Gains Of Electoral Reforms - by John Udumebraye

A large number of Nigerians heaved a sigh of relief in the morning of Sunday, August 10, 2014, when the Returning Officer of the just-concluded Osun gubernatorial election, Professor Bamitale Omole, announced that the candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Governor Rauf Aregbesola, had won the election with a wide margin.

They were happy not because the candidate of their choice won, but because of what they thought might have happened, had the result been otherwise. The APC leadership had threatened fire and brimstone should Aregbesola lose the election.

The National Chairman of the APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, threatened that his party would form a parallel government if the polls were rigged against its candidate. The candidate himself called on his followers to challenge the security agents deployed to supervise the election with any means (including charms) available to them.

The party’s National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, accused the Federal Government, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC and the security forces of plans to collude and rig the election in favour of the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. Together, they accused President Goodluck Jonathan of “militarising” the Osun election to secure victory for his own party.

The truth is that, contrary to this narrow and self-serving posturing of the APC leadership, President Jonathan had the broader and noble national agenda of reforming the country’s electoral system and cleansing it of all the negative tendencies that have given it a sordid image. It is a known fact that since political independence, elections in Nigeria have been plagued by fraudulent practices, ethnic and religious crises, violence, killings and assassinations, etc.

There are millions of Nigerians still alive today who witnessed the violence that erupted, following the elections of 1964 and 1965, the Western Regional crises and threats of violence in other parts of the country, all culminating in the first military coup of January 15, 1966, which subsequently gave birth to more coups and counter-coups until the new democratic dispensation.

In spite of our launch into democracy, the elections of 1999, 2003 and 2007 were severely marred by unprecedented electoral violence, fraud, ballot-stuffing, intimidation and killings. Even the 2011 elections that brought President Jonathan into power were not violence-free. There were destructions and loss of lives and property in Bauchi, Akwa Ibom, Kano and other parts of the country. The peak of it were the post-election riots in some parts of the North, resulting in the death of over 800 people, including 37 youth corps members.

Understandably, President Jonathan has taken electoral reforms as a priority in his administration’s transformation agenda. His main goals are to evolve an electoral system that is manned by qualified, competent and efficient personnel, enact electoral laws and guidelines that are beyond manipulation and conduct elections that are free, fair and credible.

By so doing, the President hopes to create in Nigerians confidence in the nation’s electoral system. When, in acting capacity, President Jonathan appointed Professor Attahiru Jega as Chairman of the INEC, he knew where he was going. Since then, he has, through the National Assembly, effected necessary amendments to the 2010 Electoral Act to seal up loopholes and take care of areas that were subject to abuse.

Having strengthened the administration, skills and personnel of INEC, President Jonathan turned his attention to the actual conduct of elections. His slogan of “one man, one vote, one woman, one vote, one youth, one vote”, has become an unequivocal message to the nation’s political parties and, indeed to the entire political class, that from now on, election rigging would not be tolerated. And for those Nigerians inclined to violent conduct during elections, the President’s exhortation is yet another dictum that “his political ambition is not worth the blood of any Nigerian.”

However, fully aware of our history of electoral violence and the dangers posed by troublemakers and political thugs who abound in our society, President Jonathan’s policy is to ensure effective policing of elections through combined police-military operations. Like most developing nations of the world, Nigeria’s internal law enforcement institutions are yet to be fully developed.

Compared to the nation’s population and geography, the Nigeria Police Force is inadequate in manpower and equipment. Consequently, its operations in civic functions call for the support of other security agencies, especially the military. Experience has shown that joint operations, involving personnel from the police, military and other security agencies have been very successful in resolving situations of insecurity, civil disturbances, violent protests or such occasions as elections where peace may be under threat.

Starting with the Edo State governorship election of 2012, President Jonathan has effectively monitored all the elections conducted under his administration. While police officers monitored closely what was happening at each of the polling booths, the military stayed around on the streets, just in the event of…

It was an arrangement which Governor Adams Oshiomhole welcomed rather enthusiastically when he said: “The army is here to deal with troublemakers. The only people who need to be worried are those who want to cause trouble.”

President Jonathan’s security arrangement has also worked effectively for the governorship elections of Ondo, Anambra and Ekiti states. Now, it has not failed the people of Osun State. And behold, the APC has been the greatest beneficiary, among the political parties.

Those who criticise the President’s security deployment as unnecessary “militarisation” of elections are not only unfair but also mischievous.

John Udumebraye is a Political Analyst based in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.