“Faced with crisis, the man of character falls back on himself. He imposes his own stamp of action, takes responsibility for it, makes it his own” – Charles De Gaulle
Everywhere you go, there is either the talk or suspicion by the opposition that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is getting ready to assist the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) win the forthcoming presidential and other elections.
And that is not all the talk. It is also said that other Federal Government-controlled agencies, such as the police, the military and a host of others, including paramilitary outfits, are willing and warming up to support and ensure that President Muhammadu Buhari and members of his party are given easy passage during the general election. But the question one would like to ask both the fake and true story merchants is this: How will INEC and its associates carry out this self-imposed, nationwide assignment with the new laws, innovations, checks and restrictions by all stakeholders and interest groups involved in electioneering and election matters this time around?
The Independent National Electoral law in use today provides in part IV, article 28, section 2, that “all electoral officers, presiding officers, returning officers and all staff appointed by the commission taking part in the conduct of an election shall affirm or swear to an oath of loyalty and neutrality … and shall perform their functions and duties impartially and in the interest of the Federal Republic of Nigeria without fear or favour.”
I believe that the Nigeria Police, the armed forces and all the paramilitary organisations and Federal Government institutions also swear to the oath of neutrality and, or allegiance to the country, Nigeria, and not to anybody else. It, therefore, beats my imagination how responsible officials of the INEC, police and military, for instance, would risk breaking the law of which consequence they are aware and familiar with.
Although, going by history, the present-day soothsayers may have a point. Most Nigerians have never had kind words for our electoral body, right from inception decades ago, due to its history of poor performance and allegations of vote-rigging involving electoral officials as well as security officials. All too familiar are stories of INEC announcing that an election is inconclusive, only to announce hours later the final result of that contest. Many contestants have many times told tales of having their results changed in favour of the highest bidder or the candidate who promises greater gratification.
Many people think that, in some cases, INEC is not actually the monster it is painted to look like. Sometimes, it is the politicians who become the architects of their very fate. Politicians sometimes can stop at nothing to make sure results are declared in their favour. They employ all manner of fraudulent tactics, including ballot box snatching, thuggery, arson and, in some cases, outright killing of opponents and their supporters.
Worse still, the quality of rhetoric that resonates within our political landscape does not help in peace building, neither do our political leaders guide the political trajectory toward the path of peaceful conversation, which leads to healthy coexistence within the polity. Prevention of conflict is a hundred times much cheaper than conflict prosecution. And extreme tribalism, religious bigotry and hate speech are obvious and ominous signs of conflict escalation.
Therefore, institutions such as INEC, the police, the military and even the judiciary, which are funded by public money to serve as neutral bodies, without paying allegiance to, or showing bias or preference for any individual or group, will do well to remain neutral and untainted, for therein lies the essence of swearing to an oath of neutrality and allegiance to the fatherland.
Another big fear, which every other group tends to entertain, except, perhaps, the party in power, is the question of professionalism and impartiality on the part of the various heads or chief executives of INEC, the police and the military. In most developing countries and African countries in particular, it has proved difficult for professionals trained to uphold the tenets of their calling to hold their own when put under pressure to do otherwise by powerful people in government. Whereas their counterparts in other climes would refuse to obey wrong and unconstitutional orders, many Nigerians would see obedience to such orders as a privilege to do favour to the President, governor or minister, in order to be in their “good books.”
However, what is obvious is that not every professional allows him or herself to be pushed around, no matter what. Everybody is different in one way or the other. Just as it is obvious that Prof. Attahiru Jega is different from Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, so is President Goodluck Jonathan different from President Buhari. As General Minimah is different from General Tukur Burutai, so is IGP Solomon Arase different from IGP Ibrahim Idris. In other words, the shape of things to come during the forth-coming general election will be determined by the quality of professionalism, the level of impartiality, integrity and character of the heads of government institutions charged with the conduct of the elections, directly or indirectly. INEC and all these other bodies are institutions of government set up to be impartial and do justice in all circumstances; but the staff that populate these organisations decide at their own risk whether to be devious or straightforward.
When people say INEC is always in favour of the party in power, one can only say: “No, not exactly.” Although some INEC staff choose to ignore their conscience and training in pursuit of cash and gratification, a risk, which INEC has not done enough to make its personnel realise, many good workers still exist. INEC needs to double its efforts in imposing stiff punishment on these die-hard groups of staff who have, over the years, contributed to damaging the reputation and image of this all-important organisation. Electoral offences should at- tract the maximum punishment any crime can attract in the land and it should be so imbedded in the nation’s electoral law.
I came across Hajia Amina Zakari about six years ago. While Amina Zakari worked as INEC’s national commissioner in charge of political parties, I was the national chairman of the Progressive People’s Alliance (PPA). In all our encounters, interactions and dealings, as it pertained to our official assignments, there was never a moment that Amina’s character, competence and impartiality were in doubt. In fact, Amina Zakari was seen as one of the most competent, impartial and incorruptible national commissioners or staff of that era. She was not seen as someone who could use her position to doctor figures to favour a particular political party, president, governor or senator. But that was then!
• Nkire is chief advisor of Sam Nkire Advisory