Mark my words this day. Covid-19 permitting, we will go through the eight years of the Buhari administration without anyone, either in the executive or the legislative branch of government, giving a thought to the reforms of our badly flawed electoral system.
This is not prophecy, as in the pronouncement of Prophet Ayodele. It is common sense. In any case, given my attitude towards organised religions, no deity would be generous enough to make me its spokesman, as in prophesying.
The last time anyone gave some serious thoughts to such reforms was in 2007 when the late President Umaru Yar’Adua appointed the Justice Muhammadu Uwais committee to undertake that important national task in 2018. He wanted a comprehensive review of the electoral system in order to clean it up and give our electoral system and the elections both integrity and credibility. The committee, as I have pointed here and elsewhere a zillion times, did a fantastic job. It is a great pity that it is being wasted.
Yar’Adua was too ill to do much about it although had he survived, he would have had some difficulties implementing the recommendations of the committee. There is no price for guessing. A member of the committee told me the crooked politicians who stand to benefit for ever and anon from the very flawed electoral system, found the report “too hot.” The report so frightened them that they wasted little time doing what they do best: lobby to either rubbish it or kill it.
The report, the most and comprehensive and sensible response to our flawed electoral system and all its problems, that have bedevilled this nation for so long, is gathering dust on the shelf of the federal government. No one wants to remember it, let alone do anything about it. It never ceases to amaze me that this country, one of the most active in finding solutions to its political, social and economic problems, is frightened by such reports intended to address those problems.
The problem is that those who benefit from the status quo pretend that nothing is broken and it is foolish, of course, to fix what is not broken. But our electoral system is badly broken; or, it is so flawed and yet we expect it to produce credible election results. It is anathema to the human spirit to expect perfection from imperfection.
Anyone can see that things are getting worse on that important front along our weary democratic journey to the neverland of our national politics. In the 2019 general elections, the politicians who felt short changed, hung 760 pre-election cases on the neck of INEC. The cases arose from the party primaries conducted by the political parties to choose their candidates for the various elective offices. That the primaries are a crying shame and sham is beyond debate. But it is an important process in our electoral system. If they are flawed, they can only deepen the flaws in the system. And they do.
Some 1,687 cases arose from the conduct of the general elections that year. It would be a mistake to dismiss these cases, as the “winners” are inclined to do, as the pathetic jeremiad of bad losers. It is not. These cases, even if some were frivolous, took something away from the integrity of the elections.
To be sure, the fault is not in the electoral umpire; it is in a system that is badly broken. We have inevitably been driven to what I see as a sorry pass. The intervention of the judiciary in the conduct of our elections was supposed to be the exception, not the rule. It is now the rule, not the exception. The losers take their cases to their lordships because a) they believe the verdict of the electoral umpire is tainted and thus denies them justice and b) the courts now have the final say in who won and who lost an election.
The frightening implication of this is that the voter does not matter that much anymore in the electoral process. His right to decide his choice of a candidate in an election is severely abbreviated by the judicial interventions. I do not think we know which governments are instituted by the people and which is instituted by the courts any more. Democratic governments are, to put a fine point on it, instituted by the people. Government of the people by the people for the people? Right.
I am willing to admit that without the intervention of the judiciary in electoral matters, the situation could have been worse, much worse than it is. The irony, however, is that it is getting much worse too. The intervention of the judiciary is a clear evidence that the system is broken. Their lords are thus tasked with sifting facts from falsehood in election results. The problem is not that we do not know we need to fix the broken system. My take is that a) the broken system serves vested political interest such that those who benefit from it would fight anyone who wants to fix it and b) we lack the will here as in other areas of our national life, to solve problems crying rather loudly for solutions.
Do not expect the politicians to worry about this. After all, they drove us to this sorry pass. I can see that electoral reforms are not on President Buhari’s agenda. Given his experience in the law courts in contesting his failure in 2003, 2007 and 20011 to win the presidential trophy, I had thought, naively it turned out, that he needed no one to tell him how badly the system is broken and take steps, as his fellow Katsina man did before him, to fix it and leave a legacy of fair, free and credible elections. The work has been cut out for him. No committee can do a better or a more comprehensive job on our electoral reforms than the Justice Uwais’s committee. Buhari can take it down from the shelf, dust it, issue an executive order on it and fix our flawed electoral system – and take all the glory. (Daily Trust, June 21, 2020)