US, the flawed Nigerian election, and Africa’s development

US, the flawed Nigerian election, and Africa's development

The United States of America often prides itself as the bastion of democracy in the world. A few days ago, President Joe Biden stressed the importance of the right to vote in his remarks at the 58th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” at Edmund Pettus Bridge Selma, Alabama. In his words, “The right to vote, the right to vote and to have your vote counted, is the threshold of democracy and liberty. With it, anything is possible…without that right, nothing is possible. And this fundamental right remains under assault.”

Biden, a Democrat, was at Alabama to mark the anniversary of the March 7, 1965, Selma march by hundreds of demonstrators, demanding voting rights for Black Americans who faced barriers to vote across much of the south of the United States. Although law enforcement officers brutally clamped down on the protesters, five months later, the Congress passed the “Voting Rights of 1965”, prohibiting racial discrimination in voting in the United States.

This year’s commemoration of the Selma demonstration coincided with widespread contestations over the outcome of the February 25 presidential election in Nigeria, which the Financial Times, one of the leading business news organisations in the world, described as badly flawed. Relying on testimonies of both local and international observers and its own observation of the election, the British news organisation, in an editorial, chronicled numerous irregularities that marred the election, including snatching of ballot materials, violence, voter suppression and intimidation, delay in arrival of electoral officials at the polling units and late commencement of accreditation and voting…..Continue Reading

In the opinion of the Financial Times, these irregularities contributed in depriving millions of Nigerians the right to vote. According to the results announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the body saddled with the responsibility of conducting elections in Nigeria, the February 25 presidential and National Assembly elections witnessed a drop in voter turnout to 27 per cent from 35 per cent recorded in 2019.

To add insult to injury, the result could not be uploaded real-time from polling units to INEC’s result viewing portal (IReV), as prescribed by the commission in its guidelines for the election. Section 148 of the Electoral Act, gives the electoral body the power to make guidelines and regulations to ensure the full effect of the law. Section 60 (5) of the Act states that the presiding officer shall transfer the results, including the total number of accredited voters and the results of the ballot, in a manner as prescribed by the commission.

The prescribed manner, in this case, is the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), introduced by INEC to boost the credibility of Nigerian elections. But, rather than use the BVAS to upload the results real-time from the polling units as prescribed in the election guidelines, INEC resorted to manual collation for the presidential election results.

Amid protests by other political parties over these obvious irregularities in the election, the electoral body hurriedly declared the presidential candidate of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC), Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu, as the winner of the election. According to the chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, who doubled as the returning officer for the election, Tinubu polled 8.8 million votes to defeat other top contenders, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Atiku Abubakar, and Peter Obi of Labour Party (LP), who polled 6.9 million and 6.1 million, respectively. Both Atiku and Obi have since approached the Court of Appeal, the court of first instance on presidential election matters, to challenge the outcome of the election.

While Tinubu was basking in the euphoria of torrents of congratulatory messages he received from world leaders, the United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Beth Leonard, declared that the electoral process as a whole on February 25 failed to meet the expectations of Nigerians. Atiku Abubakar and his party, PDP, staged a protest to the headquarters of INEC in Abuja, to express their dissatisfaction with the election. Regardless, the ruling APC maintained that its candidate won the election and asked those not satisfied with the outcome of the election to go to court.

For now, all eyes are on the judiciary, as it appears there was very little that INEC could do now, having issued Tinubu with a certificate of return as the winner of the controversial election. Besides the irregularities that marred the election, one issue Nigerians expect the court to resolve is the argument that the winner did not meet the legal threshold in Section 134 (2) of the Constitution for one to be declared winner of a presidential election.

As we wait for the election tribunal to decide the case one way or the order, I fear that Nigeria may have missed another golden opportunity to rediscover itself as the Giant of Africa. Recall that, in 2013, Barack Obama, the first American President of African descent, described Nigeria as critical to the rest of the African continent.

Obama argued that, “If Nigeria does not get it right, Africa will really not make more progress.”

Regrettably, Africa is today a theatre of the absurd and bizarre, including armed conflicts, insurgency, coups d’état and other forms of political instability. The continent is also plagued by economic crisis and environmental degradation.

Ironically, Nigeria, which the world expects to champion the advancement of the continent, is not spared. Instead of rule of law, lawlessness rules, even within the corridors of power. The entire political system is dogged by corruption, ethnic and religious tensions. The political gladiators are more concerned with self-survival and their Machiavellian actions are driven by individual, rather than national, interest.

Most worrisome is that the country lacks the capacity to conduct credible elections, hence depriving the citizens of leadership at all strata and arms of government. Indeed, can anyone quantify the consequences of these maladies on the country? In spite of the humongous oil revenue that accrued to Nigeria over the years and the numerous efforts by successive governments to address the infrastructure deficit in the country, wide gaps still exist in the country’s power, transportation, communication, aviation, health and education infrastructure.

The economy is in doldrums. Citizens spend donkey time on very long queues to fuel their cars and electricity generators, in order to improvise for the acute shortage of electricity from the national grid in their homes and offices. Presently, Nigeria faces a severe cash crunch, occasioned by a shoddy and “inexpertly” implemented cashless policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), which resulted in long queues of hapless citizens standing for hours at automated teller machine (ATM) points and inside banking halls, searching for cash to meet their basic daily needs.

Unemployment rate is almost 40 per cent, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). Although Nigeria moved up four places in the latest 2022 Corruption Perception Index (CPI), it maintained its previous score of 24 out of 100 points in the 2021 assessment, showing that nothing has changed.

The story is not different in the educational and health systems of the country. While, there is global consensus that education is the bedrock of development, about 20 million children are out of school in Nigeria, as of the last quarter of 2022, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). The annual budgetary allocation at the federal level for education is a far cry from the 26 per cent benchmark recommended by UNESCO for member countries. The sub-nationals are faring worse.

Primary and secondary schools in Nigeria experience lack of instructional materials. They lack qualified and trained personnel. At the tertiary level, prolonged strikes by academic and non-academic staff often paralyze activities in our citadels of learning, impacting negatively on standards.

In the health system, brain drain deprives our health institutions of their best hands, as they leave the country on a daily basis in search of greener pastures in North America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. The primary health system is almost nonexistent, while the tertiary health institutions do not measure up to consulting clinics in even sister African countries.

However, the frustration vented in this piece does not mean that all hope is lost. From the experiences of the big democracies and the upcoming ones, we can establish a correlation between democracy and development. A credible election is the hallmark of democracy. Therefore, we must do everything to get our elections right. To get things right, we must interrogate the character of those who would be entrusted with our electoral process in future, sustain reforms in our electoral laws and allow technology to fully drive the system, to protect our elections from the machinations of desperado politicians and willing conspirators in the electoral body……Continue Reading 

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