Every democracy, whether developed or developing, is rated by its electoral transparency, credibility and fairness. A democracy can be said to have come of age, when the electoral aspirations of the populace are allowed to translate into votes cum outcomes, displaying yearnings of the electorates. United States of America, United Kingdom, and other developed democracies of the world, are usually cited as examples of advanced democracies because the votes cast during elections reflect the overriding wishes of the electorates, at least, to a reasonably extent—without conceding that, there is a perfect electoral system anywhere.
Nigeria is still listed amongst developing democracies in the world, not because of the number of years we have practiced democracy, uninterruptedly, but the low level of confidence electorates have in our system. Some Nigerians harbor these ill feelings that votes does not count, even when they avail themselves to be part of the electioneering—and they cannot be blamed for holding such views; no matter how perverted. Inadequacies of the electoral system frustrates enthusiastic voters who want to determine their leaders via a credible, all-inclusive process.
In Nigeria, whenever it seems outcome of elections does not represent the will of the people, the number one “culprit” that is always scapegoated by the politicians and voters, is the electoral umpire: Independent Electoral Commission (INEC). As the referee, anything that goes wrong in the match is placed at its table of responsibilities. The electoral commission is made to bear the moral and legal burdens caused by the shortcomings in the system. Interestingly, some of these shortcomings are consequences of thoughtless actions of desperate politicians who want to get to corridors of power, whether hook or by crook. So they do everything humanly possible to subvert the process; including sabotaging the INEC.
The Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) has shown course, covertly or overtly, in recent past, while Nigerian voters should question its capacity and impartiality to gift them electoral process that will be credible and trustworthy. Some pundits have even queried the true meaning of “Independent” in the acronym—INEC, because of myriad of accusations that have been hurled in the direction of the Commission, especially by keen politicians and their ebullient supporters, majorly, when the outcome of the elections does not go their way.
I agreed with the propagators of the opinions that INEC has a long way to go in sanitizing our electoral processes and restore diminishing confidence of the voters in the system. But, only few rational thinkers have taken time to look at INEC’s constraints, albeit constitutionally. The INEC, like every other government institution, is populated by Nigerians. The actions of INEC staff members reflect what happens in our general society. INEC is not an isolated oasis inhabiting saints, surrounded by dessert of sinners. The Commission is not immune from the social ills of corruption plaguing the nation. It has its fair share of institutional weaknesses.
But, I think INEC is being “over blamed” for the failings in Nigeria’s electoral system. No matter how strategic cum indispensable it’s constitutional roles are, Independent Electoral Commission as a body, cannot on its own, guarantee credible electoral process, if other supporting government agencies, institutions and critical stakeholders does not live up to their own responsibilities. It is a collective duty. The Commission does not enact its own laws: it is the responsibility of the National Assembly to make laws for the Commission. But when the legislature defaults on its duties, no one notices it until it affects the functions of the umpire.
The consequences of bad/impracticable laws are observed during the electioneering process. And the blame is shifted to the umpire, no one remembers that the electoral body only executes, and does not make laws. For example, INEC does not control security agencies, but when security agencies fail in their respective assignments to provide security during elections, it affects the entire process, thereby robbing negatively on the efforts of the Commission to organize elections—the INEC is made the whipping boy by the politicians and other critical stakeholders in the electoral value chain. Most of the electoral officers deploy during elections as adhoc staff are not even INEC direct staff members, though supervised by the Commission.
Ironically, the Commission dare not defend a sabotaged process, frustrated by other stakeholders like security agencies or political parties (though it supervised it). If it does, the political parties will accuse it of being “compromised”. If INEC accepts responsibility for the failings in the system—which might not have come from its own end of the chain, disgruntled stakeholders will question its “capacity” to conduct elections in the first place, thereby sandwiching the umpire in between the devil and deep blue sea. I am not here to defend INEC but all the stakeholders involved in the electoral process must get their acts together before we can boost of impregnable and credible electoral system that will be difficult to compromise.
No electoral officer deployed by the INEC will continue to insist on the sanctity of ballot box, when thugs hired by politicians are running amok; raining bullets like snowstorm. At this point, he (electoral officer) has to safeguard his life first, by taking cover. Peradventure, the security officials mandated to provide security cannot stem the tide of violence as a result of incompetence, the electoral process becomes compromised. I concur with the school of thought that INEC has the power to cancel elections in violent prone areas. But what happens when presiding or collation officers are forced under gun points to declare false results?
Will they sacrifice their lives, leave their families to groan and moan, or yield to pressure of desperate politicians to announce fake results because their lives are threatened? If they do, those who lost elections will said that INEC has rigged the election and democracy is in danger. If INEC wants to arrest the slide by seizing the certificate of return, the beneficiary of the “gunpoint-declaration” will accuse the Commission of “denying” him his “mandate”.
Senator Rochas Okorocha’s scenario comes to mind here. And INEC does not have the constitutional powers to withhold certificate of return in the case that its officials were pressured at gun point to announce fake results. Only election petition tribunals (or the courts) have such powers to upturn victories—irrespective of how it is gotten. Then, instead of blaming security officials for not providing adequate security for INEC officials, which gave thugs leverage to unleash mayhem, aggrieved parties will still blame INEC for what is clearly the lapses of security agencies. Our electoral system cannot be strengthened if other stakeholders in the value chain, cannot show commitment to a transparent and credible processes. All hands must be on deck.
Nwobodo writes from Lagos