Leadership, National Development And The People (2)

Opinion

By Bola Ahmed Tinubu

Now, we know that by themselves, elections do not constitute democracy. Yet, a nation cannot be a democracy without genuine elections. If Nigeria is to mature as a democracy, we must improve our electoral system.

Today, those who control the system manipulate elections with such impunity that they now see misconduct without sanction as a normal way of life.

Look at the recent controversy surrounding election of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) chairman. Thirty-five state governors assembled to vote for the chairman. They did this among themselves by secret ballot. One contestant earned 19 votes. The other attracted 16. In a place where honesty matters, the result would be clear and undisputed.

But not in today’s Nigeria under the current leadership. The chap who earned fewer votes was declared the winner by those who backed him. In Nigeria, the tenets of basic arithmetic have little application concerning elections. Votes do not count, they are concocted.

Elections are not necessarily won by the candidate with the highest votes. Elections are won by the candidate of the powerful and mighty. Consequently, a group comprising all the nations’ governors could not even conduct a simple 35-person election without a disputed outcome.

This little episode would be laughable if it were an isolated incident. However, it is emblematic of a larger, more troubling pattern that portends calamity if not arrested. With this recent experience, I fear the length those in power would go and the means they would employ to manipulate results when the battleground is the entire nation and the stakes are the general elections in 2015. The NGF debacle symbolizes a disdain for democracy and the popular will. If we are to save Nigeria, we must rescue the electoral process from its abusers.

In the main, elections during the current Fourth Republic have been substandard. They remind us that though democratic governance is inherently civilian, civilian government is not necessarily democratic.

Our system is constructed to preserve the unjust gains of electoral misconduct and presents steep evidentiary and other legal challenges to those whose mandates have been pilfered by rigging and the strange arithmetic of vote counting in Nigeria. We have had too many false winners who were true losers.

Another very grievous example of this perversion is the 180-day limit in judicial intervention in disputed election outcome. This fails to meet the grund norms of the rule of law. In this case, the right of the citizen is abridged through the backdoor. I insist, this is an unconstitutional amendment. It is illegal for only 2/3rd of the National Parliament to pass such an amendment, affecting the rights of an individual. The constitution to which we subscribe and equally that of developed democracies we emulate requires four-fifth of the Nation’s Parliament to pass such amendment. What we have should be thrown out or challenged in court.

The Electoral Reform Committee chaired by former Chief Justice Uwais was established to end our unique electoral anomaly. The panel recommended a blue print for sanitizing our electoral system. Some of the key points include the need for INEC budgetary and administrative independence. INEC must emerge from under the clutch of the presidency. Under the current situation, the President can intimidate and steamroll INEC.

Again, one of the most important recommendations of the Uwais Committee was that of employing modern technology for registration and voting. This is to improve the integrity of our elections. We must embrace that technology now. We need a fully bio-metric voter registration and balloting system.

Let me repeat – we need a fully biometric voter registration and balloting system.

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The lack of a functional Biometric Voters Registration (BVR) System accounts for much of the abuse of the current process. The debate over BVR goes to the fundamental quality of our elections. With BVR we have a chance at honest elections. Without it, we are doomed to repeat past failures.

This system was applied in Ghana. It worked. Other African countries – Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone, Kenya and Tanzania – used biometric registers and validation system for their general elections. It worked. If Nigeria truly is the leader and giant of Africa, let us act like it.

If smaller nations can take this step to assume the continental lead in the quality and integrity of their electoral processes, let us regain the leadership role by taking the necessary step to embrace this system as well.

The objective of the data capture and finger printing is to eliminate multiple voting. However, INEC’s present system negates this. Why take fingerprints, capture biometric data and then discard the information on the all-important voting day by resorting to manual accreditation? Unless INEC embraces biometric verification and revalidation during the exercise, our elections will remain more an exercise in deception and subterfuge than in democracy and probity.

I am a Nigerian patriot and a Nigerian progressive. These are not facile labels to be easily used and discarded. I consider both as badges of honour. Proudly, I wear each of them. As progressives, we fight for free and fair elections to accomplish a purpose much loftier than the elections themselves.

We do not seek fair elections so that our members may enter office and behave the same way as the ruling party. We seek not to remove the ruling party from power so that we might imitate them. We seek their removal because we intend to provide a strongly more progressive, forward looking, visionary leadership.

They are the prison guards of an unjust status quo holding the people captive. We have nothing less in mind than to change the face of our political economy for the benefit of our people and our country, Nigeria.

It had been said that Nigerian politicians all believe in the same thing: themselves.

This has never been true. Today its falsity is even more glaring. When the current administration sought to abolish the fuel subsidy under cover of darkness last year, we opposed it by offering an approach that would increase government spending in favour of the people. We insisted that if it must be done, such funds must be dedicated to programmes of vital social services in proportion to the amount of the subsidy removed.

We seek fiscal federalism where state and local governments are more empowered to spur development at the grassroots level. Those in power use unconstitutional means, such as the illegal Excess Crude Account and the Sovereign Wealth Fund, to retain central government control over funds belonging to the states. They also weaken the states by imposing a variety of unfunded federal mandates that stress and strain already tight state budgets. By these measures, they make states more subservient to central government. Also, the people are punished through the denial of needed resources to improve the quality of life.

The official youth unemployment rate approaches a frightening 60 percent, while the rate of graduate unemployment hovers around 30 and 35 per cent. No scenario can be more frightening. However, the present government is promoting statistical growth without evidence of its corresponding impact on the people. If this is growth, we want no part of it.

On provision of energy, billions have been spent on power, but the Power Holding Company of Nigeria remains powerless. Meanwhile, the people grope in darkness. Industries are collapsing and manufacturing base goes into extinction. Again, this government praises its artificial solutions to real, actual problems. For them, this is enough. For the people, it is a bleak house. My goodness, if this is growth, we want no part of it!

•Tinubu delivered this paper at the Grand Ballroom, Westminster Hall, House of Parliament, London as part of conference convened by the British African Diaspora on Monday, 10 June, 2013

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