The 2011 general elections have come and gone, and judging from the comments of local and international observers including Nigeria’s Nobel Laureate Professor Wole Soyinka the processes, especially the National Assembly and the presidential polls, were in many respects free, fair and credible.
This, however, does not obviate the possibility of some challenges or lapses here and there which the appropriate tribunals should meticulously sort out without fear or favour. Nigeria has for the first time escaped the perennial scourge of international censure that greets flawed elections, such as Zimbabwe’s of 2003 for which reason President Robert Mugabe was humiliatingly barred from the 2003 Abuja Commonwealth Summit. Again for the first time a Nigerian electoral umpire has emerged from the task smiling. Our leaders can now raise their heads high in the comity of nations. Yes, Professor Jega can proudly loudly proclaim, like Apostle Paul, (2 Timothy 4:7) “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept faith.”
Now the final phase of the electoral battle has shifted to the court of law where, principally, the event of 26th April, to wit, the results of the governorship and state houses of assembly polls in various states will be contested by aggrieved parties. Incidentally, reports by many observers seem to agree that that particular election, in many respects, was hardly free and fair. Mr. Amos Sawyer, the former head of Liberia’s Interim National Government, leading ECOWAS monitoring team, said that in Delta and Akwa Ibom States movement of his group was restricted to certain places. Similarly, Project Swift, another coalition of independent observers, said the same states topped their list of places where electoral abuse prevailed. Thus, in many instances party agents in states like Akwa Ibom, Abia, Benue, Niger, Jigawa, Kwara, Kaduna, Ebonyi, Kebbi etc. had refused to endorse the final results of the poll. This is a clear pointer to the epic legal battles destined for those places in the days ahead.
But certainly, for obvious reason, proceedings in the more controversial states like Benue, Akwa Ibom, Bauchi and Kaduna are more likely to attract public attention than others. In Akwa Ibom State, particularly, the Returning Officer Mrs. Comfort Ekpo was courageous enough to disclose while announcing the result, that collation officers who monitored the poll did complain of electoral “malpractices” in different LGAs. “Without mentioning different Local Government Areas that had such challenges, I want us to know that we have come a long way though we had some forms of malpractices along the line,” she said (see The Nation of April 28, 2011). Mrs. Ekpo’s open admission that the exercise was marred by malpractices is unique, being the only one of its kind by anyone else in her capacity. What is more, it is in tandem with press reports which pointed at many polling points, wards and particularly collation centres as scenes of some of the offenses.
In fact, the situation was reportedly bloody in Ibesikpo/Asutan, Ibiono Ibom and few other places, according to The Punch of 27/4/2011 and this must have partly informed the paper’s editorial of 2/5/2011 calling for the establishment of an Electoral Offences Tribunal in the country. The paper cited Oron, Ikono, Ikot Inyan, Itu and Nsit Atai as examples of places that recorded ugly scenes. In Oron, the combined team of security men who took away ballot boxes were said to have acted on a distress call from INEC’s ad hoc staff who alleged that their lives were threatened by local youths. It is not clear however whether the electoral law justifies such interventions and if it does, whether accredited party agents did accompany the affected ballot boxes to their final destinations where they were opened and the votes counted. This is a critical issue because even though we applaud this as Nigeria’s “finest hour”, it goes without saying that this has also been the costliest in our election history not only in terms of Naira and Kobo, but also blood and sweat.
Therefore, if we really cherish the modest achievements and selfless sacrifices of Jega’s INEC and our gallant Youth Corps members, the judiciary must be upright and forthright in the process of resolving all the complaints arising from the process. In a situation where judges are said to lobby nowadays for appointment into election tribunals, those responsible for such appointments must be careful in order to ensure that only persons of impeccable character who have demonstrable courage are entrusted with the onerous task of doing justice to the various petitions, if aggrieved elements must not lose faith in the legal process and resort to self-help in future elections. With five political parties: ACN, ANPP, APGA, LP and CPC now controlling 12 states among them we are gradually gravitating towards a balanced polity which will not fully materialize unless the system is made to rid itself of all residues and vestiges of do-or-die political orientation reminiscent of the Obasanjo era. Towards this end, therefore, any contestant or political party that is found to have swallowed more than it lawfully deserved in the recent elections must be made to disgorge same in full. This is our hope; this is the task before the tribunal, and the world is watching.
President Goodluck Jonathan should maintain the admirable neutrality which he has so far displayed in the affairs of the INEC and the judiciary. He has vindicated G.K. Chesterton who said that “you can never have a revolution in order to establish a democracy. You must have a democracy in order to have a revolution.” To build a truly united nation of shared ideologies or interests, the expectation of Nigerians no doubt is a symbiotic situation where the PDP, ACN, ANPP, CPC, APGA and one other political party can without any let or hindrance win parliamentary and governorship elections outside their main catchment areas. But this will remain a mere dream, if not nightmare, if election riggers and their collaborators are not thought some decisive or lasting lesson by the judiciary.
Mr. Nzeakah is a former Editor of Sunday Punch.