• Monday, June 17, 2024
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EU-EOM is right! Tinubu is president through a tainted poll

EU-EOM is right! Tinubu is president through a tainted poll

The president of Nigeria is extremely powerful. He’s even more powerful than the US president. It is conventional to describe the American president as “the most powerful man on earth.” But that’s only in relation to foreign affairs, where he has untrammelled powers.

Domestically, the US president is severely constrained, given the nature of America’s federalism and separation of powers, and the robustness of its checks and balances, jealously protected by Congress, the judiciary and the states.

By contrast, Nigeria’s president has untrammelled executive powers. The National Assembly is typically a rubber-stamp and an executive lapdog; the judiciary, prone to executive bullying, is usually a toothless bulldog; and federal agencies are at the beck and call of the presidency, utterly without independence. And the states? Well, they are appendages of the Federal Government, which can make life difficult for any state that is not in its good graces! It’s thus no wonder that some describe Nigeria’s president as “next to God”!

Now, given the above circumstances, and considering that Nigeria is fragile and deeply polarised along regional, ethnic and religious divides, the president, who would exercise such enormous, unrestrained powers over the country, must emerge overwhelmingly from an election that reflects, without any shadow of a doubt, the free expression of the will of voters across the country. If, given those circumstances, a “president” emerged through a tainted and discredited election, that would have far-reaching consequences; it would deepen Nigeria’s disunity, instability and fragility.

At the heart of the report is the point that there’s no level playing field in Nigeria’s elections

Unfortunately, as the recently published final report of the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) on Nigeria’s 2023 general elections makes abundantly clear, Bola Tinubu, Nigeria’s current president, emerged through a deeply tainted and discredited election that failed basic transparency and credibility tests. Expectedly, Tinubu’s government rejected the report, and even sponsored protesters to storm the European Union Head Office in Abuja. Yet, the report’s painstaking analysis is hard to fault; it’s unassailable!

As always, Tinubu’s supporters will abuse, insult, threaten and call me names on social media, but this column speaks truth to power. I live in a country, United Kingdom, where a prime minister was forced out of power and out of parliament for lying, and I admire a country, United States, where a former president was indicted on felony charges and fined for a sexual office committed over 30 years ago. But here, in Nigeria, political leaders are above the law and above institutional scrutiny. That’s unacceptable, especially when their behaviours threaten the long-term unity, stability, progress and democratic development of Nigeria.

Regular readers of this column know that I was viscerally opposed to Tinubu becoming president, due to his acute integrity and character deficits and my strong belief that he’s morally and ethically unfit to govern Nigeria. Yet, that notwithstanding, I would have accepted his leadership if he won in a free, fair, transparent and credible election. But the truth is that he didn’t, and the EU EOM report confirms what other genuinely independent observers, not the compromised ones, have said.

Of course, l will accept the verdict of the Supreme Court on the presidential election petitions. However, I really hope that it’s not based on some perverse public policy rationale or technicalities, but, rather, on reasoned and reasonable interpretation of substantive and procedural law. For the integrity and legitimacy of the decision, technicalities must not trump substantive justice and process values. If the Supreme court must declare a rerun of the presidential election, so be it!

Bizarrely, since Tinubu became Nigeria’s de facto president and took some actions, some have argued that it doesn’t matter how anyone becomes president, however crooked the route he takes, provided he performs! Those making that argument might as well also say that it doesn’t matter if there’s a military regime, provided it’s benevolent, competent and performing. After all, what’s the difference between getting into power through a rigged election that thwarts the will of the people and getting into power through the barrel of a gun?

The truth is that the “end-justifies-the-means” argument of those saying that “it’s performance that matters”, as if performance is anyone’s monopoly, will entrench fraudulent elections in Nigeria, impede democratic development and trap the country in ever deepening disunity and instability.

Which brings us back to the EU EOM report. At the heart of the report is the point that there’s no level playing field in Nigeria’s elections. This matters hugely, because the essence of any competitive sport or game is a level playing field. That’s why any athlete who wins a medal through cheating always has the medal withdrawn, if found out, and any referee who is biased or incompetent always faces public opprobrium and might even have his licence withdrawn.

So, why is it that in Nigeria’s presidential election, a supposed electoral competition, someone can “win” through rigging and the electoral body can be manifestly biased and utterly incompetent, and all we hear is the taunt: Go to court? The gibe “Go to court” adds insult to injury, especially when the court can be compromised.

Now, let’s start with the EU-EOM’s view on INEC’s independence. The report says that “the selection process of INEC commissioners and Resident Electoral Commissioners leaves the electoral institution vulnerable to perception of partiality.” Isn’t that true? Former President Buhari appointed several loyalists of the APC, his party, as national and resident electoral commissioners.

Recently, Rotimi Amaechi, former Rivers State governor and Minister of Transportation, publicly said that he warned Buhari not to reappoint Professor Mahmood Yakubu as INEC chairman “because he is a Tinubu supporter.” Would it be acceptable if, say, in a match between Arsenal and Chealsea, the referee is a strong supporter of either? Truth is, Nigeria won’t have credible elections until INEC is truly independent of the government and the ruling party.

Sadly, INEC cannot escape allegations of partiality in this year’s elections. The fact that the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and the INEC Results Viewing Portal (IReV) worked smoothly in other elections but malfunctioned in the presidential is utterly suspicious, despite the puerile excuse of “technical glitches”. The EU EOM report says: “Only 31 per cent of the presidential election results uploaded on the IReV system were formally and mathematically correct.” How can any election with such huge discrepancies in the results be credible?

The other findings of the EU EOM will resonate with every objective observer. For instance, wasn’t abuse of incumbency rampant? If Buhari and most of the incumbent governors are put on a lie detector, they would be shown to have manipulated INEC officials and the security agencies for electoral advantages.

Read also: Tribunal reserves judgement in APM’s petition against Shettima , Tinubu

It’s a fact that many of the Resident Electoral Commissioners and Returning Officers were pressured by some governors and INEC itself to falsify results in their states. What about misuse of state resources? The Electoral Act 2022 prohibits “the use of state apparatus to the advantage or disadvantage of any political party or candidate” (section 92(2)). Yet, the incumbents blatantly misused state resources to their advantage and distorted the playing field.

Yet, in the end, none of this would matter if the judiciary were independent and can protect Nigeria’s democracy. Sadly, not so! The Supreme Court has created public distrust with questionable decisions. And who can have confidence in the judiciary when a senator, Adamu Bulkachuma, confessed that he influenced several decisions of his wife when she was President of the Court of Appeal? It’s shocking!

So, don’t shoot the messenger. The EU EOM is right! Tinubu is president through a tainted and discredited election. This is an existential problem: Nigeria can’t have an all-powerful president that emerges through fraudulent polls!