Monday, December 15, 2008

Aliyu's thesis on credible elections

ON Sunday, November 30, 2008, Dr. Aliyu Muazu Babangida, Governor of Niger State, delivered a keynote address during a national reception for Professor Maurice Iwu, Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Okigwe, Imo State. Although the Governor began the lecture entitled ''Challenges facing the electoral process in Nigeria: Appreciating Prof Maurice Iwu's contributions'' with some fairly controversial comments on the achievements of Maurice Iwu as INEC boss, the address nevertheless raises some fundamental questions about both the electoral process and the democratic system in Nigeria.

Aliyu, quite rightly in my view, sets out to make the fundamental point that pillorying Iwu or indeed any electoral umpire for that matter on the basis of perceived poor conduct of elections without taking a holistic look at the entirety of the fundamentally flawed Nigerian electoral process-beginning with even the monetised consciousness and destructive psychology of the average Nigerian voter - is as unfair as it is futile.

In the face of the angst and disenchantment among Nigerians over betrayed expectations arising from the conduct of the 2007 elections, this vital point may be politically incorrect, but problems do not vanish simply because people wish them away. Certainly, as the Governor notes, it is simply not enough to pillory people in high offices and positions on perceived shortcomings within the electoral system, given the determining effects of institutions and structures on the actions of the human agency.

Aliyu, however, does not stop at canvassing a re-thinking of the electoral process but offers some reasonable suggestions that are made even more poignant by the fact that the presidential committee on electoral reforms headed by Justice Mohammed Uwais (rtd) has not yet concluded its work. In the area of voter education, Aliyu canvasses a more sustained involvement by the political parties in the country, and suggests, in addition, that they should be self-sustaining, with a ceiling on the contributions by moneybags, as a way of curbing godfatherism. He states that financial contributions "should be controlled so that no single individuals hijacks the party by overwhelming financial contributions.''

The governor adds that every party member, irrespective of economic status, should be made to have 'a sense of belonging and ownership'. In a terrain where a former Attorney-General once boasted of his party's readiness to tackle the opposition "dollar for dollar'', one suspects that this prescription may yet again be politically incorrect - the Governor appears totally opposed to the vices which have so far defined the PDP's existence - but it can and should be pursued to loosen up the Nigerian political space and facilitate equity. Further, prompt release of funds to political parties, issues-based political campaigns, non-imposition of candidates at local levels by state governors and other powers, minimum academic qualifications commensurate with desired elective posts, effective civic education, resistance to poisonous financial and material inducement by politicians, non-violent polls, and the institutionalisation of ideologically defined political parties are some of the other suggestions of Aliyu's that need to be addressed decisively in order to transform the electoral process for authentic democratic governance in the country.

At the heart of the challenges to free and fair elections, however, lies the seriously flawed 1999 Constitution that has governed the democratic process in Nigeria since that date. Perhaps anxious to provide a constitutional framework to protect their dominance in the nation's political climate, the military despots, through the 1999 Constitution, had recklessly apportioned awesome powers to the office of the Executive President who was expected to take off from where they left off.

While the immediate past President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, no doubt had peculiar repressive traits that so infamously cast ugly shadows on some of the indisputable achievements of his administration, there is no doubt that he enjoyed constitutional backing, however hard it may be to come to grips with this point, for some of his excesses. Although Aliyu's address does not cover this important point of constitutional harakiri, the point needs to be made that constitutional reform should be pursued in more equitable terms. Nevertheless, the fact that a public functionary of Aliyu's status has raised fundamental issues at the very soul and depth of electoral crisis means that with positive and resilient efforts, the nation may be on the way to resolving some of the basic challenges of electoral process and democratic governance in the country.

Another pertinent question to raise is whether Governor Aliyu himself has been working in the direction of the goals which he has lucidly articulated. In this connection, one may note that the governor's declaration that the recently concluded local government election in Niger State were heralded by working visits across the state where agreements were reached to allow the people's authentic candidates to emerge without any manipulations during the primaries, and anchored on a solemn promise by the state government to conduct free and fair polls , is indeed heartwarming. It is only in such a context that his charge that "this approach should be replicated as we prepare for future elections in this country'' can become more realistic.

The recent experience in Ghana, where no fewer than 500,000 names of the dead and people who had done multiple registration, according to the Ghanaian Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. George Kumi, during a recent interactive session with journalists in Abuja, had been expunged from the voters' register by the Electoral Commission of Ghana as the nation looked forward to the presidential and parliamentary elections is an indication that things can indeed be made to work where all the stakeholders in the electoral process are politically sensitised on the gains of credible polls. The Ghanaian authorities had assured whistle blowers of immunity from persecution by hegemonic powers. In conclusion, therefore, the propositions by Governor Muazu Babangida Aliyu are very relevant in the nation's quest for credible polls, and should inspire a programme for positive action.

My only grouse with his well thought-out address is Dr. Aliyu's strenuous theoretical attempts to use the obvious institutional and structural flaws in the country's electoral and democratic process to extricate Iwu from blame in the grand larceny called the 2007 elections. Both Iwu and the institutions and processes are guilty as charged.