Wednesday, June 17, 2009

THE ROLE AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE POLITICAL CLASS IN ENSURING CREDIBLE ELECTIONS IN NIGERIA

Being text of a paper presented at the first People Monthly Magazine National Dialogue on the theme 2011 Elections: Challenges and Prospects holding at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja, Tuesday, May12, 2009

INTRODUCTION

The growth and development of nations, insstitutions and ideas are often said to depend on the sweat, blood and sacrifice of some key individuals and groups who provide the required leadership in different spheres of national existence. Such category of torch bearers usually referred to as elites lead the direction in the different dimensions of national growth and development. They are in all sectors. For instance, we often hear of the political class, the intellectual class, the military class, the business class and the bureaucratic class, among others. Each of the identified classes has a distinctively known area in which it serves the society. For instance, the business class serves the society through the provision of goods and services; the military class ensures the safety and security of the society while the political class provides the overall leadership and direction for the growth and development of the nation. The activities of the political class have profound impact on the overall development, security and prosperity, or the absence of them in the society. This is understandable considering the fact that politics affect everything and everybody because it deals with the subject of decision making and resource allocation across all boundaries in the society. For instance, it is the politician in office that determines the resources that go to the other sectors like the military, education, bureaucracy, etc.

Without doubt, the political class has remained a challenged class in the political history of the country. During the pre- independence period, the class led the struggle for the nation’s independence by confronting the colonial establishment and taking up the challenge of liberating the nation. Upon independence in 1960, the challenge for the class was on fast tracking the development of the nation to catch up with the rest of the world. When the military took over on the alleged failure of the political class in 1966, members of the class worked hand in hand with the military to stabilize the polity and continue with the process of governance.

In the last ten years since the return of the country to full democratic governance with the political class taking full charge of the country’s political space, there have been concerns expressed in many quarters on the performance, conduct and behaviour of the various members of the political class. Complaints are often heard that even though the political class is the immediate beneficiary of the current democratization process, regrettably, the behaviour of a large number of members of the class appear to be dangerously threatening to the entire democratic project in the nation. Many of such negative tendencies that manifest in the form of poor performance in office, corruption, electoral fraud, desperate and intolerant conduct and other such threatening behaviours heat up the polity, undermine public confidence and paint the political class as having failed to learn from history.

The political class remains the guiding torch for the development of the nation; and that connotes it should be properly organized on the basis of discipline, principle, vision and a sense of mission. A visionless and missionless political class will lead the country nowhere other than to retrogression, corruption and frustration. In the words of the great Indian leader, Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948), there are eight monsters that can easily lead to decay and ruins of a nation. These are:

Wealth without work

Pleasure without conscience

Knowledge without character

Commerce without morality

Science without humanity

Worship without sacrifice

Politics without principle

Rights without responsibilities

Thus, this paper discusses some of the responsibilities of the members of the political class in the sustenance of the nation’s democracy with reference to their role in ensuring credible and acceptable elections in the country. Members of the class are the most visible actors in the electoral process. While the members of the general public have their responsibilities clearly and perhaps restrictively defined at each stage of the electoral process, the politicians’ interest and responsibility are more robust in the entire process. Equally, the conduct of the political class is likely to influence either negatively or positively the confidence of the public in the conduct and outcome of elections.

NIGERIA’S DEMOCRACY

Since 1960 when Nigeria gained its independence and embraced the democratic option of governance, much has been witnessed in the country’s tortuous road to full democratization. Over the years, the system had encountered turbulence characterized by controversies, military incursions, dashed hopes and leadership and systemic failures. On all occasions, the political class was at the receiving end. Members of the class have been variously accused of anti-democratic tendencies that tend to violate constitutionality, abuse citizens’ rights, promote non credible elections, and disrespect for the rule of law; others are poor delivery of services and the non advancement and protection of individual and collective freedoms. Incidentally, these elements form the fundamental pillars that differentiate democracy from other forms of governance.

Perhaps, because of the long military rule, the psyche of the political elite and the general population has been infected with the militarist and regimented culture of arbitrariness characterized by executive fiat, absence of accountability and wanton disregard for the will of the people. In addition, the general population tended to be subdued into silence, resignation and apathy, appearing disabled to query the unacceptable state of affairs within the system. Negative acts of political misbehaviours eloquently manifested in electoral malpractices, tyrannical attitudes, bad governance, disregard for the rule of law, massive stealing of public resources, increased deprivations, personal appropriation of state power, and gross ineptitude by elected officials seem to combine with debilitating poverty to overwhelm the general population.

Arguably, in Nigeria of today, the military may not be regarded as immediate serious threats to the democratic process. Rather, the destruction of existing structural public institutions, abuse of procedures and regulations, undemocratic tendencies, massive stealing of public resources, insensitive, non-principled and desperate conduct of politicians, and the personalization of state power coupled with the rising level of public frustration are the poisonous arrows that are threatening our young democracy. Perhaps, unable to understand the Nigerian situation, a foreign journalist once observed that: “Nigeria is just like an unfortunate sick man. He refused to respond to treatment. But he also refused to die”! This is no doubt in reference to our behaviour of trial and error with unending excuses for not getting things including our elections right. Can we absolve the country’s political class in all of the above observations? I doubt so. Well, for the purpose of this paper, we shall simply restrict ourselves to the political class and the electoral process.

PERCEPTION OF POLITICIANS AND THE POLITICAL CLASS

What is the general image of the typical Nigerian politician and indeed the whole political class among average Nigerians? A simple reading of the country’s press over a period of one week may possibly lead one to some of the following contentious conclusions on the nature of the average politician and the concept of politics in contemporary Nigeria.

· Politicians are highly intolerant of one another

· Politics is for individuals who have no principles

· Politics is a profession that has no entry qualifications

· Politics is the easiest means of self enrichment

· Political recruitment does not necessarily depend on competence but godfathers

· Once in office, politicians listen to nobody but themselves

· Politicians are not to be believed/trusted

PERCEPTION OF ELECTIONS IN NIGERIA

Elections are means for building legitimacy, shaping public opinion and strengthening the capacity of the elites to exercise control over society. They provide a two way street for the government, the people and the political class with the opportunity to influence one another. However, in Nigeria the picture is slightly different considering the manner in which our elections are perceived. It has been variously argued that open, competitive and meaningful elections have remained elusive in the country due to some complex reasons that include ‘’deep rooted and interlocking historical, structural (economic), institutional and psycho-cultural factors’’ ( IDEA, 2001). Perhaps, because of the challenges, elections are differently and unfortunately, negatively perceived by individuals. Quite often, such perceptions are actively promoted by the behaviour of the political class. Some of the common perceptions are:

· For every election, the end justifies the means.

· Elections are equal to ‘wars’ with battles that must be won at all costs.

· In politics, there is no morality. Just secure the victory by whatever means and trick.

· Incumbents must win elections except if they are in the bad books of the central government

· Politics is business. Elections provide opportunity for interest groups, agencies and individuals to make big monies.

· Irrespective of a candidate’s moral, ethical and performance records, his money and connections are what can qualify him into a political office.

· All levels of governments and their agencies are liable to illegal behaviours during elections. It all depends on their levels of interest.

· The media serve the interest of those in power, their owners or those who can pay for their ways by whatever means.

· In elections, make sure that you don’t loose to go to court but win and be taken to court.

· Political offices are instruments for corrupt acquisition of wealth. Therefore, it must be paid for heavily by the seekers, who in any way, will recoup their electoral investments in office (excessive monetization).

· Staying in the opposition is the least of options. As some say, success has many fathers while failure is an orphan. The typical politician should be in office or relate “well” with successful ones (winner-takes –all mentality).

We arrived at the above conclusions based on observations of the conduct and behaviour of the typical Nigerian politician and the electoral process in the last ten years.

CREDIBLE ELECTIONS

Arguably, representation in modern politics is inextricably linked with elections. Though, elections may not be a sufficient condition for complete political representation, but have been found to be a necessary condition (Heywood, 2006). The organization, conduct and successful outcome of elections are functions of several factors that are systematically tied to one another. Equally, the integrity, credibility and legitimacy of the results of an election relate to a set of variables that run through the continuum of the electoral process. Inevitably, each variable is as strong or weak as the other.

Thus, the failure of one will definitely affect the success of the next stage. For instance, any unaddressed challenge in the compilation of the voters’ register will automatically affect the participation of some people in the actual process of voting. Similarly, any malpractice experienced on the day of voting may affect the outcome and legitimacy of the elections. In the same vein, questioning the outcome and supremacy of elections may lead to unnecessary wrangling, court cases and in the extremes, instability in the polity. Thus, a credible election is one that is adjudged to be transparently competitive, free and fair, openly participatory and conducted on the basis of the provisions of the electoral law. The absence or manipulation of any of these elements can easily undermine the credibility of an election and invalidate the exercise.

THE ELECTORAL PROCESS

To fully capture the enormity of the subject at hand, it will be proper to understand the scope and dimension of the electoral process in the Nigerian context. This includes:

· Registration of voters

· Registration of political parties \political party campaigns

· Preparations by the electoral body (procurement of electoral materials and recruitment of adhoc staff)

· Holding of the elections

· Post elections

In an ideal situation, these steps and arrangements should be clearly understood by the stakeholders and indeed the electorates for the credibility and legitimacy of the process. The quality of each of the steps has profound impact on the subsequent steps and quality of the outcome of the process. However, studies and observations have shown that members of the political class, in many cases, with the active connivance of their collaborators in the security agencies, electoral commission and other bodies commit numerous frauds at each stage of the electoral process. In simple terms, electoral fraud “involves all illegal acts of commission or omission adopted by a party in an election to distort the true choices of the citizens”. For example, the 2003 TMG Report had identified fraudulent practices at the various stages like the registration of voters, party primaries for nomination of candidates, and of course, the general elections. Some of these can be summarized thus:

MALPRACTICES IN THE PARTY NOMINATIONS PROCESS

· Supremacy of political party executives, power brokers and factions within the parties. Party membership has no say on who emerges as the candidate

· Guidelines for party primaries are skewed. And most parties block the court process

· Widespread bribery to influence delegates

· Foisting of unpopular candidates

· Monopolization of the nomination process by few members

MALPRACTICES AT THE LEVEL OF VOTER REGISTRATION AND ELECTIONS

· Multiple and underage voters’ registration

· Improper constituency delineation

· Denial of opportunity for registration to opponents and their loyalists

· Corrupt inducement of voters, electoral officials, traditional rulers and religious leaders in order that they coerce or manipulate their followers

· Manipulation of ethnic and religious sentiments

· Electoral violence during voters registration, voting, transportation of materials to condition centres and collection and announcement of results

· Abuse of office by the party in government using public resources to campaign, intimidate the opposition, monopolize state media, etc

· Depriving the electorate of voting opportunities through inadequate supplies of materials

· Stuffing of ballot boxes

· Falsification of election results

· Corrupt inducement of Tribunal members to validate fraudulent results

(TMG Report, 2003).

THE POLITICAL CLASS AND CONDUCT OF CREDIBLE ELECTIONS

Unarguably, the relevance and survival of a viable democratic culture rests heavily on the behaviour and conduct of the political class in its struggle to capture and maintain political power. To this end, the class needs to wake up to some realities to properly re-brand itself to recover the confidence and trust of the majority of Nigerians. In fact, as one contributor in one of the Newspapers put it, the Nigerian politician needs the current re-branding spirit more than any other Nigerian. Members of the political class should re-examine their behaviours, conduct and performance in and out of office.

I believe that credible and rancour free elections are practicable in our present circumstances if the members of the political class decide to be less desperate in their bid for power; and play the game by globally and nationally acknowledged ethical codes and laws. The class needs to increasingly prove its competence in being able to superintend the democratic process by demonstrating transparent conduct in the activities of their individual political parties. In specific terms, the political class can perform the following roles and responsibilities in ensuring credible elections in the country. These include:

· Lead in providing general political education based on correct values

· Promote and encourage mass participation at all levels

· Participate as contestants in the various elective offices

· Promote the legitimacy and integrity of elections and election results

· Provide the right leadership and atmosphere for the conduct of elections

· Promote discipline in form, spirit and implementation of the electoral process

As it is, the political parties that serve as the platform for capturing power do not engender confidence among many Nigerians. In the words of a one time Chairman of INEC, Dr Abel Guobadia, ‘’Nigerian political parties behave like war machines cocked almost permanently to go into combat with perceived opponents, both existing and potential. More often than not, the enemy is not just the opposition party but also the electorates who refuse to toe party line. Once in power, the parties want to remain there forever by hook or by crook, intolerant to challenges either from within or from without…(there is) lack of cohesion within each of the parties, which generates intra-party wrangling and endless crisis. Such crisis degenerates into intra-party factions (that) spill over into elections…’’

To avoid such threatening behaviours that may affect the credibility of the 2011 elections in the country, politicians and their parties must demonstrate their belief and competence in the democratic process by ensuring internal democracy and tolerant conduct in their political parties. The logic is simple, can Nigerians trust politicians who can not organize acceptable internal party primaries to organize or even participate in credible national elections? How can we trust that they may not carry over the same mentality of illegality and fraud into the national electoral space? In other words, the degree to which the people will perceive our politicians as skilled, reliable, experienced and qualified individuals to offer them leadership in the electoral process will be a function of their competence as demonstrated in their party organization and conduct. Therefore, the challenge is for the politicians to demonstrate responsibility by putting their acts in order.

Closely related to the issue of competence is that of trustworthiness. From our submission on the perception of the average politician by Nigerians, it is clear that the political class needs to work harder to earn the trust of the people. Trustworthiness emphasizes honesty, fairness, sincerity, honour and kindness. These perceptions are earned over time. Now, what is the rating of the political class on all these counts in Nigeria? Your answer is as good as mine.

Our conviction on the class being able to contribute positively to credible elections will be a function of our trust of individual and collective members of the political class based on their past behaviours. For us to expect any positive contribution from the class particularly in the electoral process, it needs to re-brand its character to earn the trust of the citizens. The challenge now is on politicians to proof that they can be trusted to facilitate acceptable elections after some shocking experiences of Nigerians in the past few years.

Another important point that will elicit hope in the ability of the political class to play a positive role in the preparation and holding of credible elections in the country is its dynamism in terms of boldness, energy, empathy and strength of character. A class that does not demonstrate these elements in their conduct during non election periods can hardly reflect same during tense moments of elections. Nigeria needs bold and courageous politicians who empathize with the citizens at all times. A political class that lacks principles and strength of character can hardly provide an enabling environment for credible elections to hold. The tendency is for it to always try to cut corners and operate on crass opportunism as was uniformly manifested in the local government elections across the states. Is the Nigerian political class ready to re-brand its present image to that of an empathic and selfless class guided by strength of character? I am afraid that no amount of reform of INEC can fulfil our hope of credible elections in the country if our politicians maintain the image of a ‘’people who use machetes, people who snatch ballot boxes and…people who carry axes, using offensive languages against their opponents who are not necessarily their enemies…’’( Iwu, 2009).

Can we talk of the political class contributing to credible elections when there is no appropriate connection between the generality of the people and many members of the class? To what extent do our politicians share same values, beliefs, attitudes, fears, aspirations and interests with their communities? Can one expect any honest conduct where there are clear gaps and conflicts between the people and their politicians during tense moments of electioneering? In a situation where there is a connection, the people may stand by the politician and not only facilitate credible elections but stand firm in guarding the votes to protect the legitimacy of the process. The reverse may also occur in form of apathy, subversion and connivance on the part of the people where there is a disconnect between them and the politicians. Instead, the people simply dismiss the exercise as an intra class fight for access to resources among the big fishes. The people turn themselves into amused observers in the Nigerian election theatre, sometimes cheering whoever that is able to outwit his politician colleague. After all, they are all seen as birds of the same feathers. Thus, observing the nature of the connection between the various politicians and their communities can inform us on what to expect in subsequent elections.

SPECIFIC RECOMMENDATIONS

To effectively fulfil its expected roles and responsibilities in ensuring credible elections and by extension sustainable democracy in the country, the political class is advised to:

· Change its general attitude, disposition towards political power and behaviour towards elections

· Commit itself to providing credible leadership for the various stakeholders engaged in the electoral process

· Support the sustenance of enabling environment for the preparation, conduct and acceptance of elections

· Reduce the level of desperation usually seen among politicians particularly during election periods

· Liaise with the right agencies to strengthen institutions like security agencies, civil society, the media, judiciary and the electoral body for them to effectively command the respect and confidence of the general public

· Condemn and punish all acts of electoral misbehaviours

· Avoid personalization of issues. Campaigns should be issue based and people centred

· Check the intolerant behaviour of incumbents who appropriate public resources for their party activities

· Institute and reflect fairness and transparency in all party activities particularly in internal party primary elections

· Discourage the negative influence of factors like money, godfathers and ethnicity in elections

· Serve the people right to command their support all times

CONCLUSION

Without doubt, the organization and holding of credible elections in the country will largely depend on the behaviour of the political class, the performance of the electoral body and the disposition of the Nigerian people. Of these, the commitment of the political class seems to be uppermost. I believe that if our politicians, individually and collectively, resolve to be principled and play the game from the level of the party through general elections based on the provisions of the law, we shall have credible elections. In such a situation, even the other stakeholders like the electoral body, security agencies, the civil society and the media, among others, may have no options than to reflect the new spirit in their works. But where the politician seeks for easy and fraudulent advantage over his opponents, then we shall continue to remain prisoners of fraudulent elections with all their attendant consequences.

I am optimistic that change is on its way to Nigeria. Our prayer is that the political class will realize the challenges confronting its members in terms of image and the expectations on them to imbibe contemporary global standards of good governance, ethical conduct and respect for the will of the people as manifested in elections. Once, we are able to re-brand the desperate behaviour of the Nigerian politician, defeat corruption, sanitize the performance of agencies involved in elections and eliminate apathy among the people, Nigeria will record credible elections and be a shining example of good people in a great nation with trustworthy politicians.

Finally, Mr Chairman, permit me to, once again, thank the organizers for inviting me to this distinguished forum. I am grateful for the opportunity. Most importantly, I wish to thank you all for being a wonderful and receptive audience. I appreciate your attention.

Thank you

REFERENCES

Guobadia, Abel (2003). Quoted in Kurfi, Ahmadu. Improving Management of Nigeria’s Electoral Process: Problems and Prospects. Int. HRLG

Heywood, Andrew (2006). Politics. New York: Palgrane Foundation

IDEA (2001).Democracy in Nigeria. Stockholm: IIDEA

Iwu, Maurice(2009). Interview with The Guardian Newspaper, May 9.

TMG (2003). Do the Votes Count? Final Report of the 2003 General Elections in Nigeria. Abuja.: TMG

Pate Umaru (2009). ‘’Imperatives of Electoral Reform in Nigeria: The Media Dimension’’. In Oso, Lai et al (eds). Media, Gove

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