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Homepage > Regions / Countries > Africa > West Africa > Nigeria > Nothing short of credible elections will be acceptable

Nothing short of credible elections will be acceptable

Kunle Amuwo, The Nation  |   4 Apr 2011

After three successive flawed and well-below-par general elections in 1999, 2003 and 2007, it clearly is underwhelming to say that the current polls are critical for Nigeria’s overall health as well as her standing in the comity of nations. Yet, violence is set to undermine the chance for Nigeria to hold credible elections. Such an outcome will ruin Nigeria’s chance of cleaning up its image internationally. There is still time, however, for Nigeria’s politicians, INEC Chairman Attahiru Jega and President Jonathan Goodluck to prevent a violent outburst. The huge human, material and financial investment – as well as hope – in being probably fourth time lucky to get democratic elections right should not be allowed to go to waste. Nigerians should not be immune from elections that are not only credible but also free from fear!

In the last three weeks, a blend of cautious optimism and political foreboding and trepidation has cast a pall on preparations by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The mixed picture of the Delta governorship re-run election in January this year looms large: whereas election organisation was praised by many Deltans, the result was widely contested against the backdrop of low-intensity violence in the state during the polls.

Jega and his team have won deserved plaudits for electoral reforms instituted since July 2010. The signing, by 52 political parties, including the ruling PDP, of the political code of conduct for the elections; the functioning of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (IACCES) at the state level and in about 20 percent of 774 LGAs; the barring, by INEC, of all political office holders at all levels of government from monitoring elections or serving as party agents, unless they resign their appointments, are some of INEC reforms that have been applauded. The idea of community mandate protection, anchored on a four-chain process of voter accreditation, voting, ballot counting and result posting in full public glare to prevent malfeasance; and the cancellation of fraudulent results at the polling booths, are further commendable INEC policies.

These reforms have been boosted by the planned revamping and revival of Registration Area Camps (RACs), where officials, ad-hoc workers and voting materials would be accommodated on the eve of elections to ensure early arrival at polling booths. Police personnel who carry out unlawful orders will be held responsible. Political stakeholders, including senior police officers, recommended at a recent National Conference on Partnering the Police for free, fair and credible 2011 Elections that vote collation centres should be shifted to public schools from local government secretariats in order not to give undue advantage to ruling parties in the states. Finally, Jega’s announcement that 22 persons, including youth corps members and INEC officials involved in recent electoral offences, have been prosecuted and sentenced, a novelty in Nigeria’s electoral history, should serve as a disincentive to prospective perpetrators of election malfeasance.

Many of these changes, however, remain largely unknown to the electorate. In the days ahead, INEC and all other stakeholders — including state-run and private broadcasters; the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG) and other NGOs and civil society groups, the print and mass media, schools, churches and mosques – should work together to diffuse the new voting procedure and other pertinent reforms to the electorate nation-wide. This can be done through the usual channels: print media advertorials; jingles and special announcements on Radio and TV; and repeated announcements in schools, churches and mosques.

President Goodluck Jonathan’s repeated assurances of credible elections to Nigerians and the international community as well as his politically-correct statements is a welcome departure from the ‘do-or die’ stance of his ruling PDP in the past. This should contribute to a significant attenuation of the dangerously high political temperature. Similarly, the Chief Justice‘s riot act to judicial officers who will serve on the (post) Election Petition Tribunal, if subsequently fully acted upon, will signal an era of business as unusual.

INEC continues to grapple with an avalanche of court cases, including those on party primaries in which the commission was joined as a respondent. There is no clear legal framework for the elections; different versions of the 1999 Constitution as amended and the Electoral Act 2010 (with 2011 amendments) are in circulation and neither the National Assembly nor the Ministry of Justice has done anything about the situation. They should move swiftly to resolve this stalemate by agreeing, and then clarifying, which of the constitutional amendments and which version of the electoral law are authentic and in force. Politicians, in particular incumsbents, determined to rig elections, have been linked, in some states, to illegal possession of Direct Data Capture (DDC) machines used for voter-registration by some INEC officials. While the latter are being prosecuted, suspected politicians are off the hook.

By far the most potent and ominous challenge to the holding of credible elections is the upsurge of political violence in many of the states. A milder form of violence involves the use of incumbency, by sitting governors, to derail campaign trains of their opponents through destruction of their billboards, the use of thuggery, and state media black-out against the opposition. Politicians also use police and diplomatic number plates to perpetrate political crimes. Many politicians and their surrogates are showing more and more ugly signs of strain and desperation. Between March 22 and March 25, reckless and indiscriminate violence rocked the following states: Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bayelsa, Benue, Delta, Edo, Ekiti, Kwara, Niger, Oyo, Plateau and Taraba.

Some of the details are gory: murder of a local PDP politician in Ekiti State, falling into a month-long pattern of killings in the state; killing of two people during a Delta State political meeting and nine ACN supporters during a violent face-off with PDP supporters in Akwa Ibom; disruption, by gun shots, in Bayelsa and Niger states, respectively, of the campaign rallies of Labour Party governorship candidate and sitting governor; stoning of the convoy of Niger State governor; unleashing of mayhem, by well-armed youths, in Oyo state, at a campaign rally of an opposition governorship candidate, resulting in 15 injured people and 20 damaged vehicles. There was, in addition, another bomb scare in the capital, Abuja. Arms stockpiling has also been reported; illegal arms and large quantities of explosive materials were recently recovered in Enugu, Jos and Ekiti state. The Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) warned in a statement on February 8 that insecurity and violence constituted a present and imminent threat to the polls.

Except government and the security forces, notably the police and the army — who are scheduled to carry out joint patrol during the elections — can be used, without delay, to rein in politicians and their thugs, elections risk being cancelled or postponed in several parts of the country. The president of the powerful Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) has threatened to ask workers to boycott the polls if federal and state governments do not stop spiraling violence. Millions of voters may be disenfranchised by being too scared to go out to cast their votes. Politicians who orchestrate violence must be held accountable, and prosecuted. Unless violence is swiftly curtailed and contained, there will be no basis for credible elections.

Kunle Amuwo is Senior Analyst with the West Africa Project of the International Crisis Group, Dakar, Senegal

The Nation

 
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