Combating Shadow Votes

by L.Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu

Political life more than ever consists of a scramble for the spoils of power, first for oneself, then for one’s family, then for one’s group. Only a fool would not use his position to extract the maximum benefit: indeed, such a man would be not only foolish but bad, inasmuch as he was failing to do his best for those to whom he owed his primary loyalty. This is not an atmosphere propitious for the establishment of a stable liberal democracy. Nigeria‘s last experience of democratic civilian rule was not an entirely happy one: the government looted the country beyond the expectations of even Nigerians. The former minister of transport, according to some reports, embezzled 85% of the budgetary allocation whereas no viable road network. Chaos reigned. Thus the choice between military and civilian rule is between two kinds of incompetence and corruption: one with, and the other without, a semblance of public order.

And this is where the good news about Nigeria begins. For the fact that the military regime is not democratic, it is scarcely dictatorial either, in the sense of its presence entering the very fabric of people’s lives. Nigeria is simply too diverse a country, and its people too vigorous, for any government to impose its will upon them. Nigerians may live in fear–of poverty, of rising prices, of security–but not usually of the government. There is no way we can discuss the last selection process in Nigeria exhaustively. It is a nightmare that was forcefully brought to our diurnal lives yet we permitted it. Therefore the situation in Nigeria still requires a very serious appraisal. There is an urgent need for Nigeria to move forward progressively. It is very unfortunate that Nigeria continues to have unintelligent inputs from those who run the systems and all that seems like good policies never get beyond what I call “textbook versions”. There are hardly implementations in Nigeria and so words and promises have never been matched with due actions.

A lot has been written on how Nigeria can move forward but still nothing has happened especially in the last 8 years. The implication is that any legitimate administration that presides in Nigeria will still be saddled with abundance of criticisms for some time to come. The next 4 years will be crucial to the future of Nigeria and whatever happens at the next real elections whenever they are conducted will be a very interesting milestone in the history of Nigeria.

What happened in the 2007 criminalised “election” in Nigeria did not meet the lowest or minimum requirements for such to be called an election. Everything was wrong with the “elections” of April 14 and 21 2007. Mr. Obasanjo and Mr. Iwu are two individuals who lack the basic comprehension of what happened at the polls and other places in Nigeria in connection with the voting exercises on these two dates. Perhaps, they knew but acted like all is well. Why are some leaders and politicians so thoughtless?

Mr. Obasanjo and Mr. Iwu are not only incompetent; they are also incorrigible and obstinate. They have failed to reason with intelligent minds that what they midwifed in April 2007 is not acceptable in the 21st century. It is a monumental shame and an insult to millions of intelligent Nigerians at home and abroad. As a matter of fact, in a civil society these are men would be standing trial at this time in connection to murder, arson, underage voting, assault, molestation, deceit, lies, fraud, wastages and negligence of duties among other grave atrocities and vices committed before, during and after the “elections”. With the passing time, one just got tired to read about the reckless statements of the custodians of the worthless “elections” that took place in Nigeria.

I think it is a duck excuse to uphold the results of the last election simply because some people agreed that there are no such things as perfect elections. Some elections are actually almost perfect if not perfect in the real sense of it. In my own opinion, if an election has some shortcomings that may perhaps not have any effect on the final outcome, I think that it has the attributes of a model election. Furthermore if there are adequate regulatory mechanisms to detect errors or shortcomings, then an imperfect election can be made perfect by fixing the problem or simply calling for re-election.

For instance, in Sweden you can cast your vote at some designated centers like the post office before the election date. There is also the use of “voting by messenger” for disabled people. In the 2002 elections in Sweden, there were only 3 known instances of irregularities. The first was misuse of “voting by messenger” where 2 social democratic election workers acted as messengers/witnesses for some voters. The witnesses are supposed to be neutral persons. The total number of votes affected by this was 18.

The second instance was at a home for elderly people where some social democratic election workers presented a voting place for advanced voting, but only ballot papers for the Social Democratic Party were available. Finally, the third instance was one polling station where one of the tables had voting envelopes already containing ballots for the Social Democratic party. None of these instances were initiated by the Social Democratic Party. They were solitary decisions of the individual election workers.

These anomalies of the 2002 elections have been analyzed by the Swedish Election Review Board and it has been unequivocally stated that they had no effect on the final outcome of the election. The Election Review Board in Sweden may declare an election void and order a new election, either nationally or in a specific constituency, if an irregularity may be presumed to have affected the outcome of the election. Even the rival parties acknowledged that the incidents did not have any significant effects on the outcomes.

The control mechanism in the Swedish electoral systems detected the faults, and they were dealt with according to predefined procedures. I hold the view that these minor occurrences cannot take away the perfection of that election because the control mechanisms detected the faults and the situations were promptly addressed as necessary. Comparatively, where are control mechanisms in the Nigerian Electoral System? We surely need them!

To my knowledge also, in the recent elections in Sweden (2006) which I had the opportunity to participate in, I have not heard of any serious shortcomings. In the buildup to the election however, the Liberal Youth Association (the youth organization associated with the Liberal Party “Folkpartiet”) was discovered to have hacked into the computer system of the ruling Social Democratic Party. This is merely an issue of misuse of technological advancements and criminal investigations have since been conducted on the incident. The youth acted on their own accord and their delinquent activities have no bearing whatsoever on the wish or mindsets of the electorates and the FolkPartiet regarding the electoral issues at stake in 2006. This unexpected intrusion had no significance on the manifestos of the various parties. In 2006, as a result of the coalition of the rival parties, the Social Democratic Party was voted out of power. The election was clean and accepted by all.

Unarguably, minor human errors do occur during elections. Such errors do not take away the validity or the integrity of the elections. The anomalies of the Nigerian “elections” were not minor in anyway. It has been adjudged as the worst election in the history of mankind. This means that it was meant to be a do-or-die battle right from the onset. Why would a country that posits itself as the giant of Africa conduct the worst election ever in history?

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