Challenges of Free and Fair Elections Towards the 2011 General Elections

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A speech by Governor Kayode Fayemi, Executive Governor of Ekiti State.

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Challenges of Free and Fair Elections Towards the 2011 General Elections

  1. 1. Challenges  of  Free  and  Fair  Elections  Towards  2011  General  Elections  STRUCTURAL PERSPECTIVESChallenges of free and fair election in any democratic setting could best beviewed against the structural setting of the environment i.e. the electoralmanagement bodies involved in the conduct, supervision regulating andadjudicating over all elections in that jurisdiction.Election Management Bodies and Democratic System Of GovernmentElection management bodies occupy a strategic position in the electoralprocess and by implication are decisive for the success of any democraticsystem of government. Since they are charged with the responsibility oforganizing elections, their omission or commission could make or marelections.This paper examines the challenges of free and fair election and therelationship between election management bodies and the institutionalizationof democratic governance. The focus is that an independent, impartial,transparent, effective and efficient electoral management body is a prerequisitefor the institutionalization of a viable democratic political system.The variables which determine a credible election management bodies are:Independence, Transparency and Impartiality.CONCEPT OF IMPARTIALITYImpartiality is another variable which determines the credibility of electionmanagement bodies. Members of election management bodies are humanbeings and are likely to have their party preferences. However, suchpreferences should not in any way affect their official duties.Care should be taken while recruiting temporary staff who are employed duringregistration and election exercises to ensure that card carrying or die-hard   1  
  2. 2. partisans are not recruited. This can be achieved through a careful screeningexercise.An impartial election management body deals openly and on equal terms witheach political party. This is to ensure that each party has equal access to thestate – owned media, freedom to campaign and respect by candidates andparties of limits set for campaign expenses.NEEDS TO SITUATE ELECTORAL MALPRACTICESThere is a general need to situate the prevalence of electoral malpractices in anamoral political culture, whose thrust is anti-democratic in significant ways,and which shows general indifference to the desecration of the electoralprocess, whereas, much lip service is paid to upholding the sanity of theelectoral process, the full weight of the law is not generally and typicallybrought to bear on those who desecrates it, except in some rare cases; norhas the moral outrage voiced by some being channeled. Again, except in anumber of rare cases, into outbursts of spontaneous collective political andsocial action or the expression of people’s power within the ambit of the lawthat would shame and penalize perpetrators of electoral malpractices and deterwould-be-perpetrators.PAINS OF ELECTORAL LITIGATIONThe situation is understandably fed by the tardy and expensive nature of thecountry’s judicial process and a legal culture, which deliberatelyencourages violation of the spirit of the law, through taking advantage ofambiguities in the letter of the law and hiding behind proceduraltechnicalities in the judicial process to frustrate and prolong litigations.The result is a cynical resignation and a general disenchantment with theelectoral process.The need for Nigerians to stand and defend their suffrage irrespective of   2  
  3. 3. intimidation of any sort is imperative. We must be ready to create andstrategize to create a democratic men and women in the country that will beready to defend their votes.In handling this subject at hand, I feel challenged because of my experience asa victim of election fraud which spanned about four years in my state. In fact, Ifeel more challenged because I had an insider account of the details of theintricacies and politics of election crisis in Ekiti State in the last few years.Coming from the background of a politician who shares similar experiencewith Governor Adams Oshiomhole on mandate stealing through the mightypowers of the ruling party at the Federal level, it is incumbent upon me to sharemy experiences and what I consider the viable options for electoral sanctity inour country Nigeria.The credibility or otherwise of electoral process becomes one major factor thatdetermines the acceptability index of a nation in the wider comity of nationswhere respect for the choice of the people in electoral process has contributedgreatly to the economy well-being and social security of the people in Africa.In recent history in Africa, we have seen that played out in South Africa andGhana. In these countries, not only has the modern world seen that these twocountries hold much promise for their people, but also that they have become areference point as a model of transparent electoral process in African continent.For Nigeria, sadly one of the countries that gained early independence fromcolonial rule, the stories that have emerged are sad memories of electoralfrauds, which had led to sudden changes in government with the succeedinggovernments posting worse results in the conduct of elections. For instance,while the Western Region parliament poll fraud led to a crisis that snowballedinto the emergency rule that triggered further crisis in the First Republic thateventually led to the civil war, the Second Republic election that Nigeriansthought would mark a beginning of electoral sanity turned out to be a veritable   3  
  4. 4. impetus for the military take-over of government. Massive electoral heists invarious parts of the country and the backlash in people’s angst was what themilitary needed to sack the Second Republic.What could have been a safety valve was truncated by the military when itannulled the freest and fairest election in June 1993. What followed were mereselections of candidates by godfathers in the primaries which further set thetone for desperation by the contending parties in which case the partiescontrolled by moneybags and vested interests always carry the day against thecurrent of people preference, which further erodes the confidence of the peoplein the sanctity of the ballot box. For example in Nigeria in 2007, the Party thatcontrolled the commending height of the Federal authorities made no pretenceabout its insistence on abridging the right of the people in the choice of theirleaders. Votes were allocated to the candidates of the ruling Party at thedetriment of more popular candidates in opposition Parties.Litigations of the election tribunals clearly showed that things were notworking according to the expectations of Nigerians who desired transparentprocess of electoral contests. Several years after the poll, those whofraudulently found their ways to the seat of power were illegally directing theaffairs of their states using state funds to prosecute their cases at the tribunals.While impostors closed their eyes to the shame they have brought uponthemselves and the nation, the highly partisan and irresponsible electoralumpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), did not helpmatters.Often in hand-in-glove with the ruling Party, INEC under Prof Maurice Iwushowed itself as the worst in the supervision of electoral contests in Nigeria.The victory we celebrate today in Edo State is one singular relish of electoralfraud by the ruling Party in cahoot with the electoral umpire. By the Appeal   4  
  5. 5. Court ruling, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole clearly won his election in 2007only for him to retrieve his mandate two years after.The period of litigation in court in Edo State clearly showed the side-effect ofillegitimacy marked by decayed infrastructure, mismanagement of funds andgeneral dislocation in the governance process as we have seen in Kenya inDecember 2007, and in Cameroon and Zimbabwe in 2008. The same playeditself out in Ekiti. From our experience in the last few days after ourinauguration, decayed infrastructure hallmarked almost four yearsadministration in Ekiti State.Indeed, the worst form of electoral fraud manifested in the 2009 rerun in theEkiti State governorship election in which I was the prime victim. Thatsingular sordid experience put Nigeria on the hall of infamy in election processacross the world. Widely criticized as the worst form of poll management inthe choice of the people’s leaders, the world rose in unison to put a questionmark on Nigeria’s image as a country that can take a front in modellingdemocracy a system of government that can drive a free and just society, whichof course is one factor that in turn drives development and growth. It ishowever gratifying that the revelation at the election tribunal and theperseverance of Ekiti people gave them victory, which was celebrated acrossthe globe.But all these inadequacies, both man-made and human errors, which havehampered Nigeria’s march to electoral Promised Lands can be taken care of ifdeliberate policies and measures are put in place. Even though reform processthat could cleanse the conduct of election in Nigeria was instituted, what wehave seen thereafter clearly pointed out that Nigeria as a nation has missed themark.It is however regrettable that after the efforts and funds expended on this, whatcan be said today about that initiative is a resounding loss of faith. This ismore so as the authorities of government that ought to add fillip to the   5  
  6. 6. rebuilding of acceptable conduct of elections are themselves stumbling blocksin the way of free and fair elections.. For example, the National Assembly hasthrown out Justice Mohammed Uwais recommendation on the appointment ofINEC leaders by the National Judicial Council (NJC), which should haveserved as a neutral organ of government in charge of recruiting capable handsin election management instead of leaving the appointment in the hands of apartisan President whose choice of INEC officials is first condition forsuspicion among the opposition parties.As it stands today, particularly in reference to the last rerun election, it is clearthat deliberate measures have to be put in place for a free and fair elections in2011, as it is believed that it is not the electoral laws that are actuallyresponsible for the inadequacies in our election process but the actors, mostoften in the ruling Party who employ do or die tactics to subvert the people’swill. They do this through devious manipulation and government machineriesat their disposal. These elements are still around, which further hightens fearsthat 2011 polls may as well succumb to the evil machinations of dor-or-diepoliticians.Indeed, what actually bothers the minds of Nigerians is that those who shouldordinarily act as statesmen and vanguards of social change are themselves thearchitects of the current sorry state of our electoral process. For instance,former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who Nigerian State has so much investedin for both personal comfort and robust international stature later turned againstNigerians by getting himself involved in unbridled manipulation of state powerto strangulate electoral space. In his avowed commitment to that sordidagenda, Obasanjo declared to the bewildered Nigerians that 2007 generalelections would be a do-or-die affair. What truly followed during the electionswas an audacious poll robbery through thuggery, ballot stuffing, votesmanipulations, compromise of INEC officials through intimidation, complicityby security agencies in favour of the ruling Party, particularly as witnessedduring rerun poll in Ekiti State.   6  
  7. 7. In fact, Ekiti State rerun in which I was a prime victim provides me withenough insight on the challenges the nation may face in 2011 elections. Whatreinforces this line of thought is that even though the late President UmaruYar-Adua admitted that his election was fraught with irregularities and indeedset up an election reform panel to fine-tune the nation’s electoral process,what followed in the few States where rerun or bye-elections were held evenwith Professor Attahiru Jega at the driver seat gives no hope that we may notwitness a worst scenario in the next election.It is in this light that Nigerians must insist on minimum standard thatguarantees the sanctity of the ballot box, which of course remains the vehiclefor a stable government that in turns guarantees socio-economic development.The Ekiti State scenario under Mr Segun Oni has produced enough evidencethat the problem of illegitimacy is unquantifiable. Apart from litigations, thefear of the unknown unsettles the man on the driver’s seat, thereby limiting hisscope of developing strategies to address the state problems.Part of this is the issue of seeking favours in many quarters. This goes withunnecessary application of state’s funds to seek favours from both real andimagined influence peddlers.To guide against the identified lapses in 2011 general elections, all theseproblems need to be tackled and new strategies evolved for Nigerians for onceto beat their chests that indeed they are in the starting block to grow democracyfor social change and development.The challenges of free and fair elections are indeed enormous. They start fromthe outset of electoral process namely party primaries. The challenge we facethrough party organs on this is great. We have the problem of manipulating thechoice of party candidates through overbearing attitude of political godfathersand manipulation of the entire process to achieve pre-determined ends. This   7  
  8. 8. manifests in the circumvention of the provisions of party constitution to secureundue advantage in the process of selecting delegates that would elect partycandidates. This is already creating a serious problem in the ruling party at theFederal level. It should be noted that the current stalemate in the secondamendment to the Electoral Act is as a result of foisting an agenda that wouldmake for direct delegates to participate in the election of candidates. By thisarrangement, personal aides and political appointees would become delegatesfor the selection of party candidates. This of course can only lead to anadvantage in favour of the Principals, which questions the credibility of thechoice of candidates by the appointing bosses who call the shots. Thedesperation that goes with this is unquantifiable. Apart from limiting the scopeof people’s choice, the candidates that emerge through this process oftenbecome willing tools in the hands of those who plotted their ascendancy. Wehave seen this in Ekiti State where we had no evidence that Mr Segun Oni hadany agenda other than to satisfy the whims and caprices of those that foistedhim on the people.More troubling is the law governing elections in Nigeria. As we speak, no oneis sure of how the new Electoral Law will look like except that at the moment,the most crucial element in the election reform process has been thrown out bythe National Assembly whose members believe that having a truly independentelectoral umpire will undermine their return to power, hence the rejection ofthe recommendation in the Mohammed Uwais report making the NigeriaJudicial Council the recruitment authority of INEC officials to guarantee theindependence of INEC.One other element critical to free and fair elections is the voter registration. Asseen in Ekiti State in the April 27, 2007 election, the problem of underageregistration and multiple registration set the tone for election manipulations.This clearly showed at the tribunal hearings of the litigation that arose from thefraud that characterized that election. In some of the registers, it was   8  
  9. 9. discovered that multiple registration led to the inaccurate number of voters.The tragedy of this is that such fraud did not arise out of human error but adeliberate plan by politicians to have numerical advantage in election results.For instance in Ifaki Ekiti, Mr Segun Oji, who usurped the powers of Governorfor almost four years, registered in more than one place. In one place, he wasregistered as an artisan while in the other, he registered as a civil servant. Thisand other several instances were revealed at the tribunal hearing.Closely related to this is the problem of adequate time for credible registration.As we speak, no one is sure as to when voters registration will commence.Apart from the bureaucratic bottleneck that dogs the award of contract for theDirect Data Imaging for voter registration, the ability of the contractors andreliability of the machines are not what can be guaranteed at least for now.What this can expose the system to is an ad-hoc arrangement including the useof the discredited voters’ register to conduct 2011 general elections.Even if the equipment and other logistics are well on ground, one otherimportant factor Nigerians must contend with is INEC personnel. As we sawin Ekiti State , particularly during rerun election, it is clear that the mostdaunting challenge facing the electoral umpire today is the crisis of credibilityon the part of INEC officials.With particular reference to Ekti rerun, we all saw the shame that characterizedthe entire conduct of the elections. For instance, Mrs Ayoka Adebayo, whowas the Ekiti Resident Electoral Commissioner, in the midst of theannouncement of the results refused to conclude the declaration of the results,citing pressures to announce fake results. She resigned and went into hidingonly for her to emerge days later after she was declared wanted by the Federalauthorities to announce the result she had earlier rejected.Also at the tribunal hearings were revelations over official complicity by INECofficials. It was clear through the pieces of evidence by INEC officials that   9  
  10. 10. they were choreographed to follow same pattern of evidence presentations.But for the ingenuity of the prosecuting counsel, some INEC officials wouldhave gone away with their fake evidence during cross examination sessions.More intriguing was the collaboration between the security agencies and INECofficials particularly as seen in Ido Osi. The security agents literally providedcover for INEC officials to perpetrate fraud. For instance, as the PDP thugsset fire on INEC building at Ido Ekiti, the security agents watched on inecstasy. And during tribunal hearing, police declared that the building wasburnt by unknown men, even as a PDP member testified that he led a band ofthugs that set the building on fire as policemen watched because the arsonistswere PDP members.Even though all these atrocities were reported by the monitoring teamscomprising NGOs, members of international agencies and journalists , it wasclear that these observers were overwhelmed by the inadequacies of INEC inproviding a conducive environment for the observers to functions optimally.For instance, some remote parts of certain areas could not be accessed by theobservers, and most of these areas were fertile grounds for electionmanipulations. It was therefore not surprising that in some voting centres t, thenumber of accredited voters were less than the results returned. In other words,the results returned were higher than the number of those physically present tovote during the election.Another problem is the avalanche of corruption charges against the Judges ofthe election petitions tribunal. The Osun State presented a bizarre spectacle ofshame and corrupt conduct of the election petition tribunal Judges. In the firsttribunal that tried Raufu Aregbesola’s case incontrovertible evidence wasproved in the discovery of correspondence between the defence counsel and theJudges. In a drama that shocked Nigerians, the calls log of MTN was shownwhere the defence counsel within the hours of court hearing were exchangingtext messages with the Judges on the direction to follow during the cross-   10  
  11. 11. examination. This led to the quashing of the tribunal judgement for anothertribunal to be set up to retry the petition.If Osun case was bizarre, the Ekiti case was intriguing. Against the run ofcommon sense and application of law, the Judges freely awarded reliefs to thelaw breakers in the case. For instance, the Judges said the ACN members burntthe INEC office even when evidence by a PDP member incontrovertiblysuggested PDP thugs torched the building. He was never cross examined todiscredit his evidence.INEC official, Innocent Akao, in open court disowned the results declaring MrOni as the winner. The Judges also said Mrs Ayoka never resigned eventhough the police, a co-defendant in the case, admitted that the woman actuallyresigned and was declared wanted to defend the allegations in her resignationletter. Figures in unsigned or altered documents were awarded to the defendantby the Juges, and all evidence of violence was overlooked by the Judges infavour of the defendants.All these lapses militated greatly against the transparency of the 2007 electionsand the rerun polls that followed.To mitigate all these shortcomings, therefore, the institutions of electoralprocess must be strengthened to ensure credible polls in 2011. This must startwith internal democracy within the parties to ensure credible primaries to electparty candidates. Credible primaries will ensure the elimination of impositionof candidates by godfathers. The proposed amendments to the Electoral Actmust be credible enough to ensure the right of party members and votersgenerally to freely vote for candidates of their choice.It is gratifying that Governor Adams Oshiomhole actually started the crusadefor free and fair balloting through his one-man one-vote crusade. This   11  
  12. 12. initiative is commendable as it remains the only option that can generate stabledemocracy in our country.All encumbrances on the way of effective sourcing, deployment andapplication of equipment for voter registration must be checked and effectivesecurity of these equipment maintained. To ensure credible conduct of INECofficials, recruitment strategies must be strengthened to ensure that only non-partisan Nigerians are on board of INEC. This is where Uwais’ report isrelevant. The NJC should be put in charge of recruiting credible Nigerians toconduct elections.It is also important that the functions of the security agencies in electionmonitoring be redefined to insulate them from partisan. Among this is to holdthe security agents accountable for all the lapses in the areas where theysupervise elections.. Also relevant is the training of the NGOs in electionmonitoring activities while they are equipped with necessary tools to carry outtheir duties particularly in difficult terrains.It is also important to introduce Election Offences Tribunals to try electionoffenders. This will act as a check on the activities of election riggers.More importantly, one-man, one-vote crusade must be taken to all corners ofthe country.These are the challenges we face today in our nation as we march to strengthenthe institutions of democracy for economy growth and progress. The challengeis more daunting because there are road blocks on the way, some of which aredeliberately created by politicians who are averse to decent way of conductingmen’s affairs. It is a challenge we face both individually and collectively tobuild a society that can raise its head in the comity of nations that are todaydictating the pace in shaping policies for growth and development across theglobe   12  
  13. 13. Another election is around the corner, just about five months to come, theINEC chairman Prof. Attaihiru Jega said his biggest problem is time and notmoney. Many have argued that the time-table for the polls is just too narrow forany meaningful result to be achieved, but the biggest headache of the majorityis neither the time nor the money, it is whether Nigeria can indeed holdcredible polls. Will the country make vote rigging unattractive? Will theelectorate look away from the fleeting offers of bribe from desperatepoliticians to vote as their conscience leads them?Will they vote and insist that their votes must count?Will the authorities do everything possible to break the jinx?Or will we walk the Oshiomole, Mimiko and Fayemi path again?Never and never.Governor Oshiomhole, ladies and gentlemen, I thank you very much for givingme this opportunity to once again ventilate what I know about the crisis ofconfidence we have about electoral process in the country. It is hoped that allthe issues raised shall be of immense advantage for us to rethink Nigeria whereopportunities are provided for the citizens to rediscover themselves. It is onlyin the atmosphere of freedom that we can release our entrepreneurialpotentialities to grow our economy for the survival of our great countryNigeria.Thanks and God bless you all.Dr. Kayode Fayemi.2010     13  

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