Sunday, 6 November 2011

                     NIGERIA’S NEW DAWN

BY: Denja Yaqub

With the results of the recent elections held in Nigeria this April, it is clear that a major hurdle in the country’s quest for good governance has been crossed. Since good governance has eluded most of the estimated 140 million citizens of the oil rich West African country that has been acclaimed the world’s most populated black nation for decades, as a result of long military rule, massive looting of the country’s treasury by both elected and appointed public officers due mainly to the obvious disdainful manner political leaders held the people who they believed should not be in their calculations; afterall they were never allowed to determine who govern them whether during military dictatorship or civilian maladministration.

One can recall a sitting President of the country promising Nigerians bloody contests just before the 2007 general elections. Then President Olusegun Obasanjo, a retired military General and veteran of the country’s only civil war that lasted 30 months, had announced to the consternation of not a few at home and abroad that the 2007 elections would be a ‘’Do-or-Die Affair’’. And true to his promise, it was.

Campaign days in some states were as bloody as election days when ballot materials were snatched at gun point, even in many cases, in the presence of hundreds of helpless voters. Results were altered at collation centres in favour of candidates who clearly lost the people’s votes. Some state results were announced in Abuja while counting of votes was still going on in those states.

In all these, as it turned out at election tribunals, officials of security agencies and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) were accomplices in ballot snatching, ballot stuffing, alteration of results, falsified voters registration particulars etc. Some Judges sitting at the Election Tribunals were also openly accused of trading off their revered positions to give rulings that were perceived to have been compromised.

All these were what characterised previous elections in Nigeria, which gave not a few Nigerians the impression that the country may never have credible elections.

But, the recent elections, conducted in April by the same INEC, led by the immediate past Vice Chancellor of Bayero University (BUK), Kano and former President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Professor Atahiru Jega showed that though irregularities cannot totally be ruled out but clearly several miles away from the fraudulent coast of previous elections in Nigeria. In any case, there is hardly anywhere in the world where elections were held without irregularities, no matter how little.

Right from the day Prof. Jega was announced as replacement for Prof. Maurice Iwu, who became the most discredited Chairperson of INEC since 1999; Nigerians eagerly looked forward for a credible election that would give the populace a chance to pick their true representatives.

This popular trust in the ability of Jega to ensure a reliable election is very strange in a country that has almost adopted fraudulent elections and corruption as a national culture.

This trust somehow may have come from the enviable past of the professor of political science as a radical professor and trade unionist who counted as one of those committed activists in the front row of pro – democracy struggles and uncompromising President of ASUU and a diligent university administrator.

Perhaps too, which may also be considered strange in a country with uncountable records of leadership gimmicks and deceits, not a few Nigerians took President Goodluck Jonathan serious on his promise to ensure credible elections. The appointment of an uncompromising professor of political science from the leftist extraction may have further reassured very many Nigerians that Mr. President meant business. Even former military dictator, General Ibrahim Babangida publicly acknowledged the ability of the professor to deliver free and fair elections. Jega was President of ASUU when Babangida outlawed the union for challenging his very many anti peoples policies and for being a union of lecturers who ‘’teach what they are not paid to teach’’.

The elections are over now, but very many people, including the international community can not wish away the fact that the results of the elections are reflections of the votes genuinely dropped and counted. There are reported cases of violence, ballot snatching and stuffing in some states. INEC cancelled proven cases in these categories, while there are hopes that the judiciary would not allow itself to be manipulated against the wishes of the electorate by declaring losers as victors, as happened in the case of previous elections. There are media reports that some 870, 612 people involved in various electoral crimes have been lined up for prosecution by INEC’s legal team. It would be very important that all those involved in electoral crimes of any sort, no matter how highly placed, are appropriately punished in accordance with the provisions of the law. This is one way the conduct of credible elections in Nigeria can be enhanced and sustained.

The campaigns, candidates, conduct of the electoral officers, security agents, voters, as well as the voting patterns during the elections in most places are indications that Nigerians are determined to deepen democracy.

Big men whose words were taken for votes in the name of god fatherism fell like packs of expired cards. Even Obasanjo who has never hidden his preference for ‘’Do – Or – Die’’ politics, lost political credibility and relevance as he was flatly demystified and effectively shamed with his Senator daughter, Iyabo; and indeed all his godson-candidates losing in the elections.

For the first time Dr. Olusola Saraki could not determine who governs the north central state of Kwara. This Saraki it was who ‘’installed’’ Adamu Atta of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN); Cornelius Adebayo of the Unity Party of Nigeria; Shaaba Lafiaji of the Social Democratic Party (SDP); Mohammed Lawal of the All Peoples Party (APP), and his blood son, Bukola of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as governors of the state at various times from the second republic to date. Bukola probably succeeded in throwing his father off the field because he succeeded in impacting on the development of the state as governor. The trust Kwara people probably had in his judgement of who succeeds him may have been based on this, and not because his surname is Saraki.

Somehow, this election has proved that in a credible poll, god fathers are rendered idle.

However, there are still many things wrong with our political system. Not a few political parties will fail when it comes to internal democracy. The way candidates emerged as flag bearers in most parties cannot be considered flawless. Some aspirants are still in court challenging the outcome of their party primaries.

For elections to be credible, the process from nomination of candidates at party primaries up to declaration of results should be of interest to INEC. Although, the Electoral Act provides for this, but the checks were not effective.

We take solace in the hope that future elections in Nigeria would be an improvement on the successes of the 2011 elections, taking all the shortcomings into cognisance.

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