UGBODAGA: we must take election as a process, not event
Dr. Philip Ugbodaga is a public commentator, human rights activist and currently the Executive Director, Registered Voters Association of Nigeria (REVAN). The former chairman, Edo State chapter of Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) spoke to ALEMMA-OZIORUVA ALIU.
There was an upset in 2015 election, what do you think led to that?
The 2015 general election in Nigeria was a landmark in many ways. It saw an incumbent president losing an election and accepting defeat in a statesmanlike way. The sociological aspect of that election will continue to engage the minds of political scientists for a long time to come. However, my preliminary impression is that there were divine, political, and ethnic factors at play in the election. Most Nigerians were just tired of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as a political party at the federal level and wanted some political fresh air. The ingredients for the revolution were provided by the PDP itself. The then ruling party became a vehicle for only winning elections and paid very little attention to promoting internal party cohesion and competition. Political corruption and impunity became their motto and guiding principle and their leaders became disconnected from the people.
Realising the waning popularity of the then ruling PDP, the All Progressives Congress (APC), which was then in opposition packaged its message of change properly and this resonated with many ordinary Nigerians, who wanted it, some for just the sake of it. In a country that was in dire need of economic, socio-political and moral rejuvenation, a change of guard in Aso Rock was inevitable. I also think the last government started to take Nigerians for granted. They became more preoccupied with party politics rather than people politics. Rather than the survival of the people, the survival of their party became the cornerstone of their policy. Surely, there are some good men and women in PDP, but the evil ones completely overwhelmed the good ones. The PDP had very many intelligent people but they did not use their intelligence to help the people.
Was it as a lack of ambition to conjure electoral victory or sincere faith in the electoral system that led Jonathan to it?
Yes, the PDP had lost any moral and political right to continue to superintend the affairs of the nation and also drive the engine of national rejuvenation and true nation building. We also had a president, who no longer had the will power, the inclination, the motivation and the intellectual capacity to move Nigeria out of the religious, political, economic and social conundrum at the time. We, however, cannot take it away from Jonathan that he demonstrated utmost faith in the electoral system and tried to institutionalise the modest gains that had been made in the electoral system. It was, therefore, consequential on the above that Jonathan rightly gauged the mood of the nation and allowed the will of the people to prevail by conceding defeat at the time he did. He has been severally applauded for this both locally and internationally.
What will you say about the adoption of card readers in the election, did it make any impact?
Contestation for power and influence in Nigeria is problematic and politicians can do anything to get into office. This attitude of Nigerian politicians was given official imprimatur by Obasanjo when he was president by openly encouraging the do-or-die political ideology. The card reader technology was, therefore, conceptualised to separate the ‘political goats from the yam’ and made it difficult to engage in election voodoonism by conjuring up voting numbers that did not exist in reality. It gave us a near accurate actual numbers of the real voters. Its introduction by Jega was novel, strategic, salubrious, and very well thought out. However, its eventual utility became technically defective as a result of its non-consistency with the relevant laws governing elections in Nigeria. If well managed, the card readers have the potential to revolutionise elections in this country. The adoption of card reader technology will take us several steps forward in election management. With relevant legal impediments removed, the card readers have the potential to make our election free, fair and credible.
But Nigerian voters played a very critical role in determining the outcome of the election. It wasn’t the card reader innovation alone that ensured the final tally of results went the way it did. One of the key pillars of any established democracy is the power of the people to determine whether a government should continue in office or not. The Nigerian people in the last general election judiciously exercised this.
What should be done to have a better election in 2019?
If we are to have better elections in 2019, which is just by the corner, INEC’s institutional mandate and organisational design, including the extent of its institutional autonomy, legal and normative frameworks and its functions as encapsulated in the country’s 1999 Constitution (as amended) and the Electoral Act must be addressed without delay. It is very sad that we still take election as an event and not a process. If we hope to make any meaningful progress in Nigeria, we must begin preparations for the 2019 elections immediately. We seem to be very ritualistic as far as elections are concerned in Nigeria. We wait for the last minute to begin to revise our voter register, an exercise that ought to be a continuous process. We need to strengthen INEC, which is the body saddled with the responsibility of managing our electoral system. INEC needs a thorough reorganisation.
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