Since the end of the elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has advanced a number of factors for its woes but blaming especially the political groups. From the comments and related issues it would appear that INEC misunderstood its role as the umpire of the elections.The duty of an umpire is to officiate a game and produce acceptable results devoid of doubts, suspicion and reasons for wide spread resentment or even rejection. It is to produce a good game and not excuses for failure or reasons for collective agony and heartaches. Here courage, truth, honesty and trust are shared values by the umpire and the spectators or members of the public. It is a heavy burden that must not be taken lightly. At least the officiating must be seen to be fair to all and worthy of trust by participants and the audience. We have explored the reasons advanced by INEC for poor performance. Some of them such as the indiscipline of the political actors are true but we believe that they happened because INEC has lacked the courage, sincerity of purpose and morality to apply the big stick or hammer.This is therefore a wake up call on INEC to rise to her responsibility as an Umpire . The piece is also to show further why the endorsement of the 2019 election by some elite has been so very disappointing, unnecessary and unwarranted .
ELECTIONS ARE LIKE COMPETITIVE FOOTBALL GAME- KEEN AND EMOTIONAL
Elections are like competitive football game where there would be winners and losers. They are kin and emotional. While many players would be tempted to resort to all the tricks in the book to win at all costs, the referee has a duty to be vigilant enough to spot fouls or check any infringement. The umpire of the game has a duty to make positive effort to ensure fairness to all parties. At least there should be a level playing field for all. Like a football game competition, elections are held for prizes – here political power and authority and influence. This may explain why rigging and other forms of electoral malpractices are rife. The football referee knows before the game based on historical evidence that players are full of tricks. So he is well armed to check cheating and violation of the rules of the game. For instance he is alert, runs all over the field to be close to spot of play, blows the whistle when he spots a foul, shows yellow and red cards as appropriate to enforce discipline or check willful violation of the rules of the game. A bad referee ruins the game.
ELECTORAL MALPRACTICE AS A GLOBAL PHENOMENON – THE NEED FOR GOOD PLANNING AND EFFECTIVE IMPLEMENTATION
While the conduct of the umpire is thus very critical to the success or failure of any competition, as hinted already, elections’ malpractice-rigging of elections is rampant among politicians globally. A glance at global history suggests a high rate of temptation among politicians to rig elections across the world- Africa, Europe, USA, Asia, Germany, Russia , Austria, Mexico, etc. For instance the U.S. is yet to resolve the question of alleged Russian influence on their last general elections that produced President Trump. While this is a world- wide phenomenon, however, efforts have been made to check malpractices in other countries by planning against cheating and by catching and punishing cheaters and violators of the rules of the game. The approach is to plan ahead and to ensure the effective implementation of planned actions.
Sanity and integrity of elections are also promoted by embarking on vigorous voters’ education etc. But the first step is usually to work out sound plans to check cheating and violations of the rules of the game. And the involvement of citizens in the various stages of electoral process to ensure public ownership and due support. And above all active measures to deal with violators of the game squarely The consequences management factor is very important to punish offenders and deter misconduct as well as reward hard work. Many of these could have been taken care of by INEC or were in fact taken care of but apparently failed to achieve the desired result. The plan proved ineffective.
MANY PROBLEMS TO SOLVE AND ISSUES TO TACKLE -LOSS OF MORAL SENSE
There are many problems to solve and issues to tackle. However two of the problems seem most critical after the elections. The first is moral conflict. And the second is the flight from the truth by the Nigerian elite. Both are related and with almost the same effect on society- moral decadence. Generally, there seems to be a loss of moral sense and direction in Nigeria. Truly, we must tackle these problems frontally if we are really serious with nation building and the strengthening of national institutions in the country. Our collective sense of morality appears to have sunk far below level of tolerance There had been lies told about the elections by those who see nothing wrong with calling what is obviously black a white color. But the danger is frightening and seemingly calamitous. When a nation’s elite have resorted to telling lies and endorsing evil as good, then you know that such society had gone morality berserk. It will be helpful to recall that toeing the path of perdition since the end of the 2019 elections, there had been endorsers of unholiness and passers of vote of confidence in the elections among political parties, civil society organizations etc. As Media reports have shown, on 6 May 2019, “75 political parties endorsed the conduct of the 2019 elections results and passed vote of confidence on INEC chairman Prof Mahmood Yakubu(The Nation 7-5-2019).
ADVERSE IMPLICATIONS FOR DEMOCRACY, NATIONAL UNITY AND DEVELOPMENT
It is needless to say that such endorsement &Co hold adverse implications for the heathy growth of our democracy, proper development and empowerment of the youth and the unity and development of the country. At best it amounts to calling right what is very wrong.As I observed in an earlier episode, the elections were badly conducted. They were considered by many as awful and notorious for its high rate of inconclusiveness,violence, vote-buying etc. Unwittingly though, their endorsement resurrected an unholy ghost many analysts were just too happy to let go to rest in its grave. Nations do not thrive on profane values. Democratic practice is rule based. Lies break trust while truth build trust and confidence in it. Thus democracy is severely threatened when it’s rules are willfully violated. This is perhaps the source of our great
INEC’s failure to check fraudulent activities was sad and unfortunate because we know that massive rigging has been part of the dirty game of politics in Nigeria and indeed other countries. Since rigging appears to be a constant feature of the culture of elections adequate measures ought to be in place to check it. While its appearance in Nigeria is certainly not strange per se, the strange or odd thing was INEC’s feebleness or inability to rise to the challenge.The task of the umpire of the elections is to put in place effective measures to check any form of electoral malpractice and to work hard to frustrate those with unholy ambition, check their nefarious plans and come out neat with clean results of voting. In other words, while it is normal for political players to wish to rig elections, the task of the umpire is to ensure that they do not succeed with their treacherous plans or nefarious activities.
INEC was expected to be some steps ahead of law breakers.To paraphrase Achebe, since the hunter has learnt to shoot without missing, the bird has learned to fly without perching. In other words while INEC ought to learn to catch riggers and violators of elections and punish them in accordance with the law, the public is expected to cooperate with INEC to ensure clean elections, condemn what is wrong and approve what is right. This is important in discouraging evil in society. And that is why the endorsement of INEC by some elite after the elections has been so disappointing, unhelpful, unhealthy and thus unwarranted.
ENDORSEMENT OF POOR PERFORMANCE IS BAD, UNWISE AND RUINOUS
Honestly I do not see any good in their endorsement. The endorsement of poor performance during which lives were lost is bad, unwise and ruinous of the national cause. I know that life has been so cheapened in the country to a point that many people are no longer shocked by report of senseless killings, or unnecessary or avoidable deaths. Still the endorsers ought to show some molecules of respect at least for lives lost. For sure it sends the wrong moral message to the youths and embolden criminals to go on with their evil work against the country. But if I may ask again: what were the 75 political parties endorsing and passing votes of confidence in ? Was it the killings, snatching of ballot box, arson, hooliganism,militarization, inconclusive elections, under-age voting, vote buying etc? It simply boggles the mind.
Truly I see the ruination of the country’s future by ignoring the failing of INEC and the erosion of public confidence in future elections. What lessons are the endorsers of bad or poor work passing to the youths with their lies and other unholy acts? The group has the right to endorse anything but we have the right to draw attention to the negative and severe moral implications of their endorsement for the development of the country especially the negative effect on the youth. It is unhelpful even to INEC itself. The endorsement is unhelpful to the progress of the country in general and the cause of national unity and development in particular. This must not be allowed. It is not the way institutions are strengthened.
Let’s make the point clearer. Nigeria is not alone in this evil trade. As noted earlier Elections are rigged in many countries. It is therefore not a peculiar Nigerian malady. To ensure justice FairPlay and confidence and credibility laws, rules and regulations are made and an umpire is appointed to conduct in accordance with preset rules. This the general theoretical approach.However there is a remarkable difference between Nigeria and others in practice.The ability or inability to detect offenders, apply rules, enforce laws and punish evilness is fundamentally the difference between Nigeria and other countries. Sadly the Nigerian umpire of elections has demonstrated a frustrating lack of the ability, will and determination to do the needful against violators or offenders of the law. The country appears not to have the capacity, the morality and political will to enforce its electoral laws. Elsewhere, the reverse is the case. For instance In Europe the state fights crimes including elections’ malpractices with all seriousness. There is strong determination to fight and check crimes and such efforts are supported by the public with unreserved condemnation of evil acts. In Nigeria, violators of rules or breakers of law had often been treated with kid gloves or simply allowed to go free to go to do more harm next time even with the tacit approval of the public. This has been so because of regional, ethnic, religious values and selfish political consideration.
CHANGE IS POSSIBLE , BUT…
While changing the ugly situation would demand courage, patriotism unwavering commitment to truth and honesty in the national interest the spirit to do it appears weak or even unwilling. Yet change is possible because as just observed it requires courage and patriotic zeal. As Professor Humphrey NWOSU the Elections Umpire of the June 12 1993 presidential election won by Chief MKO Abiola has observed “having a free and fair election depends on the courage of those appointed to conduct the elections. Thus he advised that all those appointed to supervise electoral commissions should be courageous”(The Sunday Vanguard June 16, 2019p9). It is helpful to stress here that NWOSU showed courage in 1993 to produce the best elections ever in Nigeria and Jega did same in 2015 to strengthen democracy -both to the general appreciation of the public.
Given this background, it may be correct to say that INEC ‘s current problem was self-inflicted. It fails to learn from its institutional memory. At least She had both the 1993 & 2015 Elections templates and performance standards to improve on, but failed to learn useful lessons even from its own history. Instead she went many steps backwards. Its conduct of the 2019 general elections fell below expectations of many Nigerians. It was a dismal performance. However, the strange thing is not that INEC failed per se, because organization do fail if the right steps are not taken. The strange thing is that INEC was not being helped to improve itself by the public . Instead of helping the organization with truthful statement it was being misled with false picture by some endorsers of badness and sellers of placebo. The tragedy is that those in better position to correct the situation are dodgy, or shying away from the truth. If the organization defaulted but appears not to know, the enlightened members of the public should have the courage and wisdom to draw its attention to the weakness(s) in order to prevent the repetition of associated errors next time. This is the importance of public opinion in society.
COURAGE TO SPEAK TRUTH AND DO THINGS RIGHT TO BUILD INSTITUTIONS
The point about the need for courage to speak the truth and do things right always is of special importance because it is the basis of national greatness and institutional growth, development and strengthening. As hinted earlier, great nations are built and powerful institutions are developed, nurtured and strengthened by men of truth, honesty and courage. According to MK Gandhi ‘truth is like a vast tree which yields more and more fruits the more you nurture it’. It is solid foundation for development and with more commitment it offers more ‘openings for an ever greater variety of service”( p218 Gandhi-The Story of my experiments with truth).
Conversely falsehood misleads and closes opportunity for real beneficial NDE rewarding services. Consequently a nation of lies and liars and bad workers is doomed.How do we grow and strengthen national institutions without the moral courage to say the truth and do the right thing.When we tell lies, paint white what was black, we debase the nation and weaken its institutions? INEC did not display the desired courage, preparation and public education that would make it strong and successful in future. In short a nation based on falsehood cannot endure. We must therefore not only seek after the truth, also we must learn to speak the truth in the national interest.
Since Former President Obama of the USA advised Africa to promote strong institutions rather than strong men -some of them richer than their countries,
I have heard many Nigerians expressing the desire for strong institutions in Nigeria. However they do so without sparing much thought on how strong institutions are built. But as history has shown only men with courage and honor and dedicated spirits build nations and strong institutions and not ghosts. Ask the U.S. how President George Washington (1789-1797)the first US president laid the foundation of a great condition, built a strong U.S. Army, and erected the Presidential system or how Alexander Hamilton (1775/7-1804) as Secretary of Treasury laid the foundation of the US Financial system especially the establishment of a national bank.Or how John Marshal (1775-1835) as Chief Justice of the U.S Supreme Court elevated the judiciary to a respectable level in their country? These were courageous men who are still being fondly remembered today for their noble deeds and force of character, in office. For instance according to historical accounts Marshal’s courageous, bold strokes on the Justice system of that country and his exceptional ability raised the Judiciary to equal status with the Executive and Legislative Arms of government. He was noted for courageous judgements as the Chief Judge of the U.S. And he was said to “have turned the supreme into a bulwark against presidential and congressional tyranny and saved American…(Google books).This was what president Obama had in mind when he charged African nation’s to build strong institutions rather than strong men.
Rewarding nation building requires us to speak the truth, do justice and fairness and be ethically-conscious and morally sensible. When a citizen has opportunity to serve his country he or she should be guided by altruism, patriotism and collective interest. The national interest must be placed far above all else. That is how institutions are strengthened or elevated.
ESSENCE OF THE UMPIRE
As already observed the the duty of an umpire is to produce a good game to the satisfaction of all the parties concerned. From the comments and related issues after the 2019 elections it would appear that INEC misunderstood its role as the umpire of the elections.The duty of an umpire is to officiate a game and produce acceptable results devoid of doubts, suspicion and reasons for wide spread resentment or even rejection. It is a heavy burden that must not be taken lightly. At least the officiating must be seen to be fair to all and worthy of trust by participants and the audience.Elections are like competitive football games where there would be winners and losers. And while many players would be tempted to resort to all the tricks in the book to win at all costs, the referee has a duty to be vigilant enough to spot fouls or check any infringement. The umpire of the game has a duty to make positive effort to ensure fairness to all parties. At least there should be a level playing field for all. The conduct of the umpire is thus very critical to the success or failure of any competition,
Rewarding nation building requires us to speak the truth, do justice and fairness and be ethnically-conscious and morally sensible. When a citizen has opportunity to serve his country he or she should be guided by altruism, patriotism and collective interest. The national interest must be placed far above all else. That is how institutions are strengthened or elevated. INEC would do well to ignore vain praise singers, endorsers of badness and instead work hard to promote mass support through heightened citizenry participation, deployment of appropriate technology in various sections of its operation and enforcement of laws- effective consequence management, cultivation of moral sense, patriotic and nationalist spirits,the fear of God and the will to do what is good, correct and right in the national interest.
*Prof. John Abhuere is the Director of Child Care and Youth Development (CCYD), Abuja