Nigeria Matters

A Postponement Unlikely to Reverse the Imperative Mood

It was Samuel Johnson–English poet, essayist, moralist, lexicographer and biographer – who said that few things are impossible to diligence and skill. Sundry other great minds have also emphasized the capacity of diligence to bear good fortune. When the relationship between diligence and fortune is juxtaposed with Nigerians’ efforts towards building a nation state, one can say the signs are there that Nigeria will one day overcome the setbacks, pulls, pushback, distractions, besides the socio-cultural and ethno-religious differences threatening the country’s existence. It is no longer hard to notice how the people despise desperation to win or retain power at all costs. The people are responding to these negative political cultures with the will to have their own chosen government. Nigerians are beginning to cut through the veils of political manipulations and opportunism, which explains why they ignored the recent provocative and sadistic postponement of the general elections, even after the Independent National Election Commission (INEC) had repeatedly assured the world that it was ready to conduct the elections. Nigerians are firmly resolved to wait for the time INEC will hand them ballot papers and place ballot boxes before them for them to decide on which of the two contending parties they will surrender their fates to for the next four years.

Were politics and elections products of pure science, the absolute conclusion would have been the choice before the people is the easy choice between an incumbent government that has in six years not only lost territories to a terrorist group but has also exposed the country to a state of insecurity that can be used to justify the postponement of general elections, the very first time this will happen in Nigeria’s history, a state of affairs that has pervaded the country in almost all of President Goodluck Jonathan’s six years’ reign on the one hand and an opposition party with a no-nonsense candidate who had in the past quelled in no time such a rude and vulgar affront to the state. But one cannot discuss political or election matters in absolute terms. There is always the possibility that people will be swayed by big lies. But for that, the military, the presidency and the PDP would not have dared to conspire against the people’s will by forcing INEC to postpone the elections with the not-so-clever excuse that they could rout the insurgence in six weeks and provide the traumatized northeasterners the conducive environment and good psychological frame of mind to cast their votes like their fellow Nigerians.

Whilst that ploy is meant to achieve some mileage for the PDP, including the portrayal of the opposition as insensitive to the plight of the northeasterners, it will certainly boomerang and further deplete whatever goodwill the PDP still retains in that region. The people are more intelligent and critical than the politicians give them credit for. I will expatiate on this subject later– after discussing the diligence that Nigeria has made towards establishing a culture of conducting credible elections, and the thorns on the way.

Nigeria has expended considerable energy, time and funds on efforts geared towards reforming the electoral process inorder to raise the quality of elections in the country to internationally acceptable standards. While a lot has been achieved in reducing the deficiencies in the electoral law, not much has been done to strengthen the line institutions responsible for conducting elections.Before going further into this issue, let us examine the preposition that when properly handled and conducted in accordance with internationally acceptable standards, elections are known to deepen democracy, create a platform for smooth transition from one government to another, promote a culture of healthy debates, resolve political conflicts, provide the necessary foundation for enduring and self-sustaining democracy, and provide a firm and durable anchor and framework for national integration, sustained growth and accelerated national development. Conversely, poorly conducted or mismanaged elections have been known to be a threat to peace, stability, growth and development. This Jekyll and Hyde nature of elections makes it compelling for a fragile state like Nigeria to invest reason, circumspection and caution in the management of its electoral process.

Our efforts to reform the electoral process have tried to grapple with the challenge of establishing an autonomous body– one that is completely independent-minded, independent in operation, independent in the recruitment of its personnel, in total control of its finances,self-sustaining, patriotic and above partisan influence– to organise, undertake and supervise all elections into the country’s elective offices. In a word, Nigerianscv  desire a truly independent electoral commission imbued with administrative and financial autonomy, and with the necessary skill and competence to conduct elections that would meet acceptable minimum international standards. The addition of the term independent to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) serves to emphasize the collective desire of the public for that institution to be independent in name and operations. It is also the wish of the public that supportive institutions and agencies like the security agencies, civil society groups, political parties and the media altruistically lend their best of intentions, structures and knowhow to the electoral process in general and elections in particular.

Unfortunately, the more the efforts put in realizing these goals, the more inventive Nigerian politicians and government functionaries become in their quest to subvert and undermine the electoral process. Politics and political considerations have made it difficult for INEC to operate as an effective body. INEC is dependent on the ruling government for its personnel, funding and security agencies to conduct elections. Therefore, while INEC is independent on paper, it is in reality an agency of the government of the day, which is why the ruling party and the government of the day can appropriate its successes and incorporate them into their achievement list during their campaigns. With all the country’s security agencies reduced to coercive departments of the ruling party and government, it is easy to see why the postponement of the general elections by six weeks is foisted on Nigerians by a portmanteau of the conspiracy of a feeble electoral institution, a partisan military, and a desperate incumbent and his manipulative party.

While the government and the PDP–known to make the conduct of general elections a prominent item on their list of unsurpassable achievements–have tried to rationalize this rude intrusion into the electoral process, what they may not realise at their own peril is the effect of such an affront on the electorate. It is easy to make all sorts of permutations and predictions about the effects of the postponement on the opposition but it is hard to know how the hitherto undecided mind will react to it. While it may frustrate the leadership of INEC, it may not likely push it to throw in the towel and handover the conduct of the election to a cabal with a mission to achieve predetermined goals. The long stretch may run aground the campaign machinery of the opposition, but it may also engender cult following that will make up for lack of funds and campaign fatigue. Having exposed the security agencies as partisan and conniving, it will be good to see how the postponement will compliment the peace accord signed by the parties.

The people have been toughened by hardship and socio-economic challenges, and it is doubtful whether the wind of change can be halted or repelled by the postponement and other desperate devices of a party that is bound to handover government on May 29, 2015.

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