By S.K. C Ogbonia
One of the earliest lessons I learned from my father is that a habit of excuses is an existential catalyst for failure. Nowhere is this adage more evident than the attitude of Nigerian opposition parties toward the Independent National Election Commission (INEC). Perhaps, it is no longer news that the INEC has been the common excuse for failures in the different elections in the Fourth Republic. But with the 2015 general elections around the corner, and even in the midst of efforts in the National Assembly to amend electoral laws, the opposition is already working to make them fail again.
This problem is rooted in the long-standing scape-goating of the different chairmen of the Nigerian electoral body and its officials. Even though such excuse is genuine, it masks an inner foolishness for the opposition not to have recognized that expecting a commission fully controlled by a partisan executive arm of the government to produce free and fair elections is no different from perceiving a stench as an aroma. To improve the system, particularly with the current debate on electoral reform in the legislature, the opposition parties should without further delay compel President Goodluck Jonathan to truly support changes to the electoral commission in two important ways:
First is to create a commission composed representatives from the ruling party and the opposition. A structure with members drawn from the ruling parties and representatives of truly qualified opposition parties at the different levels of government will strengthen the needed checks and balances within the commission itself. It has the potential to facilitate the enabling environment for effective leadership of the commission, ensure and sustain true independence throughout the width and breadth of the commission, and guarantee fairness to the parties involved. To abridge the inherent partisanship, the proposed structure can be augmented with a select few drawn from the civil society: the Nigerian Labor Congress, NYSC, Judiciary; and the security agents. In simple terms, the qualified political parties themselves should submit members with clear party affiliations to the new council.
Second, given that most individual elections in Nigeria are already being financed through looted funds from government treasury; similar to the McCain-Feingold in the United States of America, without the choice for individual contributions, Nigeria should adopt full public funding for inter-party elections. Thank God that this proposal will not be burdened by the number of parties as once imagined. The opposition is now gradually evolving to the desired two-party structure after finally realizing that multiplicity of parties was a pyrrhic victory in the first place. Even more, in absence of a two-party structure, to frustrate political merchants who would like to capitalize on the loopholes of the government funding, more stringent conditions should be set for registration as well as participation of parties in elections.
Alternatively or simultaneously, the opposition should ensure that that the proposed Cashless Policy is fully implemented and INEC strengthened to enforce extant laws on campaign financing. For instance, despite the fact that the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Acts of 2002, 2006, and 2010 stipulated specific guidelines for campaign finance and attendant penalties, neither Presidents Goodluck Jonathan, Umaru Yar’adua, nor President Obasanjo before them could account for the tens of billions of naira sunk into their respective political campaigns.
The opposition apologists are expected to roar back here with another excuse. They will cling on the reigning Nigerian political value system which readily insinuates that opposition leaders have to find any means necessary to gain power first before demonstrating the perceived sense of prudence. But such thinking ought to be quashed once and for all: A simple scan of history in the Fourth Republic profoundly reveals that the success of the opposition in different elections across the country has never been because of superior financial power over ruling parties. This should in no way be misconstrued as saying that money has no role to play. None of that!
Money is as important to politics as water is to fish, but there are better ways of raising money than queuing at the domains of rogue politicians. And make no mistake about this: The Nigerian masses may be down but they are definitely not out. We have not yet forgotten that former military chiefs that funded Obasanjo’s elections enjoyed immunity while he was in power. The masses still remember that President Umaru Yar’adua’s disinclination to investigate clear cases of corruption by his predecessor and some ex-governors is attributed to the source of funds used in ushering him to power. Ditto President Goodluck Jonathan.
Perhaps the opposition will drop one final mundane excuse: President Jonathan would not yield to pragmatic changes to INEC. Should that happen, the opposition should courageously boycott the 2015 elections, and the masses will and should follow. This approach is potent because, apart from the fact that Jonathan would not like to end as an Abacha monocrat, continuing to engage in elections with predetermined results is a mindless waste of national resources. Further, unless you have not been following, Jonathan is very accommodating—probably the kindest president ever. He is kind to the good—and probably kinder to the bad. But while the latter have already capitalized to accomplish their sole objective of milking the country dry, and without qualms; the former (particularly the opposition) is caught moping—continuing to fail to take advantage of the unique kindness to provide a viable alternative to the masses.
S.K.C. Ogbonnia is on www.faceboo.com