2015 and the future of elections
WITH last weekend’s conclusion of some suspended parliamentary and governorship elections in some states, Nigerians and the international community would be correct to come to the conclusion that the 2015 general elections have ended on a laudable note, and that in spite of some challenges, a new culture has evolved for the entrenchment of democracy in Nigeria.
In the main, the 2015 exercise passed on well and the indications now are strong enough to change negative impressions etched in the minds of the world about a people and their predilection for failed or flawed elections leading to abortion of democracy.
For one, citizens’ morale is now evidently lifted in expectation of a brighter future for Nigerians. It is also instructive that the happy ending has brought a certain level of stability to the country with palpable peace being the end of a process in which the gladiators at every level of contest from presidential to House of Assembly in the states literally drew daggers. So, Nigerians are the winners and can feel proud to raise heads high anywhere in the world.
Again, President Goodluck Jonathan must take the credit for setting the tone through his disposition and utterances in the aftermath of the presidential election results. It is obvious history would be kind to him on his choice.
Amid the celebrations, however, no one must lose sight of the big room for improvement and the need to build on the current successful outing. There must be positives to take away from the process, while not losing sight of the ugly sides fuelled by inglorious desperation for power in all the political camps.
Following the president’s concession which doused tension in the land, surprisingly his example failed to draw supporters of governorship aspirants and Houses of Assembly to reason as illustrated by the violence unleashed on the people in some areas by some to get their principals elected. In fact, such violent actions cannot be truly divorced from the promptings of the contestants in many cases. Rivers State became the worst scenario where no fewer than six lives were lost in what came close to a war; gunshots were freely exchanged among other infractions.
The Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) official listing of offences puts the tally at 66 after the March 28 presidential and April 11 governorship/state assembly polls. It could be more.
Regrettably, names of some highly placed community and opinion leaders featured in the infractions. Thankfully, at least one case of a prominent retired military officer from Akwa Ibom State is before the court to determine his level of complicity, raising hope of a new dawn in prosecuting electoral offences. It is on record that Akwa Ibom witnessed some protests on account of an electoral process gone awry.
Two states in the South East zone – Imo and Abia as well as Taraba in the North East – initially recorded inconclusive governorship elections following breaches of rules in some wards which INEC felt were significant enough to warrant re-runs. Those ones have now been concluded with little hitches.
President-elect Muhammadu Buhari has gladly promised that all electoral violence cases would be prosecuted. That is commendable and Nigerians would hold him to his words.
To the credit of Nigerians, the governorship polls were closely-fought battles in most states, especially the strategic ones such as Lagos, Rivers, Benue, Imo and a few others. Also, generally, the level of the contests on April 11 was high in much the same way as the improvement in the conduct of the exercise by INEC.
Critics attributed the improved performance of the electoral body to voters’ apathy but that may not be totally correct. For instance, the problematic Card Reader devices were generally observed to have functioned better than the March 28 experience. Timing of arrival of electoral officials at polling units was also scored high even by the voters who turned out. Security was as good as in the first exercise. Collations were better handled and results were released in reasonable time among other success factors.
The quality of debates was also high in most states to give the electorate informed choices. It must be better at all levels, including local governments, at the appropriate time.
Winners and losers have also conducted themselves well in most cases, even in situations where declared losers did not totally endorse the process as fair and credible. In line with President Jonathan’s open, historic concession in the country’s politics, at least three losers in Lagos, Kaduna and even Benue congratulated the governors-elect. This is a big leap for the country.
Henceforth, with the standard attained now, expectations would be higher and managing elections would be a tougher job which is why INEC must further be strengthened as an institution. The president-elect and the incoming government have a lot of work to do. Not, the least, are the high hopes of Nigerians. He can borrow good ideas from the opposition. Good governance is the key to fulfilling all the expectations of Nigerians.