a Pontifex Maximus somewhere!
In Jonathan’s graceful concession of defeat to candidate Buhari during the last election even when he could hang on to a plethora of reasons – more tenable than those adduced in the “June-12” imbroglio – Goodluck Jonathan did not only live up to the promise he made that “my ambition is not worth the blood of any Nigerian” but, he rescued the country from the morass of electoral debasement to situate it amongst the group of emergent democracies of the world! The possibility of a civilian to civilian transition, nay, from an incumbent administration to an opposition party, whose gaiety of the event was underscored by the friendly gestures of handholding and backslapping by both the incoming and outgoing presidents, presented a view that the world will long remember about Africa!!
That, unfortunately was then; the reality now in Nigeria is a gradual appearance of the spectre of rigging, thuggery and violence in most elections during this new Buhari administration: a new lingo called ‘inconclusive election’ has come to supplant the announcement of results where opposition parties to the Federal Government seem to be having fair chances of winning. Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN won the gubernatorial election during Babatunde Fashola’s second term in Lagos when he defeated PDP candidate, Senator Musiliu Obanikoro; Labour Party administration of Dr. Olusegun Mimiko in Ondo State won reelection in 2012 by defeating Olusola Oke of the PDP and the sky did not fall. All these happened during the PDP presidency of Goodluck Jonathan when everybody, irrespective of political affiliation enjoyed a free, fair and level playing ground.
From Bayelsa gubernatorial elections to Rivers re-run to Kogi to Edo elections, there have been protests about the results announced either in their inconclusiveness or in their sheer falsity. A descent into the abyss of election violence and mindless litigation is a highly retrogressive step more so, when a legacy of transparency and fairness was the greatest gift bequeathed to this dispensation. Anybody that followed the recent Edo gubernatorial election objectively cannot escape being perplexed at the innovations introduced – locking journalists and accredited party agents out of INEC collation centres for about 12 hours – to heighten the suspicions of rigging.
Although figures being bandied on social media could be notoriously unreliable, there were still some shockers that greeted many people who had gone round to make tabulations of units and ward results to arrive at local government vote tallies. For example, even though both Iyamu of PDP and Obaseki of APC are from Benin, the PDP was said to have scored 55,368 to APC’s 22,110 the night before only for these scores to appear as PDP 30,492 and APC 37,612 during INEC’s announcement the next day! If, what one reads in the newspapers are correct, the international observers of the Edo election have also expressed surprise at the results announced by INEC. At this level of Nigeria’s development and with the level of political leverage she has in international affairs, inability to organize a credible election is a reproach upon our collective pride as a nation.