Penultimate Saturday, the ultra modern, multi billion-dollar news chancery building of the Nigerian embassy in VanNess, Washington, D.C. hosted its second event in four months. It was a party to bid farewell to the Nigerian ambassador to the United States, Jubril Aminu, who was returning home to contest a senatorial post in April. The first event that was held in the yet to be formally opened chancery building was the Nigerian 42nd independence anniversary, last October.
Like in October 2002, there were many invited guests. There was a lot to eat and drink and the ambience in the glittering building was one of festivity. The official consensus was that Jubril Aminu’s proposed return to contest in the forth-coming elections was a good thing that would give more credibility to the entire process.
It is not the intention of this article to dispute that submission. The fact that the Nigerian ambassador to the United States wants to go and contest an election to become a senator may suggest that the process is really credible and would be worth it. On the other hand, things may not be as clearly defined as that.
In line with the practice of civil and development journalism, it is useful to look beyond the kind of euphoria that pervaded the atmosphere during Jubril Aminu’s send-off party. It would be useful to zero-in on some seemingly unconnected problems that may ultimately be connected to derailing our hopes for a successful, first civilian to civilian transitional election in Nigeria.
It is important to say that there is democratic transition without some hiccups. The phenomenon is not restricted to Africa, as evident from the “Florida show” during the last presidential elections in the United States. Having said that, it is important to assess the impact of the democratization efforts on the democratic transition process in Nigeria, which has never had a successful civilian transition. One useful way of doing this is to critically examine recent events in the country as possible warning signs of dangers ahead.
By now the billowing dust of the blast in Idumagbo, Lagos, is clearing but the cargo of broken lives left by the blasts are yet to be assuaged. Reports coming from Nigeria are that a bomb caused the blast; that a bomb detonator was found in the rubbles; that a bomb warehouse must be in the area. The Nigerian police is yet to find any connection between the blast, the fire that gutted the NNPC building and the coming elections. May be no such connection exists.
While the shooting voices of police investigators and Nigerian officials continue to drown the cries of sorrow of those that died in the blast and those that will now die by installments, another news broke. A truckload of arms and ammunitions was on Thursday, luckily intercepted in Jos, Plateau state, by men of the third armored division of the Nigerian army. Bomb warehouse in central Lagos, truckload of arms and ammunition in Jos, elections around the corner. What could be going on?
To avoid being labeled as an alarmist, I should quickly add that there might actually be no connection. Only that political violence in Nigeria has tripled as the months for the election draw nearer. A careful perusal of previous articles on the subject of violence and Nigerian politics by this writer and a recent study by Human Rights Watch may, however, give hints as to why these recent incidents should not be seen in isolation at this time.
I will hush for now on the issue of disasters and instruments of violence. It would be useful to attempt a short appraisal of segments of the transition process to identify some silent sirens of alarm about election rigging that may connect to or lead to more violence in the months ahead.
Several Nigerians, especially the common people that make ends meet on the strangulating Nigerian streets still remember that the first two weeks’ voters registration exercise was fraught with irregularities. Many still wonder how the recent three days exercise was going to make up for the thousands that were disenfranchised in the initial two weeks exercise.
Nigerians abroad, even those back home also, are yet to be told the latest about the five million copies of fake voters card impounded by police at a business center in Idimu, a suburb of Lagos earlier this year.
We do not know what has become of the army colonel that allegedly contracted the job at the cost of N200 for each fake voter’s card. We remember, however, that last September, during the 13 days voters’ registration exercise, there were reported cases of shortage of cards in many states. Yet the “Independent” Electoral Commission (INEC) reportedly said there might be over two million fake voters who registered during the exercise. The 2million fake voters represent about 3.3per cent of the projected registration figure of 59.5million.
Maybe it is no big deal that the registration exercise was flawed and fake voter’s cards are being printed in several business centers like the one in Idimu Lagos. Maybe it does not even matter that the presidential election will be held in the middle of Christian Easter holiday. What about the issue of registration of parties and the process of selecting candidates that will contest the elections?
Those that love democracy applauded the decision of INEC to open up the space for different shades of political groups to seek registration as political parties in the Nigerian election. The sound of applause has since receded into the oblivion for the Nigerian election organizing body. Allegation of a strong conspiracy to assist the present ruling party has grown as fat as a pumpkin.
A court ruling last week declaring the imposition of fees by INEC illegal seem the latest confirmation to the allegation that the registration of the parties for the Nigerian election was also flawed. Maybe that is no big deal too!
The primaries of almost all the registered parties were also fraught with allegations of irregularities. Of course candidates that fail to clinch their parties endorsement usually cry foul. That is usually expected and as such, not a big deal.
What is worrying is that the cries of wolf in almost all the cases in the party primaries were not without the actual sighting of wolves. How can any believer of participatory democracy applaud the second term fever that has blocked the view of the Nigerian president and all the state governors from doing a genuine appraisal of their first term performance, their continued relevance and the will of the people to have them back!
Maybe the other candidates of the ruling Peoples “Democratic” Party (PDP), including former vice president, Alex Ekwueme is against Obasanjo and the state governors because state power has been used to suppress their political ambitions. Maybe not! Perhaps the other candidates in “All Nigerians” People’s Party (ANPP) are also against Mohammed Buhari’s candidacy because they do not have enough money and power block behind them. Perhaps not!
One thing is becoming clearer by the day. There are consciously planned and heavily funded suppression of the people’s will in the Nigerian election process. This actions, called in it’s less dignified name is rigging. I do not think many Nigerians believe the contrary that the rigging of the April elections has started and may continue unless something is done. What could be done to salvage the situation and prevent a political disaster in April?
Maybe the starting point is to ask what is being done and how these could be improved. I will not pretend to have a monopoly of information in this respect. I know that the International Federation of Election System (IFES), based in Washington, D.C. designed a program – Basic Election Administration Training BEAT – for the training of INEC officials. I also know that the National Institute of Democracy and International Affairs, also based in Washington, D.C., in collaboration with the Carter Center in Atlanta, has been involved in pre-election assessment missions. IDEA International, another international organization based in Stockholm, Sweden has also been doing pre-election assessment.
On the governmental level, the United States Government and countries in Western Europe have all shown interest. The United Nations and European Union are also closely watching the transition process as they support it financially. The problem with all the present efforts is that most is short-term effort. After the training; after the pre-election visits and after the approval of funds, these people may not show up until the month of election.
Closer evaluation of the Nigerian electoral laws and increased support for the election process are needed in these months before the elections from the international community. Borrowing a leaf from the THISDAY Newspaper initiative of setting up an Election Process Monitoring Group (EPMG), it would be useful if more civil society organizations in Nigeria became involved in the work of the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG).
If Nigerians and the international community do not take these steps and more initiatives towards the forthcoming Nigerian elections, certain seeming unconnected incident might suddenly connect. Then it may not matter if all the Nigerian ambassadors abroad had returned home to contest for positions.