23 July 2012

Nigeria: Jonathan, Edo Election and Electoral Reform


With the recently concluded Edo State gubernatorial election, Nigerians have proved once again that they are fast imbibing the tenets of democracy. It's particularly exciting that the dire predictions of violence and bloodletting that took over the pages of newspapers and airwaves just before the election failed to materialise.

As it turned out, there was no report of a single limb broken, much less any life lost as a result of violence during the election. Against the doomsday prediction, the election turned out to be one of the most peaceful that has been held in the country. There were no reports of ballot snatching, ballot stuffing and thugs on the payroll of politicians scaring away voters from the polling units with gunshots. Of course, the peaceful atmosphere in which the election was held can only enhance its credibility. In essence, the election was a clear departure from what we have known polls conducted in Nigeria to be.

But just as the winner of the election is still very busy savouring his victory and the losers are weighing their options, it is also very important to know that it is not just a happenstance that the conduct of the poll was peaceful and the outcome credible. Rather, what the Edo experience has shown is that with a leader who clearly understands the basic tenets of democracy, especially the fact that ultimately it is the people that will determine who they want to govern them through their votes and is ready to allow them to exercise their franchise without bias of party, ethnic or religious affiliations, peaceful and credible elections are possible in Nigeria.

To be candid, President Goodluck Jonathan has demonstrated his deep appreciation of this concept of democracy in all the elections he has presided over since he assumed the number one position in the country. In the Edo State instance, I recalled that just before the election, President Jonathan had promised that he will do everything to ensure that every vote in the election counts when he went to participate in the mega rally of Charles Airhiavbere, the Peoples Democratic Party candidate for the polls.

I observed that the President even took more time in assuring all residents of the state that the election will be free, fair and devoid of any violence than the time he took to campaign for the candidate of his party. The President even informed the residents of the state that he has put all the relevant security chiefs on notice about the election.

The water tight security provided by men of the armed forces, the police and Nigeria Security and Civil Defence across the nooks and crannies, among other similar measures, during the election was a fulfilment of the President's promise. Unfortunately, some section of the opposition even tried to politicise the security arrangement, impugning the reputation of the men of our armed forces with insinuations that they are deployed to help rig the election. It is to the shame of such cynics that the behaviour of all members of the armed forces that took part in providing security during the election were declared exemplary.

Even in the heat of the celebration of his victory, Governor Adams Oshiomhole was gracious enough to acknowledge the role played by President Jonathan in the success of the election. The comrade Governor had described President Jonathan as a "statesman and a man of honour" for fulfilling his pledge that he will ensure that the gubernatorial election is peaceful and credible. Also, during his visit to Aso Rock Presidential Villa last two days after the election, the governor also commended the President's stance on free and fair elections. "For me, what the Edo election has confirmed is that when the President and Commander-in-Chief puts the country first and foremost and conducts himself as a statesman and not just a party leader, credible elections are possible", Oshiomhole was quoted in many newspapers as saying.

The President had expressed his readiness to be one of the few incumbents that will not be returned if the electorates said so through their votes. As he went around the country during the campaigns, President Jonathan also kept telling his party men and women not to rig elections for him. Rather than just mouthing it, the President also took concrete action that helped fine-tuned the electoral process and resulted in the success of the 2011 elections.

No doubt, as was seen in the Edo State election, the President's refusal to adopt the do-or- die attitude and these other proactive measures is yielding the desired result of helping to make the electoral process more transparent. As was seen in the 2011 polls, the result has been that most of the victories obtained through the ballot box have been upheld by the various electoral tribunals. And that was because they were products of a transparent process.

- Jokolo sent in this piece from Sokoto

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