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Opinion: Gone But Not Forgotten

Ballot papers for the Presidential election are seen during the eletorial preparation at a local office of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Port Harcourt, southern Nigeria, on February 22, 2019, a day before postponed voting day. (Photo by Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP)

The 2019 elections have come and gone. But they are not forgotten. While those who have been declared winners are rejoicing, and those who have been declared losers nurse their wounds, many Nigerians will not forget these elections in a hurry. These elections provoke our thoughts.Many Nigerians and their friends had thought the conduct of the elections would be an improvement on the conduct of the 2015 election. But we would not be truthful if we were to call what has just transpired an improvement.

The conduct of these elections leaves much to be desired. We as a nation performed well below our status. And there are many indices to support this assertion.There was vote buying, especially by the two big parties, before and during the polls.

At a time many Nigerians find it difficult to feed their families, money came from politicians, which they used to bribe voters. There were many election-related deaths either in the hands of thugs or in the hands of some uniformed men. The role of the police and the army calls for intense scrutiny.

Despite their heavy-handed presence, ballot boxes were snatched. In places where a party thought another party won, thugs showed up to set ballot boxes and ballot papers on fire.

As at Monday after the election, gubernatorial elections in Sokoto, Bauchi, Plateau, Benue and Imo have been declared inconclusive, while collation of results in Rivers State already came to a halt on Sunday afternoon.

We cannot call this an improvement on what we accomplished in 2015. The little respect we earned from the international community after the 2015 elections was squandered. We have simply told the rest of the world that we are either unable or unwilling to organize credible elections in Nigeria. The recent elections remind us that we need to embark on far-reaching reforms of our country’s electoral process. Why did we not do that before the elections?

Apart from the fact that there was no level playing ground, the current electoral process is grossly lacking in transparency. What happens between the polling units and the collation centres is beyond our sight.

As a result, it is difficult for Nigerians to vouch for the authenticity of the results being read to them by returning officers. Nigerians reacted to this manifest lack of transparency by largely staying away from the second round of voting on March 9, 2019.

Voter apathy is a way of telling us that our people have lost faith in the electoral process. We, therefore, need an electoral process whose umpire is not appointed by any of the contestants, an electoral commission that is independent, not just in name but above all in deed, a judiciary that is not subject to the whims and caprices of politicians, and security agencies whose loyalty will be to the people and not to politicians.

Do we need to be told that, in this day and age, it has become ridiculously primitive to use ballot papers and not electronic voting? Nigerians are using their ATM cards for banking transactions. Those cards are linked to the phone numbers of the owners. There is no reason why SIM cards, bank cards, national identity cards, driver’s licence, and even international passports cannot be synchronized and used as voter’s cards. We will know the results of the elections within a few minutes, and the rest of the international community will respect us as a nation. It is one of our indices of monumental failure that it took us 72 hours to announce the result of the presidential election.

Senegal, one of our West African neighbours, conducted her elections a day after we held ours. No lives were lost, no jollof rice was served at polling units. But the Senegalese got the results of their elections before they went to bed that Sunday. Do we still have the guts, the temerity to call our country the giant of Africa?

The far-reaching electoral law reform we need is to be rooted in a constitution that has either been replaced or massively amended.

The current constitution facilitates corruption, poverty and insecurity by placing so much powers in the hands of the government at the centre, the government that organizes the elections despite the designation of the electoral commission as independent. This country has been set up in such a way that the government at the centre wields a disproportionate amount of power and money.

To be in government is to have a monopolistic access to Nigeria’s wealth, and that wealth comes in handy in pursuing a reelection bid. Contending candidates and parties resort to all manner of unseemly behaviour before, during and after the elections, not minding the legacy of anti-democratic tendency they are leaving behind. The time has come to seriously consider a one-term presidency and a one-term governorship mandate.

The time has come to identify and sanction the troublemakers among our politicians. But how can we do this when those who are to arrest offenders are taking orders from offenders? How can we protect the electoral process when security agencies are not seen to be neutral?

It is not in the interest of Nigeria to continue to accept criminality as politics. The 2019 elections will be remembered for showing us that our democracy is in danger. Shall we boldly address the issues raised by the conduct of these elections or shall we just celebrate our victories and lick our wounds?

In 1970, at the end of the Nigerian Civil War, General Yakubu Gowon declared: “No victor no vanquished.”  Shall we have the candour to admit that at the end of the 2019 elections there have been no victors but all have been vanquished?

 

Anthony Cardinal Olubunmi Okojie


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