Some 3 weeks to the swearing-in of the winners of the last general elections in Nigeria, the Catholic Archbishop Emeritus of Abuja, John Cardinal Onaiyekan argued that the country’s electoral system ought to be reviewed to bring to an end the practice which allows another round of contest after winners of an election had been inaugurated.
In the words of Onaiyekan,”it is not right to have a system that is constantly contested.”Put differently, contests should end before governance begins. Many people especially supporters of the acclaimed victorious parties who felt the argument did not favour them attacked the frontline clergy. What such supporters want in earnest is a cancellation of election petitions which they see as running against the spirit of sportsmanship.
For them, everyone should congratulate their own favoured winner who should then set up an inclusive government. What the winners of an election and their supporters appear to be suggesting is that how a winner emerges is irrelevant – a posture of ‘all is well that ends well’ which is visibly antithetical to democratic practice.
Of course, it would be unfair to allow any fake winner to assume office or be allowed to remain there after having found his victory to be defective. As a result, the judiciary ought to vigorously review any disputed election and discourage political jobbers from getting into leadership positions in government.
At the same time, the settlement of election disputes which may lead to the removal of persons who had been allowed to hold office, no matter for how brief, is untidy and should be discouraged.The way out is not just to have election tribunals that would courageously identify and declare the rightful winners; but that would also expeditiously conclude the assignment between the period of voting and swearing-in of winners.
After all, in recent times, election petitions have been concluded under 14 days in smaller African nations such as Kenya, Malawi and Angola. As foremost activist, Femi Falana has been asking, is there any reason why Nigeria cannot do same? Why are many party loyalists always anxious to sweep plenty of dust under the carpet by calling on petitioners to withdraw their election petitions supposedly in the public interest? Do fake elections benefit society? Again, why are Nigerian patriots not insisting that their nation should follow global realities?Nigeria’s political party system is exceedingly weak. Whereas it is political parties that promote democratic practices in other climes, the irony is that in Nigeria, political parties lack internal democracy.
As the history of elections in the country has shown, most Nigerian political parties, especially the ruling parties often devote huge energies on how they can win elections through the circumvention of rules. Whatever little gains the parties have made so far were largely imposed on them by election tribunals. Surprisingly, notwithstanding the nullification of party primaries organized by the APC for the 2019 elections in Rivers State, the same party had to forfeit all its election victories in Zamfara State.
The combined calamity suffered by the APC in Bayelsa, Zamfara and Rivers states suggests that the settlement of election disputes must never be halted because our politicians are not ready to follow the democracy that is premised on the rule of law.The performance of Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission is no doubt one of the reasons why every election petition should be allowed to run its full course.
It is during the proceedings of election petitions that the searchlight is usually beamed on the shoddy behaviour of the electoral body. Failure to begin voting day process on schedule, lack of understanding of the process by INEC officials and inadequacy of men and materials during elections are usually laid bare at the tribunal hearings.
Indeed, election tribunals have helped in a few cases where rogue officials showed that electoral malpractices can also be committed or aided by senior academics who are supposed to be the nation’s models. Reports from proceedings in election tribunals on the 2023 polls that strange images were wrongly uploaded in place of results confirm the expedience of allowing the tribunals to work.
Unfortunately, some of the tribunals have not done well at all. They so much cherish pursuing technicalities making them appear to the public as paid agents of some politicians. In other cases, their verdicts confuse the public; a good example being the Osun governorship election in 2018, where the candidate with the highest votes lost because one of the members of the tribunal was allegedly absent once during the proceedings.
Accordingly, those calling on aggrieved citizens to abandon their election petitions in the spirit of good sportsmanship greatly miss the point because their advocacy will never offer free and fair election from which visionary leaders will emerge and initiate viable policies to develop Nigeria. Besides, the calls portray a myopic viewpoint that democracy is basically same as government whereas the latter is only part of the former. The best democracy is not that in which the winner of an election accommodates all his opponents in his government; instead, such opponents should form a viable opposition to canvass alternative policies and serve as a check on government for the benefit of society.