How Politicians Threaten Nigeria’s Electoral Democracy – Moshood Isah

Show me a Nigerian Politician who would rather lose a credible election than win in a flawed process – Moshood Isah

Last week, Thursday 22nd February to be precise; the media was awash with revelation made by erstwhile Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC); Professor Attahiru Jega that, “the desperation and recklessness of politicians is the greatest threat to Nigeria’s Electoral Democracy”.  The former INEC boss made the comment at the inaugural session of ‘Watching The Vote Election Series’, an event organized by YIAGA Africa to serve as a platform in discussing the road map leading to the 2019 general elections. Professor Jega’s comment couldn’t have come at a better time and gathering as the event was graced by election stakeholders, which include major Political Party Actors, Civil Society Organizations and Youth Groups across Nigeria.

There is no questioning Professor Jega’s firsthand knowledge of the antics of Nigerian Politicians, especially seeing as he was at the helm of affairs at INEC during the 2011 and 2015 general elections. Both elections made their marks in the history of elections in Nigeria, especially the 2015 polls which for the first time saw the replacement of an incumbent President with an opposition. The memory of how a certain “Elder Statesman”, Godswill Orubebe almost truncated what has been described as a peaceful process comes to mind. It took the calmness of the erudite Professor and other electoral stakeholders present at the announcement of results to ensure the scenario ended as a momentary distraction.

It is rather unfortunate that the key players of the electoral process are the most culpable when it comes to electoral turmoil in Nigeria. While we may heap the blame on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) when it comes to irregularities during elections. However, Nigerians are not oblivious of the fact that, politicians always try to be a step ahead in a bid to manipulate the process.

Take for example, the most recent issue of alleged underage voting in Kano, which of course is a dent on the image of the electoral body. However, it should be stated that, state electoral commissions are solely responsible in conducting Local Government Elections according to Law.

Like YIAGA Africa #WatchingTheVote training manager; Mr. Paul stated during a TV program on Wazobia TV Max not too long ago, no underage person will come out on their own to vote without politicians inducing and mobilizing them. Though election officials may be culpable as regards underage voting, report has it that politicians go as far as threatening electoral officials with guns and other weapons forcing them to undermine the process.

The lack of adequate security for electoral officials during elections is an issue for future symposium, which to a large extent makes one begin to wonder why electoral officials are vulnerable during electoral duty.

As rightly noted by the former National Chairman of Labour Party; Barrister Dan Nwanyanwu during the Election Series, Nigerian politicians do not care about the credibility of the electoral process, as they are more interested in winning elections at all cost.

As a matter of fact, politicians hardly make effort in voter education during political campaigns, as all they care about is canvassing for votes. It is surprising as well as worrisome that in this age and time, elections still register thousands of invalid votes due to lack of adequate voter education.

The ongoing debate on the change of electoral sequence by the National Assembly is another issue which tends to undermine the power of the electoral body and as a result, undermine Nigeria’s electoral process. Professor Jega also waded in on the issue noting that, the decision by the National Assembly is self-serving and goes a long way in showing how far politicians can go in deviating from laid down rules and procedure for what is obviously not an altruistic motive.

Political Analysts have come out to say that, INEC within its constitutional right has been empowered to decide the dates of election. Thus, the ongoing debate may end up in court. This litigation could be a major drawback to INEC, as it should be taking its time in preparing for the Ekiti and Osun elections.

Despite all of these, its either difficult or impossible to prosecute any politician for electoral fraud in Nigeria. Electoral violence, mobilization of thugs, vote buying and attack on electoral officials are major issues masterminded by reckless politicians and has contributed immensely to voter apathy, thereby undermining the electoral process. Also, the issue of penury of internal democracy which constitutes a major bottleneck for young people contesting elections cannot be overemphasized.

There is need for security agencies to step up their game and apprehend any politician culpable of these offences. While the sensitization of young people as regards being used as electoral thugs is imperative so as for them to know they have better and equally vital roles to play in the society.

Moshood Isah is the Media Officer of YIAGA Africa

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