By Eddie Mbadiwe
These are times when there is a greater focus on integrity. It is proper, therefore, to start with a confession. I was one of those who congratulated Professor Attahiru Jega and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) at the conclusion of the 2015 general elections.
That congratulation was, however, qualified contextually vis-à-vis Nigeria’s earlier elections. In the nation’s recent history (pre 2015), we have had cases in which certain governors won elections because election results were written, and polls won and lost, before actual voting. Such governors served out their terms in spite of the tribunals and courts.
Massive rigging, thuggery and brigandage which are, unfortunately, integral parts of the Nigerian electoral cycle also played out in 2015. Any movement to transparent elections must have truth as its foundation. Any other premise will be self-denial and chasing of shadows. We Nigerians must look at ourselves, eyeball to eyeball, and say it as it is.
The fact is that nobody can rig an election without the collaboration and connivance of INEC. In 2015, a number of INEC officials were compromised and this is public knowledge. Going forward, a more stringent integrity screening should be a desideratum before anyone is appointed to such a sensitive but tempting position. People who are weak-kneed, and those who buckle easily under pressure have no place in this journey to sanitise INEC.
In the light of recent revelations, especially the mindboggling ones from Ekiti State, anybody who believes in Nigeria must worry about the long-term prospects for democracy in our land. True democracy involves the unfettered freedom, by eligible voters, to get into polling booths and cast their votes in the firm belief that their votes will decide who rules them. In the same vein, it is worrying that people can blatantly commit election crimes, follow it up with perjury in court and openly boast about it. Oh rule of law, why have you abandoned us?
There is trepidation in the land and hence, this clarion call to INEC to do all that is humanly possible to stop electoral rut in the country. Forces of evil seem to be in the ascendency, fighting to eclipse the good people of Nigeria. When wise people withdraw and fail to speak up, evil blossoms, as nature abhors a vacuum.
President Muhammadu Buhari, at an interactive session during his recent visit to London, appealed to Nigerians resident in the U.K to come home. This must have pleased David Cameron, for there are millions of our countrymen living permanently in Britain. Mr. President, they heard you loud and clear but let me save you the stress. The simple response is that they will not come.
Abike Dabiri-Erewa, who you recently appointed SSA with duties including Diaspora, will confirm this. Many of the Nigerians living abroad are hard-nosed professionals and business people who are among the brightest and the best in the world in their chosen fields. A few who dared to join the political train here were frustrated by the reinforced brick wall placed as a barrier by their peers resident in the country. Penetration was impossible and majority of them hurried back to the UK with red eyes and bloody noses. They would rather forget the experience and have their peace of mind.
The other reason is that a number of Nigerian elites do not have the liver to fight and effect meaningful change. Every change comes with sacrifice and a price and many are not prepared to pay the price. Their comfort zone is much more enjoyable and it is easier to be armchair critics and all-knowing pundits.
To ensure that desperate politicking does not get entrenched as it is at the moment, we have to do serious re-thinking and do a re-jig of the salaries, perks and allowances of political office holders. Politics must be, and also be seen as an avenue for service to humanity. It does not have to be the only business in town as people are now saying.
As long as these fundamental issues are not addressed and sorted out, elections will continue to be fights to the finish in which the winner takes all. The whole election cycle has become a circus and on huge joke, as an American visitor recently put it.
Even with the change agenda of the present administration, and the reported padding of the 2016 Budget, there are loud rumblings about staccato distribution of major projects. Is it all doom and gloom? Far from it. Nigerians are ranked among the happiest people in the world who will never accept a state of anomie. Most of us are incurable optimists and Fela captured the mood of the nation graphically when he composed the popular song, “Suffering and Smiling”, na so e be my compatriots.
An attitudinal change similar to what obtains in the North where there are comparatively fewer election petitions because everything is interpreted as the will of God will help keep hope alive among Nigerian politicians.
The National Assembly owes Nigerians an urgent duty to dissect, revamp and put together a new Electoral Act. The current one has so many lacunae which trigger numerous unnecessary election petitions and court cases. INEC spends billions unnecessarily in legal fees.
The Judiciary will also have to brush up its act as different judgements for similar cases cannot build confidence. An example is Senator Uche Ekwunife in Anambra State and Governor Ishaku in Taraba State. Ekwunife seems to have gotten the rough end of the stick. The more important function of the Judiciary which is the creation and maintenance of a just society is being neglected and pushed to the back burner. But, the recent vituperations against the Judiciary must be condemned because the day we destroy the judiciary, it is “nunc dimitis” and “to thy tents, oh Nigerians.”
Until these issues are addressed and rectified and INEC produces results that can enjoy public trust, politicians will stupidly continue to create many SAN-lawyer billionaires with their plethora of court cases.
•Hon. (Dr.) Mbadiwe was Deputy Chairman, National Security, in the 7th National Assembly.