Foul political mud slinging. Under the belt insults. Campaign and personal attacks Offensive media tirades. A dismal, disgraceful and disastrous performance from INEC yet again. For anyone who followed the activity within the Nigerian terrain last week, they would know that it describes the Gubernatorial election conducted in Anambra state on Saturday.
It is indeed an infamy that in Nigeria after 53 years of independence and 14 years of uninterrupted democratic dispensation, we still cannot conduct free, fair and credible elections. Virtually every election results in Nigeria are always fiercely and vehemently disputed with some considerable amount of justification. While elections have been successfully held in other African countries such as in Ghana, devoid of violence and massive election fraud, Nigeria’s election has habitually been fraught with irregularities.
Even the 36-member body, the Governor’s Forum, on 24 May 2013, could not conduct a credible and an acceptable election amongst themselves. Astoundingly, even though there were clear video evidence, accounts and media reports on how the voting was conducted, as the incumbent chairman of the forum, Rotimi Amaechi, governor of Rivers State defeated his lone challenger, Jonah Jang, governor of Plateau State by 19 votes to 16, hitherto there exists a parallel body of governors with the losing candidate, Jonah Jang, pronouncing himself as chairman with the support of the 16 governors who voted for him. One cannot discount the infamous “oga at the top” epithet, having an invincible but influential hand in its proceedings.
Despite the chairman of the INEC, Prof. Attahiru Jega’s prior reassurances that the gubernatorial election in Anambra state would be devoid of any violence, free, fair and credible, from all indications the elections in Anambra state was far below par when defining a free and fair election. According to press and media reports, voting did not take place in many of the voting centres. Voting materials arrived very late in many of the centres and in many places voting registers were either not available, or displayed. Where they were available, many of the voters could not find their names in the registers and could not vote, despite the time and money being giving for preparedness of the election.
One wonders if this was indeed a deliberate ploy by INEC to rig the election in favor of the ruling party of the state, thus confirming the notorious power of incumbency phenomena in Nigerian politics. The chairman of INEC also concurred and admitted that the elections were badly flawed and that there would have to be fresh elections. He alleged sabotage on the part of some staff of the commission who he claimed derailed the commission’s plans for a smooth delivery of election materials to some sections of Anambra Central Senatorial district.
Specifically, a senior electoral officer has been apprehended and handed over to the police for suspected complicity in the massive electoral fraud. Further reports also showed that the police were complicit in proliferating the election façade in the state, as it is a well-known fact that the federal police are increasingly becoming partisan in supporting the ruling party or incumbent during elections.
While candidates of the opposition were all calling for the cancellation of the results, the leading and incumbent party’s candidate was happy with the outcome of the election. This is basically the norm in Nigerian politics, where the supposed loser always cries foul and intending winner celebrates at a poorly conducted and massively fraught election. However, with the comments from eye witnesses, protests from disenfranchised individuals and live streaming of the elections via social media, it could indeed be said that the elections in the state wasn’t credible, neither was it free and fair.
Consequently, the Irregularities witnessed during the elections on the 16th of November, led to the extension of voting till the next day, so as to enable the commission conduct fresh elections in some wards in Idemili North and South LGAs of the state. After the 17th November fresh elections, INEC declared the election inconclusive due to the disparity in the number of cancelled votes and the difference between the purported winner and the runner-up, and also said it will conduct a supplementary election in the state, further spurring more controversies as legal practitioners across the country have begun examining the legality of that declaration.
As manifestly evident in Nigerian politics, the ostensible winner, i.e. the APGA candidate, Victor Umeh, laughably described the process of the election, as excellent and the best election ever conducted by INEC in the state. Curiously though, within the PDP, there is a discernible rift within its ranks in Anambra State over the outcome of the gubernatorial election, as the Chairman of the state chapter of the PDP, Ken Emeakayi, towing the declaration of APGA and its candidate, declared that the election had been credible and that the party would participate in the supplementary election called by INEC. But the camp of the candidate for the party condemned the conduct of the election, calling for the outright cancellation of the exercise, thus disassociating itself with the state chapter working committee of the party.
This indeed confirms the pre-election day widespread rumor of the alliance of APGA and PDP, whereby PDP would concede to APGA in order to thwart the APCs ambition of achieving the governor’s seat in Anambra State. However, the APC candidate, Chris Ngige, in the aftermath of the election, said that he was not in the contest as a do or die affair, but that he wanted the correct thing to be done by the electoral body. He alleged that the election was fraught with massive electoral irregularities whereby electoral officers worked in connivance with INEC to make sure that electoral materials were delivered late at polling units in areas of his strong hold. He also insisted that the poll was flawed ab-initio, when he claimed the Resident Electoral commissioner, Prof. Chukwuemeka Onokogu instead of taking the electoral materials for election from the airport straight to the Central Bank in Awka, he took them not accompanied by any of APCs agents, straight to the commission. He also stated that there were instances were some police officers were caught on video camera thumb printing for APGA, which he said showed the level of irresponsibility that attended the election.
Also, eminent Nigerians such as Prof. Pat Utomi, has described the election as a “show of shame” calling for an end to the recycling of political leaders in Nigeria on the grounds of incumbency and continuity and insisted that voters should be allowed to elect their candidates through free and fair elections.
Perhaps expectedly, especially due to the political significance of the Anambra State election, the strategic position the state occupies in the South East heartland and indeed Nigeria, the do or die attitude of politicians and the power of incumbency, and the ineptitude of INEC, the elections in Anambra state has generated several controversies, whereby some women in the state have protested against the electoral process, while many voters have also cried out that they were deliberately disenfranchised with their names missing in the voters register.
Admittedly, the political stakes involved in elections in Nigeria are very high, as political offices ensure instant access to huge amount of wealth and social preferences. Many politicians get into politics, not for public service or good, but for the accumulation of wealth and the desirability of position. Electoral fraud and rigging are largely practiced and improvised by these politicians; hence, alienating the electorate and disenfranchising them from performing totally in the electoral process, automatically renders that election in having credibility issues.
Credible, free and fair elections are indeed fundamental and crucial for the success of any democratic society in any part of the world. Where the integrity of elections is undermined, there would invariably be a direct challenge to the stable and democratic society we in Nigeria have been trying to develop since 1960. In 2015, Nigeria will hold its general elections. This election would be decisive for Nigeria’s political future.
From what has transpired in the Anambra elections over the weekend and the various political intrigues, sagas and permutations overheating the polity before now, one can’t help but feel apprehensive about the conduct of the election, as we might have an election marred with violence, election fraud and inconclusive results. Apparently, INEC is still far away from conducting free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria.
In the crisis-ridden way INEC has just shown us what to expect come 2015, the many prevailing anxieties people are feeling are very likely to spontaneously combust. Nigerians may no longer be ready to accept such infamy in a blind rush. And of this, INEC and the ruling party must take note. Rather, the electoral commission must get its act together and negotiate between its past abysmal standards and the demands of the moment. And the majority demand for the moment in the interest of justice would be the suspension of the proposed supplementary election, the cancellation of the just concluded irregular Anambra Gubernatorial election and the conduct of a fresh election using justice, fair play and the rule of law. The nature of the conduct of our politics has got to change, one decision at a time. And for INEC that change must begin in Anambra…, with immediate effect.