Two separate and conflicting arguments about how a nation can entrench masses- focused leadership and public institutions devoid of corruption/transparent governance stemmed this piece. The first came from Kurt M. Campbell and Jake Sullivan. While writing on the topic; Competition without Catastrophe, the duo authors among other concerns argued that the best defense of democracy is to stress the values that are essential to good governance, especially transparency and accountability, and to support civil society, independent media and free flow of information. Together, these steps could lower the risk of democratic backsliding and improve in the developing world.
The second is from Lee Kuen Yew, pioneer/former Prime Minister of Singapore. He said in parts; my experience about developments in Asia has led me to conclude that it takes good people to have good government. However good the system of government, bad leaders will bring harm to their people. On the hand, I have seen several societies well governed in spite of a poor system of government, because good, strong leaders were in charge. I have also seen so many of the over 80 constitutions drafted by Britain and France for their former colonies come to grief, and not because of flaws in the constitution. It was simply that the precondition for a democratic system did not exist.
What can we make out of the above-particularly now that for over two decades, Nigeria and Nigerians have lived in a superficial arrangement and frightening situation called democracy-where the masses have lost sight of the real and lasting meaning of both democracy and political playing field. At this point, the question may be asked; if there are flaws in the nation’s constitution? If not, what are those preconditions for a democratic system that are presently missing in Nigeria? Why has our tribal loyalty suddenly become stronger than our common sense of nationhood?
Finding answers to these questions is the objective of this piece.
Let’s begin with reality.
While it is obvious that the federal system is skewed, a reality that makes the nation currently stand in an inverted pyramid shape with more power concentrated at the top and the base not formidable enough making collapse inevitable if urgent and fundamental steps are not taken, Lee, on his part again underlined three preconditions why our democracy may not have worked.
Very fundamental, he said; leadership is more than just ability. It is a combination of courage, determination, commitment, character and ability that makes people willing to follow a leader. For a nation to develop, he added, it needs leaders, people who are activists with a good sense of judgment and interpersonal skills. At this very moment, we must not fail to remember that the greatest tragedy of our time without a shadow of doubt is the fact that ours is a nation which is regrettably laden by poor leadership.
That’s not the only explanation. He added that a precondition for an honest government is that candidate must not need large sums to get elected, or it must trigger off the circle of corruption. Having spent a lot of money to get elected, winners must recover their costs and possibly accumulate funds for the next election as the system is self-perpetuating.’
With this highlighted, this piece will take a cursory look at a report entitled; Ethics And Standards in Electoral Process in Nigeria (guiding tools/principles), put together by the Centre For Value in Leadership (CVL), Lagos in partnership with the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre(PLAC), and supported by MacArthur Foundation) as it provides a link between the factors that impede credible election in Nigeria and far-reaching measures that could pave way for development and orderliness in the nation via election of good leaders.
Going by the content of the report, an election is said to be credible when it is organized in an atmosphere of peace, devoid of rancour and acrimony. The outcome of such an election must be acceptable to a majority of the electorate and it must be acceptable within the international community. If elections are to be free and fair, laws designed in that regard must not just exist; they must be operational and be enforced. And the power of freedom of choice conferred on the electorates must be absolute and not questionable.
But contrary to these provisions, since the re-emergence of democracy in Nigeria in 1999, our country has conducted different elections. These elections shared common features and few things differentiate them. The elections were all conducted periodically as expected. They were closely monitored by domestic and international observers, and they aroused varied contestations from Nigerian politicians and voters. And tragically unique is that they were marred by varying degrees of malpractice.
The implication of this finding is that, the electoral process in Nigeria is rendered vulnerable to abuse, through massive rigging and other forms of electoral malpractices by political parties- especially by those in power as they seek to manipulate the system to serve their partisan interest. Elections, which are a critical part of the democratic process, therefore, lose their intrinsic value, and become mere means of manipulation to get to power.
This, the study noted derogates the sanctity of elections as an institutional mechanism for conferring political power on citizens in a democratic dispensation.
As a way forward, the report underlined four basic conditions necessary to create an enabling environment for holding of free and fair elections. These include; an honest, competent and non-partisan body to administer the election, the knowledge and willingness of the political community to accept basic rules and regulations governing the contest for power, a developed system of political parties and teams of candidates presented to the electorates as alternative choices. And an independent judiciary to interpret electoral laws and settle election disputes.
Specifically, stakeholders beginning with the independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) were not left out in the report’s call for a new order.
Take as an illustration, for transparency and accountability during and after the election, it suggested that INEC should; be free from any form of financial encumbrance, funding of INEC should henceforth come from the first-line charge. The commission should also be removed from the list of Federal body. And, the procedure for appointment and removal of INEC chairman and members of the board should be reviewed. Develop a central nationwide database similar to what obtains in financial institutions to allow voting irrespective of locations on the Election Day. And provide opportunities for Nigerians who attained voting age to immediately register to vote in order to avoid the usual congestion during the election period.
To perform its role effectively as the final arbiter of electoral dispute, and curb the excesses of the politicians, the court must possess both juridical expertise as well as political independence. There should be adequate time between resolution of conflicts and swearing-in of elected officials; section 134 (2) and (3) of the Electoral Act 2010 should be reviewed such that election tribunal cases are expedited.
While the report stressed that any discussion on democracy without the right to receive and impart information is empty. It, however, regretted that journalism in Nigeria with regard to its constitutional roles is not scientific; adding that Nigerian politicians have always used the media in an unwholesome manner.
To exit this state of affairs, the report urged practitioners to help build enlightened electorates as public enlightenment is a prerequisite for free and fair elections. The media should uphold the ethos of providing accurate and factual information to the citizens at all times.
Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via;email@example.com/08032725374.