Politicians do not rig elections

Nnedinso Ogaziechi

 

While we all agree that democracy is the best form of government as the power is in the hands of the people, we have come to also realize that the same human element can thwart the whole democratic process. The mention of elections in Nigeria for instance invokes despair, fear and mistrust in the whole process from political party ward congresses to the general elections by the people who ironically ought to own the process.

As a human process, there might not be perfection but for a determined people, an above average outcome of elections signposts growth and a chance for development of nations and institutions. If therefore Nigeria can make progress with the practice of the best tenets of democracy, it has to be a collective decision of all stakeholders.

If as Mohammad Khatami observed, “Elections are the greatest symbol of participation and political reform”, then we must as a nation begin to evaluate, very closely the electoral processes that have been in place for so long but seemingly often very flawed. If Nigeria has the unenviable record of the most post-election litigious outcomes, then something is wrong with the people, the process or sadly, both.

Representative democracy goes beyond gender equity or youth and minority inclusiveness, it gives the people the power in their varied but united voting blocs, the freedom to speak with their votes. Since 1999, there have been huge numbers of post-election litigations and these have interrupted governance, seen to wastages in time and tax payers’ funds and sometimes loss of lives. Progress, gender parity and free and fair democratic practices should be a collective effort of governments, political parties, security agencies, civil society, religious and traditional rulers, electoral commissions and the people among others.

The Roundtable this week tracked down the poster man for credible,  election in 2019, the Kwara State Resident Electoral commissioner, Mallam Garba Attahiru Madami, an experienced educationist, sports administrator and a renowned agriculturist  who thumbs his chest for conducting the freest and fairest election in a state that was regarded prior to the election as one of the flash points for violence given the supremacy battle between the Saraki political dynasty of People’s Democratic Party, (PDP) and the and  the All Progressives Congress locally (APC)  locally referred to as ‘Otoge’ group that were determined to unseat the then Senate President Bukola Saraki’s political empire.

Mallam Madami had gone to the job determined to make a difference in the Nigerian electoral process. He decided to work with all stakeholders for a credible electoral process and triumphed at the end. Despite the pre-election fears, he was determined to maintain the integrity that earned him the job. Today, the record of the best election since 1999  in the nation belongs to him for working with all stakeholders to deliver to the people an election that both the winners and losers congratulated him for, a rarity in the Nigerian political space. Kwara state is one state that had no post-election litigation – a sure sign of the credibility of the process.

In the words of Mallam Madami, ‘elections are not rigged by politicians, the average ‘big-man’ politician votes and goes home. The electoral officers, the voters themselves and the security agencies all have a hand in credible or flawed elections. According to him, the panacea to flawed elections is a positive collaborative effort and must include the people, the political parties, traditional/religious leaders, security agencies, gender/civil society and youth organizations and an electoral commission (INEC) that is ready to play by the rules as an arrow head.

The ownership of the process by all the stakeholders ensures the credibility of the process. However, according to him, his success did not come on a platter. He was determined to be on the side of objectivity and was lucky to inherit INEC staff that was equally ready to do the right things under his stern warning of probity and fairness. Being an academic, he knew the value of voter education, communication and mobilization and that to a very large extent helped in re-orientating the people to make the right choices through deliberate positive actions. He tried to lead by example in ways that would be an honour to those who appointed him to do the job even without any form of lobbying. In all, he believes that no matter how powerful any politician is, when the people are determined to work together in a democracy, the result would be akin to the result of the Kwara election in 2019. As the Resident Electoral Commissioner, his ability to work with his staff  and others despite their imperfections was key to his success.

According to him, given the strategies he adopted in Kwara, he believes that if all electoral processes are  free and fair, there would be no obvious advocacies for gender parity in Nigerian politics. The issue of increased women participation can happen when the processes are seen as free and fair because Nigerian women have the power and intellectual capacity to stand for and win elections on merit. He cites late Dora Akunyili, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, late Hajia Gambo Sawaba, late Madam Tinubu as women whose leadership qualities can win them elections in a free and fair contest.

However, he believes that the system has been unfair to itself and the women who ought to be seen as partners in progress. Illiteracy, finance and violence  are often at the root of the disenfranchisement of women. Illiteracy especially in the twenty first century is skewed against women. Viable democracy he says is driven by the educated and good leadership has no gender on the global scale given that most countries in Europe are being led by women and their economies are doing great especially with the global economic realities due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

To him, the assumption that women’s place is in the kitchen is such a parochial idea and the poverty in the country shows that Nigeria is losing the contributions educated women bring to development. He cites the example of Rwanda with more than sixty percent of their women in parliament and how well the country is doing in the global economic front.  He credits a credible electoral process for the number of women in Rwandan parliament. He wants Nigerian political parties to make deliberate efforts at inclusiveness and faireness for a better country that is looking at decades to come. The government and people must take girl-child education more seriously. The few female elite and politicians should do more interactive and mentorship programs to catch them young.

As an academic, he has documented his efforts, media reports and personal  experiences as a REC in a magazine format – POLLSCOPE as a historical document/report and a guide for future RECs and other relevant groups for credible elections.

Folashade Aransiola, an entrepreneur, gender rights advocate and Leadership mentor was a House of Assembly candidate for the People’s Trust party for Irepodun Local government area of her state in 2019. She says she lost the election but came off with a lot of lessons as regards women participation in politics. Contrary to general narrative, most men would actually want to support a qualified and competent woman who indicates interest in politics.

The chairman of her local government for instance even mobilized volunteers to assist her canvass for votes and took her to the traditional ruler who prayed for and supported her in her election without her asking for such assistance. She insists that the moment the people observe you are genuinely interested in service, the support is usually overwhelming from both men and women. She believes too that most women show too much apathy towards politics and feel that they need to leave leadership to the men.

Folashade,  who is also the Kwara state Chairperson, League of Women Voters of Nigeria wants more women to show more interest in politics and leadership because leadership has nothing to do with gender but your capacity to lead. She feels a sense of disappointment with most female intellectuals and businesswomen who shy away from politics and blame their femininity as though politics and leadership is a physical exercise.

She felt disappointed to be described as the first woman to appear on Royal FM for a political review programme when she knows there are very qualified and capable women that should use that as a platform to promote gender equity in politics or even agitate for better leadership in the state or nation in general. She believes there must be a deeper sense of advocacy for women and girls to be made aware of how they can collaborate with men for a better developed nation. To her, funding and derogatory remarks from the society should not discourage women from active politics. She believes women can relate to each other and as such, any woman with good intentions and pedigree will be supported by women social and religious groups and can even galvanize funds to defray campaign costs.

Her participation in electoral contest has helped her in demystifying the ideas being bandied all the time about female participation. Most voters are women and would with good orientation support fellow women because democracy is about numbers. She says her leadership of the League of female voters of Nigeria in her state has really exposed her to the real issues about gender parity in Nigerian politics and she refuses to buy the flawed narrative that men do not want women in politics. She feels rather that most women do not care to venture into politics even when they know the benefits.

To Folashade,  even though there are  impediments like education and financial capacity, the women can begin to collectively agitate for more education opportunities and  economic empowerment, do more advocacies and mentoring and try to catch the girls young and make them see themselves as equal stakeholders because in the end, women and youths are the victims of bad leadership. The more educated and financially capable women must invest in fellow women just like the men and with their numerical voting strength, the development we seek must come.

 

The dialogue continues…

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