2nd June, 2011
With the results of the recent elections, it is clear that a major hurdle in Nigeriaâ€™s quest for good governance has been crossed. Good governance has eluded most of the estimated 140 million citizens of the oil-rich country acclaimed the worldâ€™s most populous black nation for decades. This is as a result of long military rule, massive looting of the countryâ€™s treasury by elected and appointed public officers, who clearly hold the people in contempt.
One can recall a sitting President of the country promising Nigerians bloody contests just before the 2007 general elections. Then President Olusegun Obasanjo, a retired army general, who was a star of the countryâ€™s only civil war, had announced to the consternation of many at home and abroad that the 2007 elections would be a â€œdo-or-die affair.â€ And true to his promise, they were.
Campaigns in some states were as bloody as the elections, during which ballot materials were snatched at gunpoint. Results were altered at collation centres in favour of unpopular candidates. Some state results were announced in Abuja while counting of votes was still going on in those states.
As it turned out at the election tribunals, officials of security agencies and the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, abetted the malpractices. Some Judges sitting at the election tribunals were openly accused of giving rulings that were perceived to have been compromised.
All these were what characterised previous elections in Nigeria, which gave not a few Nigerians the impression that the country may never have credible elections.
But the recent elections, conducted by the same INEC, but led by Professor Attahiru Jega, showed that though irregularities still took place, the polls were considerably better than the farcical exercise witnessed in 2007. In any case, there is hardly anywhere in the world where elections were held without irregularities, no matter how little.
Right from the day Jega was announced as the replacement for Professor Maurice Iwu, widely regarded as the most discredited of all electoral umpires, Nigerians eagerly looked forward to credible elections that would give the populace a chance to pick their true representatives.
This popular trust in the ability of Jega to ensure reliable elections is very strange in a country that has almost adopted fraudulent elections and corruption as national culture.
This trust may have come as a result of the sterling antecedents of Jega, a radical professor and trade unionist, who counted as one of those committed activists in the front row of pro-democracy struggles.
Perhaps too, it may also be considered strange in a country with a rich history of gimmicks and deceits. Not many Nigerians thought highly of President Goodluck Jonathanâ€™s promise to ensure credible elections. The appointment of Jega, a leftist, may have further reassured many that Jonathan meant business. Even former military dictator, General Ibrahim Babangida, publicly acknowledged Jegaâ€™s ability to deliver free and fair elections. Jega was President of ASUU when Babangida outlawed the union for challenging his very many anti-people policies and for being a union of lecturers who â€œteach what they are not paid to teachâ€.
The elections are over now, but many people, including the international community cannot deny the fact that results of the elections are reflections of the votes genuinely given and counted. There are reported cases of violence, ballot box snatching and stuffing in some states. INEC cancelled proven cases in these categories, while there are hopes that the judiciary would not allow itself to be manipulated against the wishes of the electorate by declaring losers as victors, as happened in previous elections. There are media reports that some 870, 612 people involved in various electoral crimes have been lined up for prosecution by INECâ€™s legal team. It would be very important that all those involved in electoral crimes of any sort, no matter how highly placed, are punished in accordance with the law. This is one way the conduct of credible elections in Nigeria can be enhanced and sustained.
The campaigns, candidates, conduct of the electoral officers, security agents, voters as well as the voting patterns during the elections were generally indicative of Nigeriansâ€™ determination to deepen democracy.
Big men, whose words were taken for votes in the name of godfatherism, crumbled. Even Obasanjo lost political credibility and relevance as his party was defeated. His daughter, Iyabo, was stopped by the people. His political sons were also routed.
For the first time, Dr. Olusola Saraki could not determine who governs Kwara State. This Saraki, it was, who â€œinstalledâ€ Adamu Attah of the defunct National Party of Nigeria; Cornelius Adebayo of the Unity Party of Nigeria; Shaaba Lafiaji of the Social Democratic Party; Mohammed Lawal of the All Peoples Party, and his biological son, Bukola of the Peopleâ€™s Democratic Party as governors of the state at various times. Bukola probably succeeded in throwing his father off the field because he succeeded in impacting on the development of the state as governor. The trust Kwara people probably had in his judgement of who succeeds him may have been based on this, and not because his surname is Saraki.
Somehow, these elections have proved that in a credible poll, godfathers are impotent.
However, there are still many things wrong with our political system. Not a few political parties will fail when it comes to internal democracy. The way candidates emerged as in most parties cannot be considered flawless. Some aspirants are still in court challenging the outcome of their party primaries.
For elections to be credible, the process from nomination of candidates at party primaries up to declaration of results should be of interest to INEC. Although, the Electoral Act provides for this, but the checks were not effective.
We take solace in the belief that future elections in Nigeria would be an improvement on the successes of the 2011 elections, taking all the shortcomings into cognisance.
â€¢Denja Yaqub sent in this article to TheNEWS magazine from LABOUR HOUSE, Plot 820/821, NTA Link Road, Central Biz Area, Abuja.