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Date Published: 09/21/10

Nigeria needs Credible Elections in 2011 By Chinua Akukwe


The Independent Electoral Commission in Nigeria (INEC) recently released the timetable for the 2011 elections, ending January. The political temperature is already rising as political parties organize party primaries for elective offices. In the international arena, the election is already attracting attention, including dire post election scenarios painted by the former US Ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell. It does not take a soothsayer to know that the 2011 election is crucial in the evolution of democracy in Nigeria. Contrary to Ambassador Campbell post election scenario about possible political violence between the “Muslim North” and the “Christian South,” the 2011 elections has the capacity to midwife crucial changes in the body polity of the country.

A 2011 free and fair election in Nigeria will for the first time address a widely held perception in Nigeria: the belief that Nigerian politicians do not fear the ballot box. The conventional wisdom is that the fear of the ballot box is the beginning of political wisdom. And the conventional wisdom is that elected officials ignore the needs and priorities of constituents at their peril. In Nigeria, this conventional wisdom is yet to become standard operating practice. It is critical for Nigeria to establish a transparent way of measuring voter satisfaction with their elected leaders. Without direct, verifiable linkages between political stewardship and political legitimacy, it is difficult to forecast a scenario of sustainable development in Nigeria.

The fight against corruption and bad governance in Nigeria will continue to be a struggle as long as the legitimacy of elected leaders is in question. Voters in a free and fair election usually punish elected leaders perceived as tainted by corruption or maladministration. Voters also punish elected officials with bad governance records. Politicians and elected officials need to believe that corrupt acts in addition to the criminal consequences are also punishable at the polls. Even for elected officials covered by the immunity clause in Nigeria’s constitution while in office, the prospect of facing irate voters in a free and fair election can be a deterrent. However, today, the deterrent factor is largely absent in Nigeria’s politics.

A free and fair election in 2011 will go a long way in demystifying larger-than-life personalities that have dominated the political space in Nigeria. Big men and big women are alive and well in Nigeria. Political kingpins and godfathers have been relied upon in Nigeria to “deliver” their constituencies even when there is no verifiable evidence of these individuals attracting democracy dividends to their long suffering populace. Subjecting these larger-than-life figures to the majesty of the ballot box would help sanitize the political process. It is also possible that some of these larger-than-life personalities will legitimately win transparent elections. This scenario will also strengthen democracy.

A transparent election will test again the thesis that ethnicity and religion play significant roles in electoral outcomes in Nigeria. Nigeria is a multi-ethnic federation. Even the smallest states by population and geographic area have multiple ethnic groups. As some of the commentators that responded to Ambassador Campbell piece had indicated, it is simplistic to write about a Muslim North and a Christian South. Anybody familiar with the 19 states of the North should be aware of the significant proportion of Christians in at least 17 of these states. In most of these states (including the states where they are in the majority), Christians have such a significant share of the voting population that they can influence the outcome of a free and fair election. It is also known that in the same family, you may have individuals who are Muslims and Christians. In Southwest Nigeria, a sizeable Muslim population resides in all 5 states in the region. Again, we know that in North and South Nigeria, millions are adherents of traditional religious practices.

A free-and-fair election in Nigeria is crucial to the emergence and maturation of battle tested national political parties. Organizing, motivating and mobilizing party supporters require proficiency in strategy formulation, logistics, research and outreach. To have the chance of forming national governments, political parties must break out of their “strongholds” and seek votes in all parts of the country. Once every political party in Nigeria understands that elections will be free and fair, natural consolidation of parties will occur to form broad-based national parties that can contest elections in all parts of the country. Nigeria needs broad-based national political parties that seek mandate from voters according to specific policies and programs. In addition, it is important for ruling political parties at the federal, state and local levels to be kept on their toes by strong, well organized opposition political parties.

Closely related to the maturation of battle hardened political parties is the potential role that successive free and fair elections starting in 2011 can play in enshrining issue-based politics in Nigeria. It is an open secret that political parties rarely engage in issues-based politics in Nigeria. Members of political parties many not be conversant with the political manifesto and platforms of their party. Very little policy differences exist between political parties. Starting 2011, successive free and fair elections can help usher in issues-based election campaigns and governance in Nigeria.

Individuals with appealing political platforms in a free-and-fair election will have a decent chance against heavily financed opponents. As seen in established democracies, money may not necessarily translate into electoral victory at the polls. However, if an election is fraudulent, it is much harder for a candidate with poor financial support to emerge victorious against a money-bag candidate.

For Nigeria to achieve a free-and-fair election in 2011, three stakeholders, besides INEC are important. First, the print and electronic media are critical in voter sensitization and mobilization campaigns. The mass media should play critical roles in publicizing voter registration processes. The mass media include those operating in Nigeria and the Diaspora. The media should also assist in scrutinizing and critiquing logistics plan for elections; assessing contingency plans for conducting elections and; monitoring the transparency of electoral results. To become credible and influential, media outfits must be on the side of the legitimate winners of elections at all times.

Another critical stake holder is the civil society. They have immeasurable roles to play in ensuring free and fair elections, especially during the voting, counting, collating and result transmission stages of the electoral process. Public safety agencies, especially the Nigeria Police Force should not only be neutral throughout the electioneering campaign and the voting process but must also safeguard the entire process. Without the media, the civil society and public safety agencies playing their role, the INEC, no matter the integrity of its leadership, cannot conduct a free-and-fair election in Nigeria.

The 2011 election in Nigeria is crucial to the country’s continued evolution as a democracy. After 12 years of fitful democracy and three national elections, Nigeria should have little or no excuse for another controversial election. Nigeria’s needs to ensure that it’s elected leaders won their elections in a transparent process. .

Every politician running for elective office during the 2011 election should sign a free and fair election compact with Nigerian voters. Every political party should also sign the compact. The media and the civil society can draw up this symbolic but powerful compact to be signed by all politicians running for office.

The 2011 free and fair election compact should have the following objectives:

  • The politician/candidate commits himself/herself to a free and fair 2011 election;
  • The politician/candidate commits to a violence free electioneering campaign and voting process, and in particular, will not employ or utilize any political thug/enforcer;
  • The politician/candidate pledges to respect the sanctity of the ballot in the free and fair 2011 election. In particular, the politician/candidate pledges never to be party to the discussion and implementation of any rigging strategy that negates the will of Nigerian voters during the 2011 election;
  • The politician/candidate pledges to accept the results of a free and fair election. If not satisfied, the politician/candidate pledges to utilize the judiciary process to peacefully resolve conflicts from the 2011 election.

Dr. Chinua Akukwe is the former Vice Chairman of the National Council for International Health (NCIH), now known as the Global Health Council, Washington, DC, the largest voluntary global health organization in the world. He has written extensively on health and development issues. He is the author of five books.

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