In April 2011, Nigerians will return to the polls to elect a new set of leaders to pilot the affairs of the nation for another four years. Our politicians, always with a penchant for the spectacular, are already strutting the political landscape, trying to out-do one another with intimidating messages through various channels including posters, giant billboards, fanciful T-shirts and radio/TV jingles. One major political party has even thrown the retrogressive and anachronistic concept of zoning into the fray thus making the whole scenario quite interesting. The National Association of Seadogs (NAS) has on its part been watching these scenarios with keen interest and concern.
Part of the concerns and fears of NAS and many other Nigerians arise from the obvious and existential threats to national security issued by some politicians who warn that unless they have their way, the nation will be made ungovernable. They have in both veiled and open affront threatened the peaceful existence and co-habitation of Nigerians in all the geo-political regions of our dear nation. These threats have so far been handled with kid gloves by those who oversee the affairs of the nation. It is the official view of NAS that those who threaten the peaceful existence of the nation should be made to face the full wrath of the law since such calls are treasonable and anti-democratic. The National Association of Seadogs (NAS) hereby warns that no Nigerian should be placed above the law. The brigandage and spate of politically related kidnappings and assassinations is certainly not what Nigerian pro-democracy platforms fought for in the dark era of our political history. We therefore warn the nation’s political class to rise up to the occasion and play by democratic rules. This warning has become necessary because military rule is inconceivable as an alternative to democratic governance.
Politicking as a process is exciting, especially in developed and democratic societies, where politicians engage in healthy debates on how they would impact positively on the lives of the people, if elected into office. But Nigeria, a developing nation both politically and economically is made up of political parties largely bereft of concrete political ideology, principles and philosophies, and with politicians who rely on unconventional practices of election rigging and primitive political maneuvering to grab power at all costs. The INEC should use very obvious setbacks at the just concluded January 6, 2011 Delta State Governorship re-run Election as guides towards ensuring that such lapses are totally eliminated before the forthcoming April, 2011 general elections.
The National Association of Seadogs (NAS) is concerned that since attaining the status of Independence as a sovereign nation, Nigeria is yet to witness elections devoid of political thuggery, intimidation and violence. This, in our opinion, may have led to situations where some credible Nigerians with intellectual cum administrative ability abandon the political stage for mediocres and other unwholesome characters who have no positive contribution to the socio-economic and political development of the country other than the ulterior goal of enriching themselves and their cronies at the expense of the public offices they eventually occupy.
There is no gainsaying the assertion that Nigeria is a country blessed with abundant human and natural resources. But a critical look at all sectors of the polity will reveal how, presided over by inept and corrupt leadership, we have mismanaged God’s benevolence in resource allocations. Despite the quantum of barrels of crude oil and liquefied natural gas we produce on daily basis and with estimated trillions of dollars in revenue accruing therefrom, a vast majority of Nigerians still lack access to basic necessities of life.
We are baffled that in the midst of endemic poverty and squalor arising from gross mismanagement of public funds overtime, Nigerian politicians continue to amass wealth with impunity to the detriment of a larger majority. Nigeria’s governance has turned into a cash-cow thus explaining the “do or die” politics that pervade the political landscape.
There are other issues plaguing the nation arising from the mismanagement of the affairs of the country by the gross misrule of the military for a larger part of the country’s history on the one hand, and desperate and mediocre politicians who got themselves into elective positions through unconventional means.
The insecurity situation in the country including the restiveness in the Niger Delta, the spate of kidnappings in the South East, South-South and South West, the perennial sectarian violence in the north and the daily tales of armed robbery in virtually every part of the country are all consequences of this. All these along with the poverty level in the country, the gross lack of basic infrastructure including power supply, transportation, the health sector, roads etc need adequate and urgent attention but unfortunately are not duly addressed by relevant authorities. In some cases, attempts to address these problems are scuttled by the very people entrusted with the mandate to ensure that these sectors are given deserving attention.
From the foregoing, NAS is therefore of the view that for the electoral process to be devoid of the manipulations and other negative incidents masterminded by deviant politicians in the past, concrete steps must be taken to address these issues through issue-based campaigns by credible politicians who should aspire to public offices with the intention of serving the people rather than for their selfish and inordinate ambitions. Hence it is our unequivocal view that salient issues that bother on the development of the people and the polity should take precedence over personal issues. The aspiring politicians must not allow themselves to be guided by personal, ethnic, religious, sectional or other issues that would only serve to plunge the country further into political and economic obscurity.
We are also of the view that for there to be credible elections, the government must take concrete steps to address issues that have been the problem of electioneering over the years. Thus, for the April 2011 elections, the following election mechanisms and agenda must be put in place:
• Presidential, Gubernatorial and Chairmanship Election Debates should be made a permanent feature of elections in Nigeria. The advantage of such debates is to inform and involve Nigerian voters in the political process. It will also afford the voters the opportunity to determine the ability and suitability of candidates, particularly with regard to how they address the most important issues that affect the ordinary citizens, issues such as health, housing, education, security and power.
• There is need for an Executive Electoral Offences Bill to be enacted possibly before the election in April. The bill will criminalize and state, in clear terms, the penalties for electoral offences such as, but not limited to, bribery to influence votes, snatching of ballot boxes, multiple voting in the same election, tampering with ballot papers and other election materials.
• There is also an urgent need for the government to set up an Elections Tribunal to try those involved in electoral malpractices. Candidates and their accomplices who are found guilty of election rigging must be punished accordingly.
• A comprehensive voter sensitization exercise should be undertaken by the relevant authorities to educate (especially illiterate and rural) voters on the entire electoral process and the need to be conscious of which candidates deserve to be voted for. As the voters’ registration exercise commences, eligible voters must ensure to be registered as free and fair election can only be achieved where only eligible voters get registered to exercise their franchise.
• The pocket of cases in Anambra, Bayelsa, Osun, Edo, Ekiti, Sokoto and Delta states, where elections were over-turned after many years into a four-year tenure, is not good enough for the democratic process. This smacks of delayed justice. And “justice delayed, is justice denied.” Election petitions ought to, and must be dispensed with within a reasonable time. INEC should dispense with the services of all Resident Electoral Commissioners (REC) of the aforementioned states. Also, candidates whose elections are upturned by the courts should be made to face the full wrath of the law and disqualified from partaking in rescheduled re-run elections. Such Candidates should be banned from holding elective offices for life for acting at variance with democratic tenets by contravening electoral laws.
• Voting is core in the expression of the will of the people. So Nigerians must help to guarantee a free and fair election by coming out en masse for the registration exercise from 15th –29th January 2011, and to cast their votes in April 2011. Voters must ensure that their votes are counted by staying back to monitor the process to the end. The Option A4 method should be reconsidered for adoption by INEC; there should be an on-the-spot counting of votes in the presence of all voters at the polling centres; voters should insist on sighting summary of result sheets and other sensitive materials before and after voting.
• The use of Cameras and other electronic materials by both Electoral Officers and voters be legitimized as we urge voters to deploy their Camera phones to capture untoward activities in and around designated polling areas.
• NAS believes that a fair electoral system and its implementation are vital to the voting process. We, therefore, urge the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to ensure that voters have free access to exercise their franchise and that their votes are fairly and adequately counted. The results of the elections must also be accurate, released promptly at each polling station and should reflect the will of the majority.
• Nigerian voters deserve an election process that is not only free and fair, but also safe. It is, therefore, expedient that Law Enforcement agencies must not only ensure that the ballot boxes are not tampered with, but guarantee the safety of lives throughout the voting process. All forms of collaboration by the Law enforcement agencies with some desperate politicians to intimidate and harass voters in a bid to perpetrate electoral fraud as in the past must be curtailed and any offender must be apprehended and summarily prosecuted. It is critically important, then, that those deployed to monitor the election process remain non-partisan.
• Nigerian politicians should imbibe the culture of accepting defeat after free and fair elections. This will no doubt save resources ploughed towards litigation, utilizing such resources in addressing other pressing sectors of the nation’s economy.
• The Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) should ensure a downward review of the current high cost of nomination forms for all elective positions.
A free and fair election is critical in any government’s claim to legitimacy. It is, thus, our collective responsibility, as government and as Nigerian people, - to ensure that only credible people, rather than mediocres, mercenaries and all - comers are duly elected. NAS is no doubt committed to contributing its quota towards the enthronement of a genuine democratic process which would culminate in public offices being occupied by duly elected politicians through credible, free and fair means.
The National Association of Seadogs (NAS) therefore beckons on all Nigerians of voting age to not only participate actively in the emerging political process but also remain vigilant in the bid to check the recurring decimal of electoral fraud because the continued existence of the Nigerian state will be determined to a large extent by the success or failure of the April 2011 General Elections.
National Association of Seadogs (NAS)
Victoria Garden City,
January 14, 2010