Of Election Tribunal and Electoral Reform

by Mike Opeyemi Omilusi

The Nigerian democratic experiment is in its eleventh year and appears to be surviving in spite of its inadequacies. One may be tempted to call this “quantitative assessment”. I have observed in some of my previous articles how dangerously our brand of democracy is being handled since 1999 and the unrepentant posture of the politicians in observing the rules of the game. These developments, have indeed, heightened the fear in many of us concerning the possibility of the military’s return to power. Having being held hostage for many years of our national life and having fallen in love with power and its attendant benefits, we cannot but be concerned about the cabal’s modus operandi. But thank God, we are beginning to see some appreciable level of respect for our democracy by the military.

One aspect of this that has continued to give serious poser is the electoral system which, sad enough, has not been very encouraging. Indeed, keen observers of this process, at least considering the three consecutive general elections we have had, have unanimously submitted that we are still far below the universal standard. This is a serious concern because election is regarded as one of the pillars of democracy and the sustainability of the latter is dependent on how transparent, credible, free, fair and acceptable the former is. It is empirically affirmed that a fraudulent electoral process cannot engender “democracy” in the real sense of the concept.

While we continually live with this malady, a legal antidote seems to have crept in, thereby applying some degree of sanity to what appears to have criminally and perpetually, stuck to our subconscious. It is not that the provisions for post-election litigation have not been in our electoral law, but just like many aspects of our national life that have been made incapacitated, we have always resorted to violence as a means of redress.
The post -2007 election litigation in the country thereby, needs our critical evaluation. It might be convenient for one, though, to contend that it is not yet time to shout alleluyah regarding the seeming liberation of the judiciary from the influence of the money bag politicians and the ruling government, going by some of the perceived ambiguous judgments given in the recent past. I am not assuming that the outcome of election litigations should be predicated on public opinion rather than the volume of evidence before the court, but for those cases principally decided on legal technicalities, they leave much to be desired.

However, to a very large extent, when the latest development concerning the judiciary is considered, and compared with what happens in some other African countries, observable is the increase in the level of confidence the masses have in the judicial system. Needless to mention here the madness that erupted in Kenya in 2008, consequent upon the criminal elections, for which many African countries are notoriously identified. Thousands met their untimely deaths, yet others became refugees in their own country while the political gladiators were busy talking about power sharing in a government of national unity in a not too distant time. To both the political class and the hapless masses, the already amputated judiciary cannot save the situation.

From my observation as a democracy monitor, the new confidence reposed in the judiciary has also increased the degree of political maturity among some politicians. Some people might argue that this is only observable among the society’s refined and educated ones. But l like to ask if we have always been able to differentiate the crude from the refined in terms of political violence as a wrongly adopted panacea to rigged elections in the past. Shortly after the 2007 elections and later while cases were pending in court, l witnessed a number of gatherings where political leaders and aggrieved candidates were literarily begging their equally bittered supporters not to resort to violence, assuring them of victory at the tribunal.
I wish to emphatically say that most of the problems bedeviling the nation’s electoral system are caused by these desperate politicians and unpopular ruling parties. If not hotly pressured or heavily enticed with financial inducement by these same politicians, one may arguably say that the electoral bodies or judicial officers would have carried out their duties objectively. The case of Mrs Ayoka Adebayo, the Resident Electoral Commissioner during the April 2009 governorship re-run in Ekiti state, readily comes to mind here. Suffice it to also note that such election period is a test case for their integrity to resist devilish advances that could upturn peoples’ destiny.

May I add here that the on-going attempt to review the nation’s electoral law should, as a matter of justice and fairness, include penalities for those declared to have stolen people’s mandate. Most especially as regards those who, through electoral fraud, plunged the people into confusion and caused them psychological havoc for few miserable months, or in some cases, over three years. Their cases should be taken up for prosecution and they should be made to pay for their criminal acts. It will serve as a deterrent to other potential election riggers and their cohorts. Relieving an election rigger of his undeserved position while left a free person to enjoy benefits of being an ex-governor, is not only injurious to the rule of law but a grave injustice to those voters who were robbed of their precious votes. In addition, rather than only the candidates and their political parties, the electorate should be permitted by law to seek redress at the tribunal after election. Cases of candidates or parties abandoning their mandate after political or financial settlements lend credence to this position of mine.

The idea of independent candidacy, as now recommended by the electoral reform committee, is a welcome development to encourage those credible and more ‘refined’ Nigerians who do not have money to secure the ticket of those money- sucking parties already hijacked by godfathers. At all levels of electoral contest, individuals should be allowed to seek political offices where they can serve their people without any party affiliation. Ditto, as a prerequisite for registration, political parties should not be stampeded into having offices in 2/3 of the states of Nigeria including Abuja. Any political organization should be allowed to operate at any level it considers convenient for it to sell its manifesto.

It is no longer in contention, therefore, that some measures should be put in place to halt the electoral degeneration that is fast getting the country’s democracy off track. For instance, the Civil Society Coordinating Committee on Electoral Reform, CSCC (2008:4) recommends that the Electoral Commission should be a citizen-based controlled institution, with representation from the civil society, labour, faith based organizations, women groups, youth, people with disability, professional associations, organized private sector and political parties. The committee also suggests (among other recommendations) that the constitution should be amended to provide a mandatory minimum of 35% Affirmative Action for women; to include disability as a prohibited ground of discrimination; establishment of a Political Parties’ Registration Commission; establishment of an autonomous and constitutionally recognized Electoral Crimes Commission(ECC); and an Alternative Electoral System (Proportional Representative) to address the challenges being experienced under the current electoral system.

To a very large extent, the current president, Goodluck Jonathan, who took over the mantle of leadership in May 2010 after the demise of Musa Yar’adua, has demonstrated some appreciable degrees of commitment about the electoral reform which is expected to engender a credible election in 2011. His interest in the presidential race, however, is also seen in some quarters as a potential clog towards achieving this goal. In the final

analysis, it must be noted that the general mood in the country now does not accommodate any electoral failure again.

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