Election Rigging: The Judiciary Needs To Do More – Essay by Ikechukwu Amaechi

No Comments » January 22nd, 2008 posted by // Categories: Electoral Reform Project




Election Rigging: The Judiciary Needs To Do More

ikechukwu amaechi ikechukwuamaechi@yahoo.com
Tue, 22 Jan 2008 00:00:00

On Friday, January 18, Enugu State governor, Sullivan Chime, had his name added to the ever expanding list of politicians whose elections in the last April polls have, so far, been annulled by the courts.

The Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Enugu declared the election null and void because in their well considered judgement, “Chime could not have been validly declared governor based on the votes of the majority of Enugu people”. From all indications, the verdict did not come as a surprise, not even to Chime himself.

What has come as a surprise to many discerning political observers is that any election held in Enugu in April 2007, could be upheld by the tribunal, and that includes the election of the immediate past governor of the state, Dr Chimaroke Nnamani, who is now a senator. Nnamani, who is ululating and painting the town red that the election of his protÈgÈ, Sullivan Chime, has been annulled, is the architect of all the perfidy that took place in Enugu last year in the name of elections. If any election needed to be nullified, his should be the first. The fact that the tribunal upheld his so-called victory as declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission is an insult to Enugu people. But that is a matter for another day.

Delivering the judgement on the Chime case, chairman of the tribunal, Justice Sam Ota, made an unequivocal statement. “We have no doubt that majority of the people of Enugu State were denied the right to choose a leader. What we have here is make-believe or fairy tale.” They could not have put it more succinctly. But it was not only Chimes’s imposition on the long suffering people of Enugu by Nnamani that is fairy tale. All over the country, former President Olusegun Obasanjo conspired with his co-travellers to insult and humiliate Nigerians. The result was an election which outcome, everyone has come to agree, is the worst ever.

Madeleine Albright, former United States Secretary of State, who led the National Democratic Institute’s (NDI) international election observer delegation, declared that the electoral process had “failed the Nigerian people”. “The cumulative effect of the serious problems the delegation witnessed substantially compromised the integrity of the electoral process,” the group said in a press statement released in Abuja on April 23.

A Dutch member of the European Parliament, Max van den Berg, who led the European Union’s election observers, was even more scathing in his comments: “The 2007 state and federal elections have fallen short of the basic international and regional standards for democratic elections and the process cannot be considered to be credible.”

For taking the pains to call us to order, they were called names. President Olusegun Obasanjo, who today stands as the most disgraced former Nigerian leader (and it is still early days), joined issue with those who took exception to the conduct of the polls on the rather strange ground that electoral malfeasance is part of Nigeria’s culture. “No election has taken place in Nigeria since 1959 when I started witnessing elections as an adult that was not followed by controversy and disputations. If that is our culture, we must accept it, nobody from outside or inside must come and say rubbish,” he said in his haughty manner. But the joke is now on him. He must be beside himself, today, with shame. Here was a man who had a historic opportunity to write his name in gold not only in Nigeria but globally and he tragically bungled it.

But this is not about Obasanjo alone. It is about us; men and women whose desperation for power is exasperating; a people who perceive politics and the struggle for power as an all-or-nothing affair.

A lot of people have concentrated their minds on how the country could be cured of this dreadful ailment. The judiciary, that has donned the garb of activism, has stepped in forcefully to tell those that play God because they are in power that they are, indeed, mere mortals like all of us. And Nigerians are grateful to these men and women whose intrepidity has given us the audacity to hope for a better tomorrow.

For once, those who thought that being declared winners of an election is the end of the story and therefore did everything foul to be so declared have suddenly realised that a man could be sacked even after he had been sworn in as a governor.

But should it end at that? Can we go home rest assured that the nullification of ill-gotten electoral victories will be enough deterrent to would-be election riggers tomorrow? My answer is No! If it were, we would have seen a fundamental shift in the mindset of politicians. But if the outcome of the local government elections held in some states in recent times is anything to go by, then, annulment of elections is not enough disincentive to rein in hardened manipulators.

It is not enough because in a country where the line between private and public purse is very tenuous (if there is any at all), and where people are not held accountable for their actions in public office, one week is long enough to loot public treasury. Since access to political power in Nigeria is the quickest route to wealth, people will continue to seek power, not for the purpose of serving the common good, but for self-aggrandisement.

So, an average Nigerian political politician in an executive position, whether at the local, state or federal level, does not need four years to cause maximum harm to the collective good.

To lift the yoke of election fraud off our shoulders, the judiciary must go a step further. Those who wilfully violate the electoral will of the people must be sanctioned. After all, rigging of elections is a criminal offence.

For starters, the judiciary should have the courage to disqualify and bar anyone found to have acquired political power fraudulently from participating in any fresh election particularly if there is sufficient reason to believe that he or she was culpable. Merely annulling the election and allowing such a person to run against those he cheated is tantamount to rewarding crime.

In a country where accountability in public office is almost zero and where impunity is the rule rather than the exception, allowing the incumbent whose election has been annulled to stand as a candidate in a fresh election ordered by the tribunal means he will prosecute the new electoral battle with public funds. The advantage of political incumbency also places the police and military at his disposal. And these three elements – control over budgetary resources, plus all police and army – are all it takes to rig elections.

Even in cases where the incumbent is not known to have rigged election but he is the beneficiary of a fundamentally flawed electoral process; in other words, some other person, in the pursuit of his own dubious and self-serving political agenda, rigged the election on his behalf, the incumbent should be vicariously liable, as far as he willingly accepted to be a beneficiary of a tainted political process.

Also, any political party that is found to have rigged election must be barred from presenting candidates for the same election if it is annulled and a fresh poll ordered.

But beyond all these, denying the people the inalienable right to choose their leaders in a free and fair electoral contest is a crime and culprits must be treated as the criminals they are. In other words, those who violate the sanctity of the ballot box must be jailed, no-matter how highly placed they think they are in the society.

Unless and until election riggers are treated as criminals, which they are, they will not stop in their nefarious activities and Nigeria will not make progress.


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