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Date Published: 05/13/10

Ensuring that all Votes Count By Uche Ohia

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Listening to the inaugural address delivered May 6, 2010 by Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan on his assumption of office as the President of Federal Republic of Nigeria, and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, what appears on top of the priority list of our new leader besides total commitment to good governance, is electoral reform. Hear him: “we must enshrine the best standards in our democratic practice”. For the President, “one of the true tests would be to ensure that all votes count and are counted in the upcoming General Elections”.

In a nation that has been ravaged by political brigands without the law apprehending and punishing even one offender, in a nation where imposters occupy public offices for years without consequences and remain on protocol lists on account of this criminal subterfuge, in a country whose political development has been manacled and shackled by electoral delinquency, these words are like soothing music to a troubled soul. The people are taking the President by his words. He has set a task for himself. He has made a covenant with the people.

By pledging to restore the sanctity of the ballot box in the coming election Jonathan is reading the political temperature of the country accurately. Nigerians are tired of electoral malfeasance. Nigerians are fed up with politicians and political parties that violate the rules of electoral conduct. Whether at the level of party congress, convention, primaries or the general elections, Nigerians have become absolutely weary of manipulations that result in the violation of the right of the people to choose who among them is credible and trust-worthy enough to be vested with public office. If votes do not count, the emergence of credible and capable persons to drive national development in Nigeria cannot be guaranteed.

It is because votes do not count in Nigeria’s abuse-prone electoral system that the people have lost confidence in their leadership. Political parties that should serve as the epitome of democratic practice are suffering from arrested development and stunted growth. Many political parties in Nigeria operate like cults or clubs. Rather than woo and welcome new entrants knowing that politics is a game of numbers, political parties in Nigeria treat new entrants with suspicion, hide membership registers, alter membership lists and even de-list members to suit the dubious machinations of party leaders. Opposition has become moribund.

The ward membership registers of most political parties often serve the purpose of exclusion rather than inclusion; names appear or disappear as occasion demands. Internal democracy within the so-called political parties is stifled. The will of party members does not count: party ‘leaders’ or ‘elders’ (a synonym for influential members of the party with little grass-root following) take all the decisions including those which, under the party’s constitution, ought to be taken by the party in congress. Such undemocratic terms as “ratification” and “consensus” used to justify inanities have become part of our political lexicon.

When votes do not count or are not counted, ‘victory’ does not go to the best candidate but to the best rigger - that is the candidate whose political party has greater capacity to intimidate, to cheat, or to compromise electoral officials, security agents and, if need be, to unleash violence. When votes do not count, candidates seek, not to outscore each other in the ballot, but to outmanouvre (or, if you like, outrig) each other. When votes do not count, the electoral process becomes devoid of even a modicum of morality: the end justifies the means.

This explains why Nigerian politicians operate more in consonance with the principle of osmosis. In elementary biology, osmosis is defined as the attraction of a weaker solution by a stronger solution through a permeable membrane. Osmosis, politically speaking, involves defection of a Nigerian politician (usually with fanfare) from a weaker party to a stronger party through a porous system that glorifies indiscretion. The only reason why this infraction, a rare move in any decent polity, has become popular in Nigeria to the point of becoming a norm is because votes do not count. Ambitious politicians desperate for bandwagon effect drift to the party with the greater capacity for mobilizing electoral mercenaries.

For President Jonathan to ensure that every vote counts, he needs to push the Electoral Reform initiative through the remaining walls of resistance. Public opinion favours adopting the Uwais Report wholesale. The President also needs to release money budgeted for INEC timeously so that the Commission would be able to meet it’s targets. But Nigerians must prepare to make their votes count. The people must protect their votes. More importantly, the president must ensure that the lesson of the 2009 Anambra State Governorship Election is applied in the 2011 General Election. The Nigerian Police is bedeviled by manpower and logistic problems. Deploying law enforcement agents across the federation on Election Day spreads them out too thinly for any effective policing of polling booths.

The President should, therefore, need to ensure that the 2011 General Elections are staggered for six weeks such that one weekend is devoted to each geo-political zone. This would make it possible to assemble officers and men from multiple commands and so flood the states in each zone with law enforcement officers that stealing, snatching, and smashing of ballot boxes, thuggery, under-age voting, multiple thumb printing, stuffing of ballot boxes and other illegalities would be nipped in the bud. Electoral officials and those who induce, persuade and/or compel them to release fabricated election results would be deterred from such enterprise. Diversion, delay and/or seizure of election materials by politicians to disenfranchise voters would be become manifestly ill-advised.

President Jonathan has declared that the votes must count in 2011 but the worry of some citizens is whether this will be another sanctimonious declaration. Is he really set to banish impunity from the electoral process and to break the vicious cycle of electoral chaos? For now, the President enjoys the trust of the people. Many of the actions he took in the last few months as ‘Acting President’ stood him out as a man of honour – and one that respects public opinion. On his honour, the President has vowed to revive the moribund democratic ethos in the nation . That will assuage the seething frustration in the polity. This democratic dispensation has already been stretched to a dangerous limit by prevalent voter apathy, disdain for politicians and disenchantment with the political process.

But there is one question which is at the back of everyone’s mind: will President Jonathan run for election in the 2011 election? Of course, it is his constitutional right to do so! But is it politically expedient at this time given the Herculean task that he has set for himself? Can he sincerely hope to restore the rules of a critical game in which he will be an interested contestant? The answer is floating in the wind. uchebush@yahoo.com; 0805 1090 050

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