We have to accept the truth. Our electoral fortunes in the last 22 months have been a mixed bag of little successes and grave disappointments. We may decide to apportion blames to one agency or another; to particular individuals or circumstances, but the reality is that this is a collective indictment on every Nigerian. Our democracy came with a steep price. Sadly in the last 17 years, it appears that politicians have thrown every destructive antic at this democracy to further personal interests at the expense of our collective good. We need to wake up to the urgency of now. We need to wake up to the reality that Nigerians are tired and frustrated and that our continued macabre dance of shame around elections is destroying our collective psyche and faith in the democratic process.
Nobody is in doubt of where we are coming from. It is a history of dictatorship whose brutal imprint is still etched in every facet of our nation’s life. Many Nigerians paid with their lives for the ‘democracy’ we now enjoy. Since 1999, we have struggled as a country to get our electoral process right. We have struggled at the expense of thousands of lives. We have pushed our country to the precipice and back. We have blown billions of dollars in effort to make our processes credible. The world stood with us, fought with us and rejoiced with us in our effort to promote electoral integrity. It is then very disheartening that after the monumental success of the 2015 elections, Nigeria seemed to be on auto reverse on the quality of elections.
Despite the world having celebrated Nigeria for its electoral maturity, we are still confronted with electoral rascality, as was seen in Rivers State recently; the questionable postponement in Edo; the perceived manipulations in Ondo; and violence and bribery in Bayelsa. Both leading political parties are equally liable in some of these crises but the buck stops at the table of the ruling party. There are no excuses that can adequately explain why the enabling electoral environment that brought them into powers appears now to be thoroughly battered. There is no excuse for the progressive destruction of faith in the electoral system or the credibility crisis that INEC is suffering. Again the international community is issuing statements in alarm over the incredulous electoral corruption in places like Rivers State, while the country is enmeshed in a proxy war of political interests and foot soldiers.
The nation is going through its worst economic experience in the last 30 years. There is tremendous anger and disappointment in the land. Many Nigerians are hungry and tired. Hope, which is the greatest currency of Nigerians, is fast waning. We are pushing our people to the limits of their patience. We throw in excuses about the economy; how a combination of factors outside our control is making it difficult for Nigeria to feed her people; the election we can control! What excuses do we have for the kind of elections we are conducting? The one thing that still allows Nigerians feel that they are a part of this country is gradually being taken away.
Lives were lost in Rivers State. Mothers lost their children. Wives lost their husbands. The men and women in uniform were put in the harm’s way. One would think that this desecration of our democratic ideals; the savage murder of our security officials or the brazen thuggery of our government officials would trigger national opprobrium. Rather what we get is a muffled whimper of disapproval and life goes on. Are we incapable of shame? Have we lost of every sense of humanity? Is nothing sacred to us anymore?
Electoral corruption is the worst kind of corruption. It delegitimises government, emasculates the people and destroys the fundamentals of a democratic state. The fact that we are having a conversation of this nature after 17 years of democratic experience is annoying as it is disappointing.
We cannot lay any claim to be a rule of law state or can government claim any bona fide in its anti-corruption effort if there is no accountability in Rivers State? The two dramatis personae in the rascality of Rivers must be called to account. If government does not send a message that they are committed to a credible electoral process, 2019 will pose a even greater challenge to Nigeria’s stability than 2015 did.
INEC has an onerous task of plugging the credibility leaks within its system. This is not an easy task. There are many extraneous dynamics that impact on INEC, no doubt, but unfortunately that is not excuse for the perception and low respectability that INEC currently commands. The organisation can do better. It would require some honest conversation, constructive collaboration with civil society and creative pragmatism to turn the tide. INEC must find the courage to stand on the good side of history just like it did in the last five years.
he government of the day must wake up from its slumber and appreciate the disservice that it is doing this nation by its inability to provide and guarantee an healthy environment for democratic elections. Nigerians are no fools and they know when there is reason for concern. This government was elected for solutions. It came touting its democratic and integrity credentials. Nigerians have reasons to worry. The least this government can do in this time of pain and hardship is to let Nigerians believe that their voices and votes still count. Anything else is a disservice to our history and an invitation to chaos.
Udo Jude Ilo writes from the Open Society Initiative for West Africa, OSIWA
By Udo Jude Ilo