My fears, hopes about 2019 elections
For credible elections, there are at least five critical groups that must play their roles creditably. These are the electoral body, government in power, the ruling political party, security agencies and the electorate. Of all these, the most powerful force with a vested interest in destabilizing elections in Nigeria is the government in power.
The next is the ruling political party. However, both the government and the ruling party require the collusion of the electoral body and security agencies to carry out whatever plans they have for subverting the electoral process. Where the electoral umpire is firm and fair, neither the government nor political party in power will succeed in rigging election.
No aspirant to a political office can carry out electoral malpractice all by himself. Since the materials needed for any malpractice such as ballot papers, boxes and result sheets do not rest with party candidates wanting to rig election but on the election referee, election fraudsters necessarily need the active involvement of electoral officials.
Also, where politicians and compromised INEC officials want to subvert the electoral process, security agencies that are alert to their responsibilities would nip such criminal and unpatriotic designs in the bud.
Most of the crimes involved in electoral malpractice such as snatching of election materials and falsification of results at collation centres could not always be done without the breach of the peace because other contestants would want to stop the rigging. Therefore, collusion with the electoral body and security agencies is a prerequisite for electoral malpractice. Although about 91 political parties are registered to participate in the election, the electoral battle is between the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and main Opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The palpable backsliding of democracy in Nigeria since May 2015 in terms of brazen disregard of the rule of law, disobedience of orders of courts of competent jurisdiction, nepotism, rampant intimidation and harassment of political opponents by agents of state, persecution, arrest and false imprisonment of journalists, return of electoral perfidy and official insensitivity to public opinion are facts in the public domain.
Reminiscent of the period of military dictatorship in the country, the Executive blatantly undermined the Legislative and Judicial arms of government since May 2015. The Gestapo-style midnight invasion of residences of some Supreme Court and High Court Justices in October 2016 was capped in January 2019 when President Buhari suspended the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, without due judicial and constitutional process. Assault on the Nigerian Legislature included the following, among others:
Blockade of Official Residence of Senate President on July 2, 2018 by security personnel and that of Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu on the same morning;
Blockade of National Assembly by hooded operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS) in the morning of Tuesday, August 7, 2018 as part of a plot to remove the President of the senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki and his Deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu.
These and several other anti-democratic propensities which defined the Buhari presidency have heightened psychological tension in the country ahead of the General Elections scheduled to commence with the Presidential election on February 16, 2019.
There are several grounds for apprehension about the forthcoming election. From a security point of view, the portents for the success of the elections are bad. This is mainly because the role of the Nigeria Police Force in the past three and half years has not demonstrated the level of impartiality and professionalism expected from impartial gatekeepers of the criminal justice system in the country.
Reports from multiple sources about the re-run gubernatorial election in seven LGAs in Osun State on September 27, 2018, showed that security operatives provided cover for electoral malefactors.
The election was characterised by widespread voter intimidation and harassment. In Orolu LGA, political thugs who were allegedly escorted by security operatives manhandled residents while election observers were prevented from monitoring the election.
Media men were harassed, beaten and some had their cameras smashed. From all indications, the most critical factor that would make or mar the 2019 election is the neutrality or otherwise of security agencies.
Nigerian political history shows clearly that the most destabilizing forces in the country’s polity are not the so-called hoodlums and those officially labeled as “criminals”.
Those who destabilised the country’s democratic institutions are the military big-wigs as well as high and mighty in the society who rig elections. Electoral malpractice in Nigeria has never been initiated, planned or financed by poor peasant folk or so-called “party thugs”. It is the exclusive preserve of the rich and powerful, government functionaries, electoral officials and law enforcement agents.
Another powerful group that poses a great danger to democracy in Nigeria is herdsmen militia which became the single most lethal terrorist group since June 2015. The Global Terrorism Index (GTI) which measures terrorism world-wide reported in December 2018 that between January and September 2018, herdsmen militia killed 1,700 Nigerians which is six times more than those killed by Boko Haram terrorist sect.
The seeming relative silence of herdsmen militia in the run-up to the 2019 election cannot be taken to mean that the militia men have suddenly been reformed.
Their seeming silence poses unspeakable dangers to democracy and the Nigerian state.
To be continued tomorrow
Biose, former University teacher and human rights activist, is National Coordinator, Team Niger Delta for Atiku/Obi
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