By Jibrin Ibrahim
One of our electoral legacies has been that for incumbents who abuse their power to rig themselves to continue in office, the reward is they continue their incumbency. When found guilty by an electoral tribunal, new elections are usually called for. The incumbent stays on their seats, use state resources to recruit top SANs to fight their case in court and when re-elections are called for, use State resources to contest and win again.
It was to counter this terrible legacy that the Uwais Electoral Reform Committee proposed that electoral fraud should be clearly criminalised and those found guilty of involvement in electoral fraud should be banned from politics for at least a decade. Must of the excellent recommendations from the Uwais Committee were never implemented and I believe that with a Change Agenda Government in power today and the likely emergence of a new INEC after Senate clearing this week, the time has come to return to the agenda of comprehensive electoral reform.
Over the past three weeks, many election tribunal judgements have emerged and they remind us that even if the 2015 general elections were a great improvement on previous elections, the fact of the matter was that electoral fraud was massive in many parts of the country. Last week, the Rivers State Election Petition Tribunal sacked Nyesom Wike as governor of Rivers State and ordered for new elections. The tribunal, headed by Suleiman Ambrosa, faulted Wike’s counsel’s argument that the non-usage of card readers could not be grounds for nullifying the election. The APC candidate had argued in line with numerous observer reports that intimidation of voters, non-availability of result sheets, snatching of electoral materials, non-collation of results at ward and local government levels marred the election. In other words, it was a classic case of massive electoral fraud.
Also in the same week, the election tribunal for Akwa Ibom State has invalidated the gubernatorial election results in 18 out of 31 Local Government Areas (LGAs) in the State. The ruling means that the Governor no longer has 25 percent of the vote in 21 local governments and was therefore not duly elected. In Taraba State, the National Assembly Elections Petitions Tribunal nullified the election of Bashir Marafa of the Peoples Democratic Party to Senate and ordered that INEC issues the Certificate of Return to All Progressives Congress, candidate, Yusuf Abubakar, who was the one who scored the majority of lawful votes during the polls. Other Senators elected such as Gilbert Nnaji of Enugu State, Buriji Kashamu of Ogun State, Murtala Badaru of Niger State and Abariba of Abia State also lost their seats at the various election tribunals.
The problem with rigging in Nigeria is that it is usually done with the connivance of State agencies. We first learnt this fact on the basis of judicial authority when the Babalakin Commission of inquiry into the Ondo State 1983 Gubernatorial election revealed that the rigging was done by Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO), the Nigerian Police Force and the then National Security Organisation (NSO). When State organs are used to falsify outcomes of elections, it is a serious crime against all that the State stands for.
Justice Babalakin had declared at that time that if the State does not learn to punish its officers who break the electoral law, the content of democracy would continue to be compromised in the country. In the various tribunal judgements that overthrew electoral outcomes over the past few weeks, the judges disbelieved INEC officials who swore under oath that the elections took place and were free and fair. Credible evidence had also been laid before the courts that once again, police and even military officers were used to rig the elections.
My question today is that would the impunity continue and would officials who rig elections be allowed to get away with it after a court of competent jurisdiction has shown that they lied under oath. In a normal regime of the rule of law, wouldn’t all the INEC officials who lied under oath that these elections were free and fair, while they had been rigged be sent to jail at least for perjury.
In addition, shouldn’t the leadership of INEC immediately dismiss these officials for breaching their professional integrity and bringing the name of an important State institution into disrepute? I challenge Professor Mahmoud Yakubu and his team in the new Electoral Commission to immediately take up these issues. There were news reports that the Nigerian army has decided to show leadership by investigating its officers who were alleged to have played a role in organizing electoral fraud in last year’s Ekiti and Osun governorship elections. I believe that other State institutions should take a cue from what the army has apparently decided to do. Election tribunals should also learn to punish those who come to lie under oath.
In 2005, we carried out a research project on Nigeria’s electoral geography and the key finding was that electoral realities were very different as you move from zone to zone in the country. In some zones, there has been a strong tradition of defending the electoral mandate and people insist on exercising their franchise and raise hell when their electoral mandate is stolen. It was in that context that all hell broke loose in Ondo State when FEDECO three away the genuine electoral result and invented and announced completely false results.
In some other zones of the country, we found out people had never ever voted in elections and results were simply written in favour of incumbent governments. It is impossible to deepen democracy when electoral traditions vary so profoundly. What is emerging from the election tribunals is clear evidence that while the elections in most parts of the country were free and fair in the 2015 general elections, there are still strongholds of anti-democratic forces that continue to deny many Nigerians the franchise that the Constitution provides. Moving forward and consolidating democracy requires that impunity in the commitment of electoral crimes must stop.
Jibrin Ibrahim, PhD, is Senior Fellow at the Centre for Democracy and Development, Abuja, Nigeria. He can be reached at Twitter- @jibrinibrahim17; Facebook- jibrin.ibrahim
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