Let me commence by stating in all honesty that I would not be surprised if it is established that political thugs were responsible for yesterdays violent conduct and seizure of the mace in the chambers of the Senate of the Federal Republic. I say so because thugs are quite naturally not expected to reason sensibly because they act under the influence of several issues, including narcotics that make them lose their heads. The only occurrence that could be of concern is if respected people are found culpable after investigations as this would have taken us 56 years back into the Western Region of Nigeria House of Assembly crises, that precipitated events leading to the abrupt termination of the First Republic in January 1966.
Regrettably, democracy has always been the greatest loser in sad developments of this nature as such disturbances have always created opportunities for the masses to question the patriotism of their representatives in government. Let us agree that there is no society that is perfect. Let us also admit that even the foremost democracy, the United States has occasionally been enmeshed in controversies arising from flawed elections, conducts differ. Arguably, manipulation of procedures may be wrong. But it is even more wrong and unacceptable for political actors to resort to violent conducts in the hallowed chambers of the Legislature simply because of disagreements arising from issues that could be debated and sorted out in Executive Sessions held behind closed doors.
CONCERNS & HOW TO ADDRESS THE SITUATION
THE ELECTORAL PROCESS
The situation generally is even more worrying outside the Legislative arm and opinions blamed the electoral process that is undergoing review for most of the lapses recorded. It is worrisome that participants in the electoral process and contests have not once, since independence, been able to agree that elections organized for participatory democracy have not been flawed. This development is a serious one which has, in some instances, created bad blood generated by disagreements. Electoral contests have been accompanied by loud protests by losers who have often complained of being robbed of victory. Such is the situation that these protests have resulted in the killings and maiming of people, particularly members of opposition political parties who are usually accused of being involved in the manipulation of election results. While the possibility of malpractices in electoral contests may not be totally ruled out, it is true that some of the violence that have greeted elections in the past were sponsored by aggrieved leaders of political parties who maintain scores of thugs and miscreants for destabilizing the society. Those suspected thugs that showed up at the National Assembly yesterday may be part of those warming up for 2019 electoral disturbances.
It is to be noted that ordinary citizens cannot afford to maintain thugs. It is an expensive venture. Without doubt, the remuneration attached to political offices and the funding of electoral contests has made politics the most attractive vocation in the country today. If the stark truth must be told, all political parties are involved in the art of attempting to manipulate elections and those who lose out in the process are those who come out to express displeasure at the outcome of elections. Regrettably, the Nigerian electorate has not helped matters by allowing themselves, their consciences and their votes to be purchased by politicians seeking their votes. It is understandable that this development is the result of biting widespread poverty which is ravaging the land. This is why opinion leaders and Civil Society Organizations voter education and a reform of the electoral contest, Nigeria will definitely soon get over this problem. A proper review of the electoral process becomes inevitable if an enduring democratic culture is to be entrenched.
There have been strident calls for unbiased conduct on the part of electoral bodies established in accordance with the constitution. The Justice Muhammadu Lawal Uwais Committee on Electoral Reform proposed a number of measures that appear very capable of correcting perceived ills of the elections. The committee rightly suggested that there must be impartial arbiters in electoral contests and that bodies charged with the organization of elections must be clearly independent of the three arms of government. Another recommended measure is the creation of an Electoral Offences Commission to handle electoral malpractices and to ensure that stiff and proper penalties and sanctions that would serve as deterrents. What needs to be done at the moment in preparation for upcoming electoral contests is for the National Electoral Commission, Civil Society Organizations and all stakeholders who mean well for this nation to embark on massive education of voters in a manner that will make the electorate aware of the importance of using their votes to elect their preferences. It is necessary for the government and the political class to jointly promote those measures that would promote fool-proof elections and the installation of credible governments and structures.
THE VIEWS OF JUDICIAL OFFICERS
The conduct of the political actors also calls for concern. One highly condemnable attitude of the political class is the double standard employed in their reactions to the pronouncements of judicial bodies adjudicating on electoral issues. When court pronouncements are favourable, the Judiciary is described as the best thing to happen to Nigeria. When the pronouncements are unfavourable, the courts and the judges are derided with vitriolic descriptions unbecoming of responsible politicians who appear ready to go to any extent to justify their actions, even if it means destroying Nigeria and the very basis for the enthronement of democracy. Reacting to this trend, late Justice Niki Tobi (JSC)who delivered the lead judgment in the election petition brought against late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, and which was decided in his favour on Friday, December 12, 2008, said: The way politics is played in this country frightens me every dawning day. It is a fight to finish affair.
Justice Tobi added: Nobody accepts defeat at the polls. The judges must be the final bus stop. And when they come to the judges and the judges in their professional minds, give judgment, they call them all sorts of names. To the party who wins the case, the judiciary is the best place and the real hope of the common man. To the party who loses, the judiciary is bad. Even when a party loses a case because of serious blunder of a counsel, it is the judge who is blamed. I feel strongly that Nigerian judges should be allowed to perform their judicial functions to the best of their ability. No amount of name-calling would deter Nigerian judges from performing their constitutional functions of deciding cases between two or more competing parties. This belief is further reinforced by the assertion of retired Justice Muhammadu Lawal Uwais, a former Chief Justice of Nigeria that: “Mindsets are part of elements that determine the success of election practices and the mindsets of Nigerians are not only generally negative, but also irrational.
INDEPENDENT CANDIDACY & ELIMINATION OF GODFATHERS
This is perhaps one of the most important considerations that could be inserted in the new constitution. It is the re-introduction of a system that allows independent candidacy in elections. This system was practiced during the ill-fated First Republic and it assisted in throwing up the best materials, while also curbing incidents of imposition of candidates by political parties. One of the beneficiaries of independent candidacy was late Olubadan Samuel Odulana (then Hon. S.O. Lana; who was Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister) who contested as an independent candidate for a federal seat in one of the Ibadan Rural federal constituencies and won on personal merit. He later became the parliamentary secretary to the prime minister. It is believed that independent candidacy would undoubtedly reduce the undue and suffocating influence of political parties on credible materials and make people seeking elective offices to be more alive to their responsibilities and also regard the people as the key components of governance. There is no doubt that discipline and cohesion are required by political parties for the attainment of set objectives.
Political parties have their conventions and procedures. They also have their different ideologies. But, it would profit the society largely, if representatives of political parties are allowed a breathing space to be able to act based on their personal convictions and act on the interests of those they represent. For the nation to move forward, the people must embrace measures that will usher in an era of free, fair and credible elections that will not only conform to best international practices; but also produce the best materials. The system must be reformed to eliminate godfathers and throw up the best and suitable materials that would respect the feelings of the electorate and the general citizenry. It should be naturally expected that whoever bankrolls an election would also wish to obviously recoup his or her investments. It is logical to expect such vested interests that may not be in the interest of the general citizenry. One wouldnt blame anyone who sponsors candidates with huge amounts of money not to expect, in some cases, such people to hand over their Certificates of Return issued by INEC to be sure that the elected candidate would be loyal to the sponsor rather than the electorate. This is one area for people to work on. It would also be to the betterment of the society for it to vote in independent-minded, committed and dedicated people whose objectives while in power would be to offer selfless service to the nation.