Democracy is the best form of government since it allows everybody to participate in the election that will produce the leaders. Democracy also assures the people of the protection of their fundamental human rights.
The advantages of democracy are so many that almost all the countries of the world try to imbibe the democratic norm. But there is no way democracy can be enthroned without free and fair elections. Democracy promotes development since the government has to be people-oriented to continue to win elections.
The opposition, on the contrary, always queries the actions of government to put it on its toes ensure that it meets the yearnings of the people. The conduct of good elections is essential in sustaining democracy.
This is why, in assessing the Nigerian electoral system, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will be placed on the scale to see whether or not it has performed creditably well.
INEC did not enjoy much respect from Nigerians and the international community until former President Goodluck Jonathan began to assure Nigerians that his government was going to enthrone democracy in Nigeria by conducting credible and violence-free elections. The promise was taken by Nigerians with a pinch of salt.
There was apathy towards election in Nigeria before that promise; the peoples’ votes did not count. Elections were always marred with irregularities. Chief among them was ballot-snatching, ballot-smashing, and ballot-stuffing. Political hooliganism was the order of the day, compelling many to stay away from the electoral process. Things started to change for the better with the last governorship election in Anambra state when government stormed the state with an unprecedented number of security men.
Yet, that election still showed some flaws. Government started to regain the confidence of the people in the electoral system with the conduct of the Ekiti gubernatorial election. The Osun governorship election that followed immediately after was also adjudged credible to a great extent.
Apart from its being peaceful, the elections were flawless; especially the Ekiti election, prompting even the loser, incumbent Gov. Kayode Fayemi, to waste no time in accepting its outcome and congratulating the winner, Mr. Ayo Fayose. The Ekiti election was described by everybody, including international observers, as free and fair; it was credible and violence-free. INEC was at its best as its actions before, during, and after the election were those of a truly independent umpire. This was carried over to Osun state.
People started taking Jonathan and INEC serious. For the first time, Nigeria began to earn respect in the international community as a country that can bring about the much-needed change in democratic governance in Africa. How was this feat achieved? First, Jonathan appointed a former president of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Professor Attahiru Jega, as INEC chairman. The former President said he had never met Jega until his appointment. Jonathan also gave Jega a free hand to perform his duties. BY and large, Professor Jega proved up to the task as Nigerians judged generally him to have delivered.
As earlier stated, one of the reasons why Jega succeeded because Jonathan and the ruling People’s Democratic Party gave him a free hand to operate. At no point was the government accused of trying to tamper with the process. Everybody believed INEC had come of age and the hope for a better future for Nigeria’s democracy rose to an unprecedented level; what with a presidential election where an opposition party defeated the ruling party and the election generated no row among Nigerians – and there was peaceful transition from a ruling government to an opposition party.
Sadly, it appears today that INEC has fallen from the high pedestal to which it rose under the Jonathan PDP administration; as people now say, the electoral body, like the proverbial dog, is now back to its vomit. The last governorship elections in Rivers and Edo states left a sour taste in the mouth of Nigerians; compelling people began to begin to change their hitherto complimentary opinion about the electoral body. The poor performance of INEC has dealt a blow on the purported anti-corruption stance of the Buhari administration as the people have described electoral malpractice and anti-corruption crusade as incongruous.
Meanwhile, there are apprehensions that what happened in Rivers and Edo and to some extent in Ondo, where shameless vote-buying in open daylight was rampant, may seek to rear its ugly head in Ekiti and Osun states next year if care is not taken. Already, Ekiti state’s Gov. Ayodele Fayose has warned that Ekiti people will not take any nonsense from INEC, which has shown open bias to APC in every election since the Buhari administration came into power.
Two recent damning reports on INEC officials however leave sour tastes in the mouth. The first was the report of an investigation set up by INEC itself into the Rivers election. Its findings were damning as it found that security agencies that were supposed to provide security became the private armies of political gladiators for a fee and INEC officials that were to maintain the sanctity of the electoral process also lent themselves to be compromised to make the election tainted.
The second was the report of the EFCC which accused some INEC officials of accepting bribes from politicians to compromise the sanctity of elections placed in their care. These, indeed, are ominous signs that we may be back to the evil days of brazen rigging of elections in which the votes of the electorate amounted to nothing.
The 2018 Ekiti election – and immediately after it Osun – provides an opportunity for the electoral body to repair its badly-damaged image. It is hoped that the electoral body will seize the opportunity to turn away from its brazen partisanship on the side of the APC so as to disabuse the minds of Nigerians about its fall from grace to grass. The ruling APC must move away from its win-at-all-costs politics.
It must allow for free and fair elections, without which it would not have come to power. It was particularly the Ekiti governorship election in 2014 that convinced the whole world that INEC had met the world standard in electoral umpire. Next year’s election affords another opportunity for INEC to turn a new leaf, reclaim its lost glory, and have a good mention in the annals of history. (Vanguardngr)