April 2007 Election: Whose Vote? How Void?

by L.Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu

We have always believed that technology could help in achieving credible elections. We were open to implementing some ICT initiatives to get better results. During previous election elections, INEC use to embark on massive computerization as the beginning of those steps needed to make the job easier and better. But you can’t always rule out the human factor. The argument has never been whether or how ICT can be integrated into election or the entire democratic process, it is getting the genuine commitment among stakeholders particularly those in government to initiate ICT strategies for social and economic development that would allow truly elected leaders to emerge. In Nigeria’s case, even President Musa Yar Adua, who emerged as the president elect, to put it another way, the greatest beneficiary of the sham election, has not only accepted that the elections were marred by irregularities but he has already constituted a panel to provide solutions to building a transparent and sustainable electoral culture.

The Nigerian president is not unmindful that he may have his own election quashed by the election tribunal. He has severally affirmed to allow the rule of law to prevail and has giving hint that he would be willing to step down and allow another presidential election to take place if the tribunal so rules.

But the democratic process is not only about elections, it is also about social awareness and greater participation among the people in having a say in governance. In spite of its shortcomings, the last election offered a beautiful and practical exposition of the power of ICT in popular participation. More credible statistics put the number of PCs at just about 1. 9 million PCs with less than 45% connected to the Internet. But during the elections, they provided an effective window to share thoughts on candidates, election and other social issues among more than the eight million people that have access to the Internet in the country. It may be a small number out of 150 million people but they represent an increasing number of major stakeholders that are contributing to national think and sharing opinions on issues in Nigeria as they concern the common people.

After the elections, many made more critical with participation of people like Segun Adeniyi, who is the president’s spokesman. Adeniyi, journalist and former editor of Thisday (on Sunday), joined the debate on why the Mr.President chose to implement the court order reinstating Peter Obi as governor of Anambra State.Obi went to court asking that his removal by INEC was illegal and that the fresh election that brought in Andy Uba as new governor was illegal. The court granted his prayers, which were speedily implemented by President Yar Adua even though Obi was from an opposition party.

Widespread electoral malpractice and the staggering scale of falsified results were possible because of serious shortcomings within the regulatory agencies, most notably the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Vigorously manipulated by the presidency, INEC virtually abdicated its responsibility as impartial umpire. Inefficient and non-transparent in its operations, it became an accessory to active rigging. Similarly, the massively deployed police and other security services helped curb violence but largely turned blind eyes to, and in some cases helped in, the brazen falsification of results.

INEC declared a landslide for Yar’Adua with 70 per cent of the votes, to 18 per cent for Muhammadu Buhari of the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP). That victory is bitterly disputed by many Nigerians, however, including broad-based labour, religious and civil society groups. It has pushed the country further towards a one-party state and diminished citizen confidence in electoral institutions and processes. Most ominously, it has undermined Nigeria’s capacity to manage its internal conflicts, deepening already violent tensions in the Niger Delta and refueling Biafran separatism in the ethnically Ibo south east. It has also badly damaged the country’s international image and Obasanjo’s legacy as a statesman, thus diminishing their credibility to serve as leading forces for peace and democracy throughout West Africa.

Yar’Adua, though prudent, was sworn into office amid subdued protests but he faces a giant challenge to pull Nigeria back from the brink of chaos, and he begins with his reputation grievously wounded by the process that brought him to power. During his inauguration, Yar’Adua said he would not use the excess crude account to fund the project. A committee was set up to find means of funding the project which the government believes is vital and relevant if the dream of realising the seven-point agenda of the administration is to be achieved. With the emergence of the former Katsina helmsman, the era of unconstitutionality seems buried as things are now done under the rule of law and due process. The presentation of the 2008 Budget to the National Assembly by the president, according to political commentators, is a clear sign that the present government is committed to the rule as enshrined by the constitution.

The evolvement of measures to meet the interest of the downtrodden and the reversal of certain policies undertaken in the previous administration reveal Yar’Adua as a new dawn for ensuring development for Nigeria. One of the greatest achievements of Yar’Adua, according to political pundits, is the respect for the rule of law. According to former Senate President Ken Nnamani, the absence of dictatorship and not the presence of infrastructural development is the true definition of development.

Though infrastructure plays a vital role, Nigerians must see the absence of tyranny and dictatorship as a refreshing welcome to the dividends of democracy. Political observers may be tempted to castigate the government for being slow in taking decisions to improve upon the lives of Nigerians. But the recent decision of the government to lift the ban on the importation of cement is a clear testimony that the government is committed to the improvement of the lives of the common man by ensuring that issues that relate to the welfare of the masses are looked into and if possible reviewed to advance the interest of the poor.

The lingering power sector that has consumed a lot of money in the past eight years is set to be looked into. Going by the pronouncements of top government officials, the government hopes to announce a state of emergency in the power sector in February 2008. The essence is to ensure that the problems of the sector are assessed holistically and measures rolled out to combat the incessant problems of the nation’s power sector.

Recently, an American company was invited by the government to commence discussion on how to move the Nigerian power sector. Realising that government cannot alone shoulder the responsibility of resuscitating the energy sector; the Yar’Adua government is considering engaging international companies to take part in developing the sector for development. Having commenced discussion on how to fix the power sector, it is expected that the eggheads of the administration will come out with the structural blue print on how to finally resolve the lingering power sector crisis.

The Yar’Adua government has turned around the supply of refined petroleum products in the country. Before the emergence of the government, it was a recurring phenomenon for citizens to experience shortage in the supplies of these vital products. When Obasanjo less than 48 hours to his exit jacked up prices of petroleum products to N75 per litre, the country was literally set ablaze by the anger of the citizenry. But after several days of intense negotiations with labour leaders, the prices of the products were reviewed and since then the government has not reneged on its promise to ensure adequate supplies of the products in the market. The seasonal shortages of fuel that is the normal trait of the yuletide season has been a forgotten issue as Nigerians are now assured of fuel at all times.

The government’s handling of the fuel issue is a plausible feat when viewed against the rising trend of crude in the international market. During the previous administrations, Nigerians were always told to brace up for higher prices of fuel products if there are rising prices of crude oil in the world market. Despite the rising crude price that was almost over $100 per barrel in the world market, prices of petrol products remain stable throughout the year. In a bid to ensure that Nigerians enjoy fuel produced from its refineries, the Yar’Adua government has given its commitment to the resuscitation of refineries.

For now, the administration has promised that the Kaduna Refinery and the Port Harcourt Refinery are due to commence operations at the end of the first quarter. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation whose unbundling process is being handled to pass on to the National Assembly for legislations is being refocused to achieve its objectives. Once the refineries become functional, the government would have saved several billions of naira used to subsidise the products for Nigerians.

The current attempt by the government to reform the electoral system through the setting up of the panel headed by Retired Justice Mohammed Uwais, former Chief Justice of Nigeria reveals the passion with which the Yar’Adua is concerned in evolving a fair and equitable system that will deepen Nigeria‘s electoral system. It is hoped that at the end of the day, Nigerians will be better off and the prospects of democracy enhanced for the sustenance of constitutional government for the country.

There is no gainsaying the fact that those who had initially doubted the capacity of the Yar’Adua administration in improving the lot of ordinary Nigerians and moving the country forward are having a second view. Having watched the administration in the last eight years or so, not a few Nigerians are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel for the country. Having wobbled and experienced an era of tyranny as exemplified by the Obasanjo years, Yar’Adua’s administration is set to commence a healing process and restore the dignity of man and respect for the rule of law. If the past is anything to go by, then Nigerians can safely hope that at last a people-oriented government has finally emerged to combat the multifarious problems plaguing them.

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