Where Is Buhari’s Legacy Of Free And Fair Elections? -By Isaac Asabor

It is not an exaggeration to say that Nigeria has since 1999 been in the race to entrench a truly democratic government, particularly as she in the year under reference in this context made a definitive break with a post-independence history dominated by three decades of abusive and unaccountable military rule. That year, the country returned to civilian government under the leadership of President Olusegun Obasanjo and has since then been enjoying what can be said to be Nigeria’s longest stretch of uninterrupted civilian rule since it gained independence from the British government in 1960.

Given the foregoing, it can rightly be conjectured that the philosophy behind former President Muhammadu Buhari’s promise in November last year to leave a legacy of free and fair elections in Nigeria and the West African sub-region at large can clearly be understood.

Buhari, who for the umpteenth time made the promise of leaving a legacy of free and fair elections in Nigeria, reiterated his desire to conduct a hitch-free election, adding that the country is committed to a stable West Africa. He assuredly made the promise at the 2022 second ordinary session of the ECOWAS parliament in Abuja, according to a statement from presidential aide Femi Adesina.

He said, “We are convinced that the sustenance of democracy and the rule of law should remain the norm in this promising region.

“There will be multiple political activities in some ECOWAS member states, including Nigeria, where general elections are due to be held in February and March 2023. Let me seize this opportunity to reiterate my commitment to free, fair, and transparent elections and smooth transitions. This is one legacy that I want my administration to bequeath, not only to Nigeria but to the region as a whole.”

‘‘It is on record that the region has not rested on its oars as we have always striven to evolve effective regional mechanisms to address these challenges.

‘‘For example, at the height of the pandemic, Heads of State of ECOWAS appointed me as the ECOWAS champion on COVID-19,” he said.

‘‘Working with three Ministerial Committees comprising Member States’ Ministers of Health, Finance, and Transportation, we developed an effective response by mitigating the effect of COVID-19 on our citizens. Our efforts yielded positive results as the ECOWAS region became one of the sub-regions least affected by the pandemic, in terms of mortality rate.”

At this juncture, is expedient to opine that despiteNigeria’s quest for a truly democratic government, through its leaders, pieces of evidence show that the transition to civilian rule has not delivered a democratically accountable government for Nigerians from one political dispensation to the other. In fact, it is not an exaggeration to say that Nigeria hasnot held a free and fair general election since the end of military rule; For instance, virtually all the polls conducted since Nigeria turned to a democratic nation in 1999 were characterized by widespread violence, intimidation, bribery, vote rigging, and corruption, even as officials who came to office through that process have generally not realized the hopes of Nigerians for socio-economic advancement and better governance. Instead, poverty continues to deepen, andto worsen the situation, government at all levels is riddled with corruption and abuse of human rights.

Ostensibly to accentuate the fact that an improperly conducted election is a norm, the presidential election tribunal has ruled that Nigeria’s main opposition parties failed to prove claims of electoral malpractice against the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) in February’s disputed elections. However, many people are still smarting away from the perceived injustice and iniquitousness that characterized the judgment. Not a few political observers believe; local and international such as the European Union (EU) believe that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has a lot of work to do between now and the next general election if the presidential election is to return to recover its credibility.

Without a doubt, one of the things that everybody practically seems to agree upon is that electionis the quintessence of democracy as it allows people to select their political leaders and then hold them accountable. But for an election to fulfill its critical function, it must be free and fair. Just holding an election is not enough: if some citizens are prevented from voting or the results are not counted properly, an election cannot be called “free and fair.”

Be that as it may, it is expedient to note in this context that not a few Nigerians are displeased with the gripe that pervaded the Presidential election,even as they would not want such gripe to be swept under the carpet to the detriment of other presidential aspirants and their huge numbers of followers and supporters that trooped out on that fateful day in February to vote for them.To many observers and democrats, It certainly rubbed civil and democratic-minded Nigerians the wrong way when they realized that their votes did not count.

In fact, not a few Nigerians whose votes did not count are disappointed over the judgment delivered by the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT) on Wednesday, September 6, 2023, as some are already calling on the judiciary to uphold the Constitution.

The reason for the calls cannot be farfetched as it is universally believed that a country cannot be truly democratic until its citizens have the opportunity to choose their representatives through elections that are free and fair. In fact, critical development efforts cannot succeed without a legitimate and democratically elected government that is responsive and accountable to its citizens.  This is because elections provide an important opportunity to advance democratization and encourage political liberalization. For an election to be free and fair, certain civil liberties, such as the freedoms of speech, association, and assembly are required.

In fact, not only are Nigerians at home condemning the judgment delivered by the PEPT, Nigerians in the diaspora such as those affiliated with the Action For Democracy in Africa (DADA), have also reacted to the judgment by calling on the judiciary to uphold the constitution.

DADA in a statement signed by Mr Uche Martin noted that the decision of the Appeal Court to uphold the result of the 2023 Presidential election has disappointed many Nigerians.

The Africans in the diaspora-based organization said reports of evidentindiscretions and non-conformity to the 2022 Electoral Act by the INEC are regrettable and deeply troubling.

DADA, which made reference to a damming EU Report about the Nigeria 2023 elections, however, expressed confidence that the Nigeria Supreme Court will uphold Nigeria’s constitution with regards to the several issues raised at the Tribunal. The group noted that reports indicate that the court did not base its decision on points of Law but rather lends credence to widespread suspicion that the Judges have been compromised or coerced.

It explained that the development has no doubtdashed the collectivehope of millions of Nigerians who once reposed confidence and trust in the Independence of the Judiciary. The group further noted that the ill-conducted election signifies a watershed moment in the country’s history where the popular notion that the judiciary is the last hope of the common man now appears more to be a myth than reality.

The group urged the apex court to restore the hope of Nigerians in the Judiciary by dispensing justice fairly and without bias, guided by the Constitution and based on the merits of the cases presented, and not employing superfluous technicalities that undermine true justice.

“This decision of PEPT has deflated the morale of millions of Nigerians who cast their votes in the hope of obtaining the good governance the country desperately needs to emerge from the hardship and suffering the masses are experiencing”, the group stated.

“It is our hope that the PEPT judgment will be carefully reviewed at the Supreme Court, and the apex court will be strong defenders of the Constitution and issue an objective and fair judgment, without bias or favor, based on the evidence presented before it.

“We also appeal to all Nigerians to remain calm but vigilant as active citizens.

“We have previously expressed concern at limitations placed on freedom of the Press, freedom of citizens to peaceful protest, and other human rights violations.

“The absence of these fundamental freedoms is signaling that democracy in the Nigerian State is in regression, a situation which should never be allowed to fester or be perpetuated by any means.”

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