Editorial: Annul the blood-stained election that dehumanizes Nigerians (1)

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The immortal former South African president, the late Nelson Mandela could not have captured the lofty expectation of all Africans better when he once said: “The world will not respect Africa until Nigeria earns that respect. The black people of the world need Nigeria to be great as a source of pride and confidence.” Mandela was not just echoing an expectation; he was challenging Nigeria and its leaders to fulfill this responsibility. Yet, after the February 23, 2019 presidential and national assembly elections, the self-acclaimed giant of Africa, once again floundered in the wilderness of do-or-die politics and wanton violence that claimed no fewer that 39 lives, according to the Situation Room – a consortium of civil society organizations that monitored the polls. Owing to violence, massive fraud and irregularities that marred the February 23 poll, the election tribunal must not allow the results to stand, as it will validate impunity and set the clock of Nigerian democracy backwards. The tribunal should cancel the elections outright and send INEC back to the drawing board, to organize free, fair and credible election. Nigerians deserve nothing less!

The shenanigans and violence that characterized the Feb 23 general elections across the country, completely repudiated the gains of the 2015 elections. As the last hope of the common man, the Nigerian judiciary must teach Nigerian politicians the lesson that the wishes of the people as expressed through the ballot box must be respected. Quite predictably, incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari was proclaimed winner of the election by the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC). Not unexpectedly, his main challenger, Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) rejected the results and he is heading to the election tribunal. It is obvious there is great disenchantment in the land because the two main political parties and their presidential candidates are two sides of a coin with such moral and political baggage as give little cause for cheer. 

It is regrettable, indeed unfortunate, that the same western nations, which hitherto, issued threats and warnings against violence and rigging, have been quick to congratulate President Buhari for winning a rigged election. This double standard is a travesty and an insult to democracy. Against a disquieting and upsetting one-week postponement, the election was never a process that promised to end peacefully. The countdown was ominous and replete with forebodings to the extent that the rest of the world is asking Nigeria to move on, now that winners and losers have emerged. It doesn’t matter that there were electronic glitches and poll disruptions; card readers malfunctioned in several locations while ballot papers were burnt. Even if 35 innocent Nigerian lives were lost due to electoral thuggery, what is more important is that the elections held and culminated in another electoral turnover. The imperfections of the process would be dealt with by relevant state institutions, after the main opposition challenger, former Vice President, Atiku asked his irate supporters to remain peaceful, as he would challenge the result in court, instead of recourse to self-help in seeking redress. Nigerians ought to be congratulated on this electoral milestone. This is how a truly democratic election should record its denouement.

Obviously, the ridiculous assertion that Nigerians have decided and the nation should move on, is on its face laughable and should attract no further comment. This kind of thinking smacks of complacency and is unhelpful. All Nigerians must know that the Feb 23 elections were not just about Buhari, Atiku or any other candidate for whatever position. The fate of Nigeria and the future of the citizens of this badly run nation are at stake. Over the years, Nigerians have been saddled with leaders who are bereft of any new offerings on the national agenda and who have made Nigeria a laughing stock in the comity of nations. Between Saturday Feb. 23, till the proclamation of the results, Nigerians saw videos and pictures of electoral violence, massive rigging, voter suppression and illegal militarization of states that went viral on social media. The manifest and premeditated malpractices to inflate votes in states that favored the incumbent, while suppressing votes in opposition strongholds were so apparent and amateurish, as to negate the results announced in many states.  

The political parties, especially the ruling APC, whose candidate was declared victorious by INEC, was seen to be preparing for war and not a game of persuading voters to cast their ballots. The instruments of state - the police, the DSS and the Army-were abusively deployed by the federal government to subvert the will of the people. The Nigerian Army, for instance, has no business with elections. The militarization of the electoral process is a disservice to our democracy and a throwback to the jackboot era of military dictatorship. The electoral umpire INEC was supposed to be above board and avoid creating room for despair and a resort to self-help. INEC was not only supposed to be independent, it had to be seen as being independent.

Through errors of omission and commission, INEC called its own impartiality into questioned, raising a palpable crisis of confidence that undermined the credibility of the process. The issue leaves no room for equivocation: if the Nigerians cannot at their own free will and volition, change their leaders through the ballot box; then there is a bigger problem than the country thinks it has. What this means is that a president can abuse his office and power and exhibit dictatorial tendencies and when it is time for elections, deploy the military to intimidate citizens and confiscate power. How long is the nation going to reward this kind of bad behavior? 

A situation where the total number of votes cast was more than the number of accredited voters by INEC’s own reckoning is more than just electoral malpractice. It is a debasement of the sensibilities and an irreverent infringement on the collective psyche of Nigerians. Also, the shoddy manner in which valid votes cast were cancelled by INEC in states deemed to be pro-opposition not only belittled Nigerians and Nigeria before the international community, more importantly, it advertised to the whole world a certain Nigerian definition of democracy that diminishes the ideal and mocks the primacy of the people in the process. There was no excuse for INEC whatsoever, to have delivered such a poor performance, other than gross incompetence, partiality, corruption and mischief. 

Allowing the Feb 23 election results declared by INEC to stand will not only subvert Nigerian democracy; it will probably be the most wicked act perpetrated against this nation, second only to the June 12, 1993 presidential election, adjudged the freest and fairest in the history of Nigeria, which was annulled by the military regime of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, in a streak of authoritarian madness.The integrity of the judiciary is now at stake, no doubt. Nigerians, however, expect the presidential election tribunal to rise to the occasion and acquit itself creditably. By acting with a modicum of patriotism at this critical period of Nigeria’s political history, the dramatis personae can write their own names in gold and save the country the odium of failure. Should they choose to do otherwise, history will also be there to judge.