My University teacher, Prof Richard Joseph in his written commentary on the 2007 general elections in Nigeria dismissd the exercise as “an election like event”.
As far as the world famous inventor of the ‘prebendal theory’ in Nigerian politics was concerned, what happened in Nigeria that year under the supervision of President Olusegun Obasanjo was not an election at all. It was merely dressed in the garb of an election, to look like one.
Significantly, even the chief beneficiary of that elaborate scam, Umar Musa Yar’adua called the world’s attention to the absurdity. In the second paragraph of his inaugural speech on 29th May 2007, he had this to say:
“We acknowledge that our elections had some shortcomings… Accordingly, I will set up a panel to examine the entire electoral process with a view to ensuring that we raise the quality and standard of our general elections, and thereby deepen our democracy.”
A man of infinite honour, President Yar’adua eventually set the promised Electoral Reform Panel under the chairmanship former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Muhammed Lawal Uwais to oversee and overhaul our electoral system.
By December, 2008, Justice Umais and his fellow panelist came out with a set of well thought out recommendations to the President who gave them the chance to serve Nigeria. What happened to those recommendations remains one of the ‘maybe ifs’ of Nigerian history. Maybe if President Umaru Yar’adua was strong and healthy, maybe if the President had lived a little bit longer, he would have been able to carry out the recommendations of Uwais and company. As it turned out, the President became sick, very sick and as his health deteriorated, so did his attention to state matters wane. Eventually he died without implementing the report.
Nigeria was thus denied the full benefit of that excellent job. Prof Attahiru Jega, who was on that panel eventually became the Chairman of the Independent National Election Commission (INEC) and tried to implement some of those progressive recommendations. Unfortunately he did not have the mandate of the government to implement them wholesale because government did not take a comprehensive decision on the panel’s report. All Jega could do was pick and choose those aspects of the report that caught his fancy.
Despite the piecemeal implementation of the recommendations, Jega as Chairman left a fairly good record at INEC. The first general election he presided over in 2011 was an improvement on the “election like event” of 2007, even if it was not perfect. In 2015, he made his best outing to the extent that an incumbent President lost an election for the first time in Nigeria’s electoral history. So comprehensive and so convincing was the defeat that the mauled president conceded defeat even before the final count and collation of results.
The 2015 feat was not perfect. An election in Nigeria and other third world countries can hardly be perfect. Still, it represented a milestone in our road to democratic governance and we had hoped that succeeding elections would be an improvement on that record.
Tragically beginning with this year’s general elections we have gone back to our same old song of profound mismanagement of elections and electoral malpractices. The elections were billed to start on February 16 this year; suddenly and unexpectedly, the Chairman INEC Prof MahmoodYakubu announced a few hours to election that the polling date has been shifted for one week. It was a terrible let down.
The following week, the Chairman embarked on marathon daily press briefings to reassure the country and international observers that INEC was ready for the exercise. Come February 23 when elections finally took place, it was an anticlimax. The elections were marred by such logistics problems like late or none arrival of voting materials or their misdirection to wrong destinations; card readers also refused to function.
In some areas, these problems were compounded with mayhem. Politicians in their desperate bid to win elections at all cost unleashed killer squads on the citizenry. Subsequently, elections in Rivers, Anambra and Lagos were voided due to the activities of the terror groups. According to INEC Commissioner and chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye:
“The commission has received reports of violence and ballot box snatching in some areas leading to the disruption of the process. We have asked the Resident Electoral Commissioners RECs and the Electoral Officials on ground to submit their firsthand reports in relation to some of these incidents. We are still receiving reports relating to incidences in some states of the federation but we have received reports relating to incidences in Akuku Toru and Bonny local government areas of Rivers state.
“So long as the commission could not deploy in these areas, the implication is that voting did not take place in those areas and the commission will hold consultations with the relevant authorities and the Resident Electoral Commissioners RECs in relation to these areas and will announce the date when polls will take place in some of these areas, especially in relation to the areas as they affect the House of Representatives and Senatorial elections.
“It is not only in Rivers that we had reports of burning of electoral materials. We have such reports from Anambra and Lagos states as well as some other places.
In Lagos there emerged the gory details of how a member of the Odua People’s Congress, MrDemola was lynched at Ago Palace Way Okota Lagos where he was alleged to have, in company of his collaborators, burnt electoral materials. In Rivers State, over 10 persons were reportedly shot dead in Abomena in Akuku Toru Local Government Area. In Bayelsa, armed men in military uniforms killed a Government House Photographer, Mr Reginald Dei and one other person at Oweikorogbha, Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of Bayelsa Sate. Dei was killed alongside the ward chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the area Mr. SeidoughaTaribi.
The final results of the elections held last Saturday 23rd were yet to be officially released when I wrote this opinion. But from the syncopation we are getting so far, we are just singing the same old song.