Electoral system in the eye of the storm | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Electoral system in the eye of the storm

Posted: Apr 5, 2015 at 2:49 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

By  Francis Abayomi

It was not out of the blues that the presidential election turned out to be a contest in which only one of the two major gladiators could have emerged the acceptable winner. The incumbent more than the challenger was evidently faced with the unusual burden of being held to account by the international community as to the peaceful outcome of the election willy-nilly. The incumbent literarily had his groins at the mercies of traducers who had long concluded the election must lead to only but one outcome if peace must reign. Anything to the contrary was understandably inconceivable!

If a defeat for the eventual winner, General Muhammadu Buhari was going to plunge Nigeria into avoidable chaos of unimaginable proportion, incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan had to be the fall guy. That the outgoing president suddenly emerged a hero of some sorts upon conceding defeat explains the dynamics and mood that came into play in shaping the outcome.

Good enough that the election has come and gone with the country overcoming threats of Armageddon, which elicited deafening concerns from across the world. It was on the strength of the foreboding signs that I had argued in this column a week to the postponement of the polls in February that history beckons a responsibility on Jonathan that requires statesmanship beyond politics. I had posited as follows: “…. President Jonathan would be making vital contribution to our democratic history if a free and fair election he has promised produces an outcome otherwise thought to be impossible in our clime. This critical historical responsibility for which the president must prepare himself as a statesman who would not want to be on the harsh side of history must not be taken for granted by stakeholders in the interest of our collective aspirations for a stable democratic Nigeria”.

Those who may now indulge in taunting the outgoing president as a hapless hero who emerged out of convenience or without a choice than allow the process deliver on alternation of power which represents a critical milestone in Nigeria’s political history are simply being mischievous. It would have been impossible to deepen our democracy beyond the cosmetics without a leader like Jonathan who was ready to accept the difficult choice in spite of the enormous powers at his disposal.

However, beyond the euphoria of the widely acclaimed concession of defeat by the outgoing President and the overwhelming accolades he has received across the globe, there are salient issues around the recently concluded presidential election that remain unassailable. Indeed and truth, the signs were ominous enough for the president and his men to have seen through. It was evident the challenges of his re-election were not going to be purely on performance.

The prevailing mood of politics was largely a summation of factors that made it look like Jonathan was not going to have another shot at it regardless of how much he worked hard at it. He had a choice to back off the race when confronted with high powered intrigue of power shift within the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), but he chose to stand up to the power oligarchy. The Jonathan example may yet open the flank for more interesting scenario in 2019. While so much more could be attributable as to why the election was won and lost, there are however huge lessons to be learnt from the peculiar scenario that underlies perception of politics and governance when dynamics of power shift becomes a critical consideration.

The magic of figures that became dominant feature of votes returned from across the country speaks volume of the deep-seated politics that was clearly beyond performance in office and how power shift as a factor eventually became a major decider. Making the game much more intriguing was the conspiracy to preserve a status quo which another four years of the incumbent was bound to ruffle with the implementation of the outcome of the national conference. It could not have been for nothing that a former military leader, few days to the election, expressed worries over what he claimed to be coordinated attacks on retired generals. For those conversant with history of demilitarisation and the trajectory of history playing out in the polity, such statement should carry much heavier weight than the ordinary meaning it conveyed. Issues around the military and the need to re-fix and for whatever reason or interest also became a factor that played out in the election.

There is no doubt Professor Attahiru Jega and his team at the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) must have done all humanly possible to invest the electoral process with credibility. Notably the introduction of permanent voter cards (PVCs) and the controversial card-readers were obviously the right steps in the right direction in spite of whatever flaws we may have seen. The beauty of the PVCs, as evident from the governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun states as well as the presidential election, is that falsification and deployment of inflated voter registers have been largely curtailed in our electoral system. We would only appreciate how much sanity has been restored in the electoral system if we begin to juxtapose figures from 2011 elections with those of 2015 vis-à-vis the number of supposed voters against the number of PVCs collected in the last four months.

Nevertheless, it is rather shocking Nigerians would pretend, apparently for sake of convenience, that all was well with the magic of figures that played out from the results across the country. It is even more intriguing that the election has been touted unprecedented for the wrong reasons by individuals and from quarters that ought to know much better. But more than anything, what is unprecedented about the election is the level of fraud we are been made to overlook or accept as a standard of electoral process.

The fact that another census is much around the corner should raise a number of concerns based on supposed picture of voter turnout across the country. The election may have led to an outcome perceived largely popular and acceptable; but there are yet fears as to the extent to which the credibility of the process was undermined.  From the results, it is not unlikely the process was hijacked and with results inflated in parts of the country.

To put it plainly, the process of the election and the magic of figures around it raise a number of issues that must be carefully pondered. It was obvious failure of card readers and subsequent directives by INEC that manual accreditation be used opened the process to unmitigated abuses. It is obvious lapses created by issues around malfunctioning or mishandling of card readers emptied the process of the much needed uniformity and level playing field across the country.

With total voter turnout of about 30 million which is less than half of PVCs in circulation, there is the need to interrogate the picture of votes returned across the country. What would the picture had been if the over 10 million enthusiastic prospective voters who were only able to collect their PVCs within the window created by shift in the poll had been disenfranchised with election held as previously scheduled on February 14? There are obvious questions begging for answers!