Monday 23 April 2007

Before we lose the Nigerian elections gracefully

Understanding the rules of contest

Before we close shop and walk away from the bad situation of the elections in Nigeria, let us review some of the issues at hand.

There is an increasing tendency to accept that the deed is done to the extent that some are now being dubbed sore losers who cannot accept defeat gracefully.

Any contest should have a set of rules which are adhered to, there is a way to declare a winner through some sort of point-scoring managed by some umpire; that process should be seen to be just and fair for the loser to concede defeat gracefully and the winner take all the spoils in victory.

When it comes to the Nigerian elections, whilst the umpire in this case is INEC we have had international election monitoring observers review the process by planting independent personnel all over the country to ascertain that the voting process meets international standards.

Their conclusion is, the Nigerian election does not measure up to international standards, and this would be regardless of the reports of Nigerian bloggers whose oversight in terms of the election would be too narrow in scale and sampling to appreciate the trend towards fairness or irregularities.

Nobody is trying to do Nigeria down, rather these observers are trying to help Nigeria realise the real benefits of a democracy which by definition is the government of the people by the people for the people.

We have too long been plagued with a variant which is the government of the people by some people for their people (Read pockets and narrow interests).

One might wonder what international standards are and why we do need elections observed at all.

Quoting liberally from the OSCE Election Observation Handbook updated in January 2007, this forms the crux of what a democracy should expect as part of a democratic process.

Why Observe Elections?

Elections are a celebration of fundamental human rights and, more specifically, civil and political rights, and election observation therefore contributes to the overall promotion and protection of these rights.

A genuine election is a political competition that takes place in an environment characterized by confidence, transparency, and accountability and that provides voters with an informed choice between distinct political alternatives.

A genuine democratic election process presupposes respect for freedom of expression and free media; freedom of association, assembly, and movement; adherence to the rule of law; the right to establish political parties and compete for public office; non-discrimination and equal rights for all citizens; freedom from intimidation; and a range of other fundamental human rights and freedoms that all OSCE participating States have committed themselves to protect and promote.

Election observation enhances accountability and transparency, thereby boosting both domestic and international confidence in the process. The mere presence of international observers alone, however, should not be viewed as adding legitimacy or credibility to an election process.

Although the presence of observers may indicate that the process merits observation, it is the observers' conclusions about the process, based on the ODIHR's (Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights) methodology, that will form the ODIHR's opinion on the election.

Observers safeguard our democracy

Election monitoring involves being able to observe all phases of the election process this includes the preparation, the registration, access to the candidates, the electioneering campaigns, the voting process, the vote counting, the results collation, the results declaration and then allowing the winners to duly assume the position to which they have been elected.

However, what people miss about this whole electioneering process is the fact that elections are a fundamental human right in a democracy, this context seems to be missing from the minds of both the politicians and the their electorate.

It allows for politicians to think villages, towns, states or regions are theirs for the taking without contest or competition and the people acquiesce to that delusion such that their votes fail to count.

This ought not to be so; Annex A of the same reference document says "Democratic government is based on the will of the people, expressed regularly through free and fair elections."

Democratic countries must subscribe to the principle that affirms that everyone has the right to participate in free and fair elections.

The poor preparations of INEC are well-discussed and documented, the flawed gubernatorial elections of the weekend of the 16th of April and the jaw-dropping ill-preparedness for the elections of last weekend which had ballot papers still in South Africa 24 hours to elections are evident.

The verdict

However, on the whole, when the observers reviewed the whole process, the elections had fallen far short of basic international standards and were marred by violence, poor organisation, lack of transparency, widespread irregularities, significant fraud, voter disenfranchisement and bias.

That is as damning an indictment of a process that one can get in diplomatic language, noting that we did not even scrape the very basic international standards, those who think we should forget this and move on would have to reflect this matter again.

The chief EU observer went on to say, "These elections have not lived up to the hopes and expectations of the Nigerian people and the process cannot be considered to have been credible."

Before we get all defensive about Nigeria and the Rome that was not built in a day, the observer has nothing to gain apart from hoping that people of our country get the government they have elected through processes that are not too extraneous to oversee.

We should be disappointed because this election was supposed to set an example for all other nascent democracies, but the lessons that would come from this would probably harden the inability-complex of many who prefer to conduct elections shabbily rather than encourage others to excel in protecting the democratic rights of their people.

Belling the cat

In the extreme, one can say with regards to the Nigerian Elections that the commendation for good work done as elicited by the Chairman of INEC is really trying to persuade Nigerians that in allowing for their fundamental human rights to be breached, abused and taken, they can be proud of having no one to lead them against this atrocious onslaught.

Who of those who aspire to lead Nigeria can stand up for the rights of every Nigerian to be able to know that whatever votes they have cast would be the votes that were counted and those that are honestly reported?

For now, there are none brave enough to bell the cat, either winners who know for sure that the elections that have rigged in their favour and have no integrity to challenge the injustice or the losers who knowing that this is the case would clog the process with the courts for their own ends rather than the principle of demanding the restoration of the fundamental human rights of 60 million Nigerians who were eligible to vote.

Because there is no one to bell the cat, we Nigerians would be lumbered with another unaccountable self-serving indolent machinery of nepotism, corruption and graft, four years on from now, would things have changed? I think NOT!

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