Democracy is not the problem of the continent as espoused by some political scientists and scholars, but the flagrant disregard of its tenets and lack of will to seamlessly adapt some local idiosyncrasies and cultural evolutions into its practice. While the political class is almost the same across climes, the transactional nature of the average African politician is ruthless and godless, to say the least- little wonder that the dividend of democracy equates to a few roads, schools, healthcare centres, bole-holes and ignominious projects tagged legacies which do not last beyond few years after office.
Away from the shenanigans and excesses of the political class who grab electoral victories at all costs, the impartiality of the electoral umpire and the fidelity of the Judiciary – are twin monsters threatening democratic development in the country and continent. While the Judiciary interprets the laws governing elections in light of the spirit and letters of the constitutions and electoral acts, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, the umpire, administers and manages the entire processes, ecosystems and outcomes of the elections. So, the fate of democracy seems to shift from the hands of the politicians to these institutions that should defend the will of the people – making them midwives or undertakers of democracy.
The outcomes of the February 2023 presidential election pitched over 14 million Nigerians who voted for the Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP, and Labour Party, LP, against the Judiciary on allegations and accusations of impropriety, and the hue and cry are the demand for the total overhauling of the electoral body, INEC.
While little can be done about the Judiciary having no established proof of corruption or miscarriage of justice, the way INEC is constituted and populated has provided grounds for deep concerns among the opposition and keen observers, so, for many, the demand is decoupled INEC, reconstitute it, provide stiffer accountability and transparency threshold, or declare Nigeria a one-party state.
Indeed, the electoral umpires remain one of the most weakened political institutions since the dawn of democracy in Nigeria, and that is for obvious reasons. This supposed bastion institution of democratic ethos and development has become the instrumentality to subvert the will of the people and damage democracy across the continent. Ironically, this body touted Independent, but only in a few cases that independence is respected and reflects the wishes of the people leaving most election as a bazaar where the highest bidders take home the auctions.
Nine decades and seven years ago, the British imperialists gave Nigerians voting rights for the first time to elect representatives into the colonial legislative council, and ever since electoral governance has become a sour point in our national sojourning.
Right from the 1959 general elections that ushered the first republic, under the supervision of the Electoral Commission of Nigeria, ECN, the electoral umpire, elections are said to be flawed, and the opposition cried blue murder. By 1964, the election became a do-or-die affair, and the electoral umpire- the Federal Electoral Commission under Eyo Esua, was fingered for miscarriage and connivance with the ruling class. The acrimonies were so rife that violence and instability broke the gates of the barracks, and the military overthrew the civilian government in a one-sided bloody coup- Nigeria has not been the same since that saga.
With the government of General Olusegun Obasanjo, a new electoral body was constituted with the nomenclature Federal Electoral Commission, FEDECO, under the belt of Michael Ani (1976-1979), probably with the thought that such a fresh gab would change the outcomes of the election, but how can this electoral boss do otherwise when his appointment was by the Head of State rumoured to have a preferred candidate. By 1983, Victor Ovie-Whiskey, appointed by the incumbent, President Shehu Shagari, was saddled with the responsibility of the elections, but the outcome was no different, triggering another coup that ended the third republic in 1986.
Babangida took the country on an ill-fated ride in 1993, while the dark-goggled maximum ruler, General Abacha, constituted an electoral umpire, the National Electoral Commission of Nigeria, under Summer Dagogo-Jack, that registered the five political parties referred to by Chief Bola Ige, as the five fingers of a leprous hand, again both dictators appointed the electoral bosses where the outcomes were dead ends and monumental embarrassment.
Since the inauguration of INEC in 1998, every political circle seems to have come off worse than ever as the electoral body practically lived at the president boys’ quarters. The matter was so bad that President Yar’adua admitted that the process managed by INEC that brought him to power was flawed. For Goodluck Jonathan, the blood of Nigerians was not worth his ambition, so for the first time, INEC seemed to have some latitude of independence, and the result was different. Historically, an incumbent lost power, but things quickly returned to the status quo under General Buhari and Nigerians, for the first time, realized the enormity of allowing Mr President to appoint the INEC chairman because Buhari was going to his family backyard to pick national commissioners for INEC. He attempted ruthlessly to foist the likes of Lauretta Onochie, a die-hard card-carrying member of the APC as a Commissioner at INEC. Nigerian did not know the extent of his ear problem until confronted with such decisions.
Today, one big issue in the media is the appointment of an electoral commissioner into INEC, a matter already in court and prejudiced, and it presents a concern for the political class to examine more of such issues and test them in the courts otherwise, elections in Nigeria may remain very contentious and anti-climaxed if the Independent National Electoral Commission is not restructured and liberated from the political class.
Why should the incumbent at the Presidency always win except the shoeless man from Otuoke – President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan? Should the local government council polls always be slept by the party at the state government house? At this stage of our democracy, there is still the contemplation of uploading and displaying election results electronically.
Why should Mr President appoint the INEC chairman, even when some say that’s what is obtainable in the US? Do we have the water-tight checks and balances like the US?
The Nigerian political landscape and climate present unique peculiarities and the average politician will not only explore any constitutional loopholes but can destroy the entire system to achieve his will and greed. While the current situation of Mr President appointing INEC commissioners and chair has been with us, not one president has shown good faith in engaging non-partisan individuals because their eyes are always on the next election. If they are not on the ballot, the system must work hard to ensure their candidates or fellow party men succeed them. This argument needs no rigour, but the irresponsible attitudes of the actors calling the bluff is inconceivable. The average politician cannot trust his shadow and will not take chances for a free and fair election in the real sense, so scenarios like these will remain with us for a long time until Nigerians firmly demand restructuring.
The INEC chairmanship position, as obtained in South Africa, should be open for people to apply, and independent recruitment agencies like PWC and the like should handle the process otherwise this charade will continue. What stops a reform whereby electoral commissioners can grow from the ranks or the Council of State that has a representation of all political parties take on this all-important employment? The National Assembly, can be trusted to manage this because it will take a godless compromise for the leadership to run away with partisan candidates.
We must go back to the drawing board as a people. We have made some progress with electoral reforms, but the will to do the right thing is lacking essentially because of undue interferences by the ruling party at different times. Until the chairman and national commissioners of INEC are recruited and made independent and protected from the hawks in power, this democracy will die an infant.
When the electoral umpires were truly independent in Zambia, Ghana, Kenya, and most recently Liberia, the results were there for the world to see – so does it presuppose that the incumbent cannot win fair and square when the electoral umpire is independent – this is indeed a long walk to freedom – Nelson Mandela.