By Nurudeen Salako
All politics are chaotic and the Nigerian brand clearly reflects this. Every national elections cycle is like a civil war threatening to tear the country apart. And our zero-sum approach to elections raises the stakes very high so it becomes a do-or-die contest.
Democratic elections in Nigeria, regrettably, have never been about fairness, selflessness or transparency but rather a corrupt platform to own access to power, Swiss accounts and test party strength and popularity. To achieve this, naked violence, vote- buying, election rigging, manipulation of the electorate and defamatory missiles amongst other unpatriotic and inhumane tactics are used by political parties against one another.
The spotlight is on the candidates, the electoral umpires, the media and the electorate with high hopes that the feat of the proclaimed second most free and fair election that ushered President Muhammadu Buhari into power in the 2015 general elections can be replicated.
Just like every democratic election since 1999, new political parties have emerged since the Not Too Young To Run baton was passed to young visionaries by reducing the age limit for running for elected office in Nigeria and globally.
Already, various political parties with divergent ideals have filled the political atmosphere with divergent calls amongst which are for a continuity of the war against corruption, a change of ‘CHANGE,’ a transition to ‘Atikulation’ and a mission to ‘Take it Back’, amongst others. This has started culminating into societal and political unrest as the political pot is starting to brew a distasteful broth.
An example of more of what may come was displayed at the inauguration campaign of the All Progressives Congress in Lagos earlier this month when pandemonium broke as hoodlums invaded the venue and engaged in a supremacy battle. As usual, properties were destroyed, law and order was suspended and many were injured. This approach to electioneering is sadly absent of the wisdom of Abraham Lincoln who said ‘the ballot is stronger than the bullet.’
To ensure this pot does not boil over, mediums to enforcing anti-corruption measures towards transparent, peaceful and credible 2019 general election in Nigeria needs to be articulated and enforced.
Firstly and most importantly, the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) must ensure that standards are adhered to; materials are accounted for and made available at polling centers; under-aged voting is strictly disallowed; and measures against vote-buying, intimidation and manipulation of voters at polling centers are prevented by ensuring proper security processes are established. The process of voting, counting and collation of results should also be transparent and credible.
INEC should ensure that monitoring of candidates’ applications for the quality and truthfulness of the information supplied is held in high importance; while those found wanting should be disqualified and prosecuted for attempt to tamper with electoral integrity. Nigeria needs the establishment of a functional anti-corruption committee with legislative and prosecutorial powers to ensure offenders get punished; whistleblowers get protection and encourage the reporting of corruption incidents. More so, they are to be capable of ensuring true access to information; thus enabling civil societies’ and citizens’ participation in monitoring and holding public officials to account.
Without giving room for excesses, political candidates should also be refrained from slanderous remarks and shift their focus on clear issues and refrain from negative campaigns. The blame game about who ruined the country’s economic and moral fabrics should be abandoned with a clear focus on how to cleanse the mess already created and ensure that mistakes made are avoided.
Guilty of popularizing and giving room for this shameful practice is the media which allow their platforms to be used as mouthpieces for hurling political missiles by airing sponsored materials that clearly contain defamatory and slanderous contents. It is an open secret that most media firms are partisan which inadvertently results to the loss of trust in a press that ought to be the voice of the people. Disapproving such practices will result to the reduction of corrupt electoral practices targeted at manipulating the minds of the electorate.
Likewise, the electorate should vote for integrity over popularity, selfish gains or political indoctrinations. Candidates without clarity of purpose, unrealistic promises and previous involvement in violence or corruption practices should be boycotted. After all, the shedding of skin of a snake does not make it absent of venom.
The electorate, especially the youths, should also refrain from being used as electoral hoodlums to perpetuate corrupt practices such as snatching of balloting boxes, double voting, intimidation of opposition parties and violence.
Corruption in elections is also displayed in the financial spectrum. Many candidates and political parties contest on the platter of stolen funds from the government coffers while in office, illegal businesses and godfathers with unknown and questionable sources of income.
According to Transparency International, social audit clubs are trained to monitor public projects in Ghana. In one case, they found that a planned school was not built at all; it was eventually constructed after complaint was made.
This story exemplifies our situation where phony federal and state infrastructural, economic and educational contracts are awarded but are not executed; with a motive to use their offices as cash cows to ensure their extension in office and access to the taxpayers’ money.
To ensure transparency and reign of anti-corruption practices, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) must consistently check and probe the ‘politricking’ financial pipe for leaks.
As experience is the best reference, extensive research should be conducted by INEC to seek knowledge of existing and successful anti-corruption measures employed by democratic states across the globe. Achieving a one percent corruption-free election in our society seems like an impossible mission, but with commitment to change, transparency and a functional electoral regulatory body, our titanic may eventually kiss the shoreline safely.