WAITINIG FOR YAR’ADUA’S PROMISED POLITICAL REFORMS.
At the recently concluded G8 summit in Germany, President Yar’adua demonstrated one of the rare qualities of a leader—honesty—an attribute that only very few Nigerian leaders can lay claim to. There he told the world that the general election that led to his emergence and inauguration as the 13 th Commander-in-chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria was neither free nor fair. He then assured his audience that he will effect some electoral reforms in the land.
It does not appear that he made the assertion simply because the whole world had already known how he became the president. Mr Yar’adua may have made the remark because he not only wants to distance himself from his predecessor and incidentally the person who orchestrated that rape on democracy and who had told the same world shortly after the election that there was nothing wrong with the exercise even as he conceded that an election cannot be completely free and fair but also from his fellow beneficiaries of the that fraud who do not want to contradict the patriarch. So why not resign Mr. President?
Yes, for the greatest beneficiary of an electoral fraud of that magnitude to unequivocally differ from the designer of the mess shows among other things that you will not allow anybody to push you around contrary to the thinking of most Nigerians including me.
Back to the promised and much needed reforms, Mr. President. What shape will they take?
The problem with the Nigerian electoral system has little or nothing to do with the party system. The massive rigging that marked the last election did not occur due to the large number of political parties that took part in it as the last senate seemed to be thinking in its twilight days. The elections were rigged because your party, the PDP felt that it could not afford to lose massively. Enacting a legislation that will make Nigeria a two-party state may help in solving the problem of our electoral system but greater consideration should be given to such vital areas as convincing every Nigerian that his/her vote counts, campaign financing, thuggery, the role of INEC, the rotation of the presidency and the other key federal positions among the six geopolitical zones of the nation and the role of the police and other paramilitary organizations in time of election.
In advanced democracies every vote counts. A vote can determine who wins and who loses. Nigerians have lost confidence in our electoral system because the results of most of our elections do not reflect the values of the electorate. The central business of government has veered from service to the people to personal aggrandizement. Losers have repeatedly been declared winners and vice versa. Consequently our level of participation in most elections after the unjustified annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election has been remarkably low. Apathy greeted the National Assembly elections of 1998 because most Nigerians viewed it as late Gen. Abacha’s assembly and decided to stay away. The 1999 elections were heavily rigged in favor of your party. How about the 2003 and 2007 elections? Your guess is as good as mine, Mr. President. Same old, same old story . The passion of Nigerians for elections in the country can only be re-ignited if a transparent balloting system like Professor Humphrey Nwosu’s Option A4 is substituted for the current open ballot. Despite its shortcomings the open ballot system is what we need now and in the foreseeable future because it gives the electorate confidence in it. The election is done in the open and the result announced in the full view of the voters. You can also provide each polling center with a video camera to record the events that occurred in the polling stations. Many Nigerian politicians are ready to run for electoral offices in their place of domicile rather than their place of birth once they are convinced that every vote counts. And these as you know Mr. President will help in promoting national integration and unity.
Another critical area about which you should take very decisive steps is campaign financing. This is a thorny issue because money cannot be divorced from politics. Sadly our experience has shown that potential candidates and/or aspirants finance their campaigns with funds borrowed from their cronies on excruciating conditions and/or donations made by their political god - fathers and god- mothers at predatory terms. What is more, civil servants especially teachers in some states have in the past suffered unjustly due to the employment of their salaries to the prosecution of election/re-election by some unscrupulous politicians. Here your proposed reforms should include but not limited to: knowing the candidate/aspirants current job and how much he/she makes annually, the maximum amount of money a candidate and/or aspirant should spend while running for a particular political position; how he/she sources and spends the funds; the declaration of assets by potential candidates and /or aspirants as soon as he/she indicates his/ her desire to run for any office and not when he or she has already been elected into that office. In most advanced democracies, there are laws that require candidates and/or aspirants not only to publish how much they generated for their campaigns together with the names, addresses and occupations of who donated/contributed what and how but also not to convert whatever is left from such contributions and/or donations after the elections to personal use. Such information is not fictitious. They are verifiable. Come on Mr. President, we can do this.
The menace of thugs should be closely looked at in the reforms you intend to carry out. This Moloch has been around since the 1960s.It is high time we checkmated this hydra-headed monster. Thugs snatch electoral materials from electoral officers, falsify election results, cause riots if the out come of the elections are contrary to their wish and in some instances assassinate their political opponents. Their nefarious activities are however not localized in a particular part of the country. Your proposed reform should spell out severe punishment including jail term for anybody who engages in or sponsors this ugly and illegal behavior.
The role of the election organizing body presently known as INEC should be clearly re-defined to be that of a neutral umpire. A situation where members of that body have vested and at times conflicting interests in the outcome of the election as the whole world saw in the last election in Nigeria is simply unacceptable. Elections cannot be successfully rigged without the collaboration of INEC officials. This is true. Mr. President. If Professor Iwu had courageously decided acting against the script written by Obasanjo and the PDP the last election could not have been so significantly rigged .The success of any electoral system rests squarely on the shoulders of the Electoral body. Reference has repeatedly been made to the successful elections conducted by Professor Nwosu because he was neutral and focused on the great task of doing a nice job for the nation. In time of elections most INEC officials draw a budget of how much money they will make from the candidates and the kind of houses they will build and the cars they will ride after the election. This is equally unacceptable and should no longer be tolerated. Any INEC official from the polling clerk to the chairman of the Commission who is found guilty of either directly or indirectly helping to rig elections should be sent to jail. And such conviction has to remain on the fellow’s record for the rest of his/her life. Besides, INEC officials at the three tiers of government shall henceforth be required to declare their assets and liabilities at least six months prior to any general election and routinely afterwards up to the time the next general election is scheduled to hold. Such declarations must be verifiable by a Commission of some honest men and women you will set up for that purpose.
In your promised reforms let the rotation of the presidency and other key federal positions among the six geo political continue. It helps to give everybody a sense of belonging in the corporate existence of the country. It may be suicidal to act otherwise.
Enter the Nigeria Police force. If we have a transparent balloting system, good campaign finance regulations, highly efficient electoral body, and a thug free political climate without a strong and corruption free police force all your reforms will not yield the desired results. What moral and legal authority will the police have in prosecuting any electoral offender when some of her members kept vigil over the rigging of polls somewhere in the Odukpani L.G.A. in Cross River State? Certainly none. Please let the Police and the paramilitary organizations know that their role in subsequent general elections will no longer be business as usual. Please equip the police adequately. Pay them well and promptly too. Give them good benefits. And fire the bad eggs in their rank and file. Also men and women of the Nigerian Police force should be required as a matter of course to declare their assets and liabilities at the end of each quarter of the year. Such asset / liability declarations should also be verifiable by a high- powered committee of statesmen and women. Such men like Professor Wole Soyinka, Dr Chukwuma Ezeife ,and Barrister Kanu Agabi among others may be willing to serve on the committee. And they will do it religiously too. Had this proactive measure been in place, probably it would not have been easy for the disgraced Police boss Ehindero to acquire the ten different houses and/or property that have so far been traced to him.
Mr. President: As you prepare to roll out the electoral reforms, I should sound a note of warning. The task is not going to be an easy one. The road is not going to be smooth altogether. It may be bumpy at times. Expect strong opposition from within and from without. So be prepared. Be prepared for a fight with the National Assembly. Be prepared for a clash with the so- called kingmakers. Be prepared for a tough and long duel with the political god fathers and mothers as well as their god sons and god daughters because history has shown that nobody or group who has been enjoying a position of privilege easily gives it up on demand. You are pro reform while they are pro status quo. But as gird your loins for this great endeavor I should assure you that you have the support of every one of us who has lost faith in the integrity of government in Nigeria (Local , State and Federal) and who fervently hope and pray that you successfully actualize your tall goals of not only giving Nigeria a healthy electoral system but also that of ensuring that she becomes the envy of the world and the place the be in the next decade. GOOD LUCK.
By: Ibiam Ibiam Aru, Massachusetts, USA. firstname.lastname@example.org