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Op-Ed.

Making the vote count in elections

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INEC releases report of 2023 general elections

Without any doubt, it is evident to many within and outside the country that the democratic enterprise in Nigeria is presently, very heavily challenged.

Not only have a large number of people begun to express very dispiriting reactions to this expanding crisis of confidence, there are also the corollary circumstances that given the centrality of politics and political organisation in the lives of the people, this is one burden that intersects many others.

So the challenge is not just one that is exclusive to political actors and the offices that they hold or do not hold. It is one that touches on the man in the street; his economic options, his state of mind and his relations with his neighbours. Project Democracy is just too critical. We cannot afford that it fails.

At the centre of the increasing crisis of relevance that Project Democracy faces in Nigeria presently is a growing belief that the votes cast in elections do not seem to matter anymore. While some may want to dismiss it as the frustrated whining of poor losers, our history suggests that it may be far more than that.

Nigeria, right from its coming into its present frame as an amalgamation of two British-activated protectorates, has been, and remains, a touchy social construct, a work in progress and a quite sensitive socio-political organism, whose fortunes have continued to be linked to the management of its political relations, events and schedules.

Going down memory lane for example, it is quite notable that disagreements with, and acrimony over the conduct of polling and the counting of votes in elections in the 1960s and 1980s were at the centre of the abrupt termination of both the First and Second republics.

In the current dispensation, almost nine months after the supposed conclusion of the 2023 polls, we continue to be faced with persisting reverberations from that exercise that plainly expose the fact that we are still a very politically troubled nation. Of notable import for this newspaper is the situation in Kano State. We very simply and plainly need to get it right.

Underscoring the depth of the challenge is the associated strain and toll that it is taking on critical institutions of state, such as the proverbial last hope of the common man, the judiciary. As an institution, the judiciary was supposed to mediate in any disputes arising from the conduct of elections.

However, on account of factors like the desperation and unscrupulous conduct of political actors, the credibility challenge within the judiciary, the essential pauperisation of the polity, the failure of lawmakers to take out institutional bottlenecks, such as the long periods provided for dispute resolution, and very importantly, the failure of the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission, the security services, the media and civil society to more robustly count the costs and do everything to ensure a fool-proof and transparent political process, we are, very sadly, where we are today.

While it is important that every voice of goodwill should be heard in favour of the just resolution of any of the yet lingering disputes at the moment, it is also most important that those currently having their way and who are being declared as winners and office holders today should indeed be quite circumspect.

Winners had been declared and mandates secured in previous instances of election banalities that very sadly did not last the full course. The overall preservation, survival and improvement of the process is and must be of greater importance to all, no matter whether they are on the winning or losing side presently.

So everything must be done to ensure that the system is more fit for purpose and is well worth all the investments in resources, time, process, and the hopes of the people and their aspirations for a better, greater country.

Beyond the immediate short term, there is the need to address the challenge at the medium to long term fronts. Because some of the challenges are beyond politics, they should also then be addressed at both the political and extra-political levels.

Here, the first thing to do would be to review all laws and processes that would guarantee returning the electoral process squarely to the hands of voting citizens. It is illogical that people would be in office when the process is not concluded. It is also unacceptable to put the fate of our democracy and elections in the hands of a few judges.

Judges should play as minimal role in elections as possible; it is not democracy anymore if a few person’s rely on legal technicalities to subvert the will and mandate of the people. So we need to better ensure that votes count and disputes are resolved before the swearing-in of any declared winner.

Part of why this has to be done is that it is not the intention of the constitution for judges to displace voters in the electoral process. Additionally, insinuations of ‘state capture’ being alluded to in discussions on the role of the judiciary in the political miasma cast an unfavourable light on the institution that threaten to spill over to its other communal, civil and socio-economic interventions. We need a judiciary that is respected, trusted and dependable and everything must be done to ensure that we get it.

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There is also the other very critical issue of the relationship between political acrimony and the ill-fitting structure of Nigeria. In a sense, elections have become fuel that inflames our age-long cleavages, which are eating deep into the fabric of the nation. But it does not have to be so and the National Constitutional Conference of the President Goodluck Jonathan era had done considerable work on how to fix this.

What may be required now is for the National Assembly to pick up that report and expeditiously work on it, using it as a base for addressing the challenge. In our considered opinion, a span of six to nine months is more than enough to get this done.

Related to this is the imperative of also commencing work on the Electoral Act upon which the 2027 polls would be conducted. This newspaper also believes that work on this can also be concluded by 2024.

On the matter of poor conduct of political actors, we are also not going to start from nowhere. The Justice Uwais panel Report of the President Umaru Yar Adua era is there for the current National Assembly to build on and also give us a more fitting template to use going forward.

Finally, we call on President Tinubu to urgently go beyond the motions and take far-reaching steps to heal the country. He promised a national government, we have not seen it. The challenge of Nigeria today, is indeed, quite deep. There is lowered confidence in our institutions, including very critically, the judiciary. This must be deeply and frontally addressed and between the Attorney General, the Nigerian Bar Association, and the Chief Justice of Nigeria, everything must be done to fix this.

At the same time, the divisions from the last elections have not been healed. This is not good. What is required is a clear path of healing in the short, medium and long term. It should begin with the president addressing his own party men and women and telling them that the times we are in now require crossing the partisan divide. He should then hold talks with the opposition and request their own frank inputs for steering the ship of state.

that would guarantee political stability, economic growth and national harmony for at least the next century.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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