Accra — Senator Musiliu Obanikoro was a member of the 250-man ECOWAS observer monitoring mission that witnessed the just concluded presidential and parliamentary elections in Ghana. In 2008, as the then Nigerian High Commissioner to the country, he played a key role in the polls. Daily Trust spoke to him in Accra on his views on the election and other issues. Excerpts:
You witnessed the 2008 and the 2012 general elections in Ghana, how will you assess this one?
I think that there is a slight improvement on the last exercise in 2008. Though there is a lot of distrust. This we saw from the day before yesterday, and yesterday during the election and even as at this morning. That bothers on my own perception on the margin. It is almost an equally divided country in terms of support base for both parties. So you can see a lot of distrust, even from the results we are getting. It is likely to be a close election. When you have a very close score, everybody is edgy and nobody wants to give any undue advantage to the other party. So giving all that, I think from the way the voters conducted themselves yesterday; there is no doubt that this is a country that is ready to embrace democracy. And the improvement that I saw bothers on the conduct of the people during election. Despite the slow process that we saw yesterday because of the electronic machine, people were patiently waiting everywhere. There were some places, we saw....personally I saw a queue of over 700 voters. In some cases about one thousand voters standing peacefully. And some were sitting quietly on a bench. People were standing calming, waiting for their turn to exercise their franchise. That speaks volumes in terms of the citizen's commitment to democracy. It is not all about government or the umpire, which is the Electoral Commission. It is not just about that. It is also about the people. How responsive and responsible the people are also generally affects the conduct of the election.
You spoke about distrust among the political parties in the build-up to the election, the accusations and the counter-accusations. The allegations that people had planned to rig the election. But people see all these as symptoms of what is coming, following the oil discovery in the country?
Let's be honest with each other, we know the more prosperous a nation is the higher the bar. So it has been, not just Ghana it is so in any given society, the higher the level of prosperity the higher the stalk. So that goes without any gainsaying.
At the end of the day with has happened, can you confidently say that the election was credible and will meet the expectations of everybody?
Well, let me say yesterday I was at about 92 polling stations I personally visited them. Officially I visited five with former President Obasanjo and 32 with other colleagues of mine. And I and one other person went all over, just to see exactly what was happening. I am happy honestly to say that Ghanaians are truly, truly committed to democracy. I will say to the best of my knowledge, what I saw yesterday I can characterize it as being credible. Credible in every sense of it! I have seen elections in the Western World, personal experience, and not on television. I have seen elections in Nigeria. And I was witness to 2008 elections in Ghana and being a witness to this one that is going on. I can say with all sense of responsibility that it is a good election. Now so far, yes, I can say it is a credible election. But as they collate results and results are announced. The way the election is received and the way results are collated are the things that we now have to pay special attention to, so that there is no manipulation of any form in terms of the outcome of the election. We are dealing with human beings. We have seen it in other places, even in the Western World. So everybody must be vigilant, so that nobody comes to get any advantage.
Looking at the entire West African sub-region and indeed the whole of Africa, what are the lessons one can learn from Ghanaian election?
There is a lot to learn. Look at what we had in 2011 in terms of biometric registration in Nigeria and they have elevated it to biometric voting. I think there are lots of lessons here. The process of accreditation, I will rightly say carrying voters' ID was not good enough to serve as accreditation. Your finger prints must be accepted by the machine for you to vote. That gives a lot of credibility to the process. I believe that we also can elevate our own to that level. If we are able to successfully execute it, I believe it will reduce the mistrust, the irregularities that are inherent in the system that we have now.
Given the challenges that we experienced yesterday, do you think the Electoral Commission was adequately prepared for the election?
Of course, given the fact that they we using biometric voter system for the first time. And what I witnessed I can say they are teething problems. One late arrival of materials; two some machines did not work effectively; three the breakdown, because the personnel did not change the batteries at the assigned time. Because according to the Chairman of the Electoral Commission, they were to change the battery every five hours. A good number of them allowed the batteries to wear out before they changed them. That created a lot of problems, because sometimes for the system to re-boost it takes two hours to three hours. So that created a lot of problems. I believe in an election, any system that is new into any environment certainly will create such problems. But I am happy with the swiftness with which the Electoral Commission has attended to some of these challenges. Election in some polling booths was adjourned until this morning. And as we speak now the process is on going. And don't let us lose sight of the fact that out of 26,000 polling stations, this situation is only just being repeated in only 10 per cent, no 18 per cent. This translates to 4,000 polling booths. So if out of 26,000, we have successfully executed elections in about 22,000. I think that is way more than the pass mark and they have 4,000 that they are dealing with right now. They are voting now. I think by and large, if you ask me I will say it was a good election.
In your assessment, do you believe 10 per cent is not sufficient basis for anyone to query the validity of the outcome of the election?
Well we don't have results as we speak. As I said the 18 per cent and not even 10 per cent will translate to 4,000 polling units. And they are voting there as I speak now. So it is not as if those results were cancelled. And also don't let us forget that they adjourned for different reasons. There are cases where they have voted and the machines malfunctioned. And what they also did last night was to count the results of those who voted. And asked those who were on the line to come back this morning. And so the candidates and all the agents of the parties, they are all aware of the results so far, before the adjournment. Now this morning, those who have not voted will go back and vote. Then in the other situation, you have places where the election materials got to very late. So election did not take place, they are doing their own right now. And lastly, all those, who experienced total break-down of the machines. Those ones are starting again, so we are dealing with different categories of challenges. And I am confident that if we allow the distrust to cool off a bit, I am sure the umpire has the capacity to deliver a credible election. You have been actively involved in two elections in Ghana. And from your perspective do you think Ghana has put enough deterrents in place to check rigging?
Well to be honest with you, from what I saw yesterday, it is very difficult to rig. One before you can vote, the machine must accredit you. And the agents are there to witness the accreditation. So I think there is little or no room for rigging. But of course, human elements can always come to play in anything. We just hope and pray that those with negative tendencies will not hijack the process.