Friday, November 14, 2008

Adams— Challenges for 2007

AS the celebrations, mount for Adams Oshiomhole’s victory at the Court of Appeal, the primitiveness of our electoral laws resounds. How can we have laws that admit that crimes have been committed, give verdicts based on the conviction that crimes were committed, yet nobody is punished?
The ruling in essence was that Professor Oserheimen Osunbor, former law teacher and former senator became governor by unwholesome means. He was not “duly elected” as the courts would say.
Would it not have been important to identify those who aided and abetted tampering with the electoral process? Was it enough to award the governor’s seat to Oshiomhole?

These questions have been asked times over without any appropriate response from the authorities. Though Section 227 of the Constitution forbids thuggery (the foundation of rigging), it is a common denominator of our politics.

Says the Section, “No association shall retain, organise, train or equip any person or group of persons for the purpose of enabling them to be employed for the use or display of physical force or coercion in promoting any political objective or interest or in such manner as to arouse reasonable apprehension that they are organised and trained or equipped for that purpose”.

At least seven governorship results have been upturned since the April 2007 election. Adamawa, Anambra, Bayelsa, Cross River, Edo, Kogi, and Rivers States have governors who were either sworn in after re-run elections, or those through Court of Appeal verdicts. In all these cases, electoral malfeasance was an issue.

Nobody was prosecuted, which leaves a void that can ruin future elections.
Is it possible that a governor is thrown out of his seat without any punishment meted to those who caused the disruption? What about the opportunities he illegally dispensed, the laws he assented to, the millions of public funds he illegitimately earned? Would these opportunities not continue providing incentives for future election riggers?

Court decisions have provided the unexpected benefit of staggering some gubernatorial elections.
However, they have not addressed electoral improprieties beyond reversing the results, an important factor in dealing with rigging.

Each court decision that does not punish election offenders makes room for new offenders to plan better and turn up with rigging strategies that would be more difficult to detect.
If they are found out, it could have been years after they illegally got into office, enough time to have freely dipped their hands into the public coffers, usually the major attraction in seeking public office.

The Electoral Act appears to be in abeyance in these matters. It is also overdue for another amendment –– one of the indications of the poor thinking that goes into our law making –– to tackle issues that elections throw up.

No one who has a case pending in court should be sworn in, especially into executive offices. Election cases should be given speedy hearing and concluded before the constitutionally prescribed swearing in date.

As we congratulate Adams for his doggedness, these issues are present and rear their ugliness against the future.