A quest for free, fair elections

THE GUARDIAN Newspaper- Bertram Nwannekanma

THE hallowed conference hall of the Wellington Hotels, Effurun, Delta State had played host to many grand events before penultimate Saturday's. But the kind of audience that converged on the chilled hall that day was unique.

This is because it brought together politicians of different persuasions to the same table to dissect a thorny issue in the body politic. The politicians are not just Urhobo sons and daughters who know each other to their roots. No, they are politicians from different ethnic backgrounds across the country.

It was also not the Urhobo Progress Union (UPU), which called the participants. Rather, it was the Urhobo Social Club (USC), a Lagos-based socio-cultural club that conceived the idea, called together all the different people and used the wide reach of the UPU to galvanize the Urhobos to buy into the vision.

The organizers called Action Congress (AC) party Edo State governor, Adams Aliu Oshiomhole to the same table with Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Delta State governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan to share views on organisation of credible elections.

Oshiomhole knows the pains of flawed elections as he waited for one year before the courts declared him winner. Uduaghan also knows the definition of incredible elections as almost three years into his first tenure, he was in the tribunal battling opponents who wanted to upturn his victory at the polls.

Also called by USC was the chief umpire of the most vilified elections in Nigeria, Prof. Maurice Iwu, to come share his views on the way forward for future elections in the country. Of course, everyone knows that all Urhobos are not in one political party. So, the stage was set for a witty battle of epic proportions. And the topic may seem simple on the surface but beneath it was a loaded barrel. It was: "The benefits of credible elections".

It was the Club's 2010 Mukoro Mowoe Lecture Series instituted since 1998 to honour one of the ethnic group's most visionary leaders in the 1940's.

Shortly after the monthly environmental sanitation exercise was over at 10.00 a.m., dignitaries started arriving for the 11.00 a.m. event. Among the very important persons that came included His Excellency, the first civilian governor of Delta State, current President-General of UPU and chairman of the lecture, Olorogun Senator Felix Ibru; former military governor of old Mid Western State, Maj.-Gen. David Ejoor (rtd); the Acting Governor of Delta State who stood in for Uduaghan, Prof. Amos Utuama (SAN); former ECOMOG Commander and Orhue I, the Orodje of Okpe Kingdom, Maj.-Gen. Felix Mujakperuo (rtd) who was also the Royal Father of the Day; Senator Fred Brume; erudite scholar and former Chief of Staff in Delta State government, Prof. Gabriel Gordini (GG) Darah, and an array of other prominent Urhobo professionals, politicians and sons and daughters. The President of USC, Senior Evangelist Emmanuel Evue led quality members of his club to the event.

Welcoming dignitaries, Evue said the USC was determined to focus on pan-Nigeria topical issues and the most contentious being the benefits of future credible elections: "By May 2010, Nigeria would have practiced democracy under the 1999 Constitution for 11 years. Some key questions raised by the Club include: 'Is our democracy working? Is the common dictum of one man, one vote, being observed in our electoral practices? Is the man on the street better of today than he was in 1999? What then are the ways out of the dungeon?'"

When the microphone was passed to the guest speaker and gifted orator, Governor Oshiomhole to dissect the topic, the audience was brought into a new life. He said that credible elections couldn't take place in Nigeria until the political elites are enlightened on the difference between political office and private business.

Lamenting that many political office holders' dream is to commission old toilets or poorly constructed roads, which they gleefully call "dividends of democracy"; he asked whether roads constructed by good-hearted military governors should be called "the dividends of despotism?"

He expressed regrets that those in office have become confused in that they equate the office of the governor to family business, without recognizing that people remain both the drivers and engine in democracy.

According to him, in a genuine democracy, only the people matter not those in office. To him, a good number of the political elites do not see it so especially those who are already benefiting.

Oshiomhole said: "As leaders, we must be ready to hold office only when the electorate demands, hence the world is impatient with Nigeria.

"The world is fed up with Nigeria. The way out is electoral reform where every person has only one vote and the vote must count.

"It is our interest in democracy to allow ourselves to be defeated, if it is what the people want. We must encourage peaceful change through one-man, one-vote. Those who need enlightenment are not the masses but those holding political offices; they should be enlightened on the difference between public office and private business.

"Nigeria is in danger if we cannot get out democracy right", he added.

According to him, about 80 per cent of elected office holders in the country cannot say they were duly elected in a free and fair election.

A democratic system that does not represent an agitation of the electorate, he said, should not be called democracy.

Nigerians, he went on, were unanimous that the 2007 elections represent a serious drift towards anarchy, which the president, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar'Adua accepted as such. That was why he set up the Mohammed Uwais Electoral Reforms Panel out of his conviction, not out of pressure.

Oshiomhole regretted that all political actors in the country do not share Yar'Adua's views.

He said Nigeria has enough legal framework for credible elections, declaring that the problem was not the law but lays with political parties, which do not have internal democracy.

He said that rather than political parties determining who is their candidate to contest an election, godfathers determine over 90 per cent of those that go for the elections.

Nigerians, he said, had demonstrated beyond any shadow of doubt that they want democracy by the number of people queuing on Election Day. He said it was the main reason why Urhobo Social Club organised the lecture to demonstrate that Nigerians want credible elections. The outcome of flawed elections colour the character and quality of those in government.

For Olorogun Ibru, the lecture topic was apt and relevant to the issues in the country.

According to him, at no other time has the issue of credible elections been more critical and virulent in our national democratic enterprise than now.

"Our experience in electoral engineering from the first, through the second to the third republics, ought to have repositioned us on a sound pedestal that would enable us compete favourably with the acknowledged civil democracies across the world.

"Unfortunately, events in our polity, particularly in the recent past, tend to show that we have learnt nothing from our past mistakes", he added.

Ibru said the present state of affairs is frightening, adding that all patriotic Nigerians who consider themselves stakeholders in the survival of our young democracy must come together to arrest and reverse this negative trend.

"Let me also add that my joy is buoyed by a ray of hope flashed sporadically at the polity. I refer specifically to the judiciary", he concluded.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman, Prof. Iwu who was represented by Lagos State INEC Commissioner, Mr. Moses Ogbe, called for active participation in the political process by Nigerians to get it right.

According to him, the Commission in its continuous efforts to bring improvement into the electoral environment has embarked on a number of reforms, which include the decision to use National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) members in future elections.

The INEC boss described managing a young democracy in a dynamic society like Nigeria as a difficult task especially when the challenges have become daunting by the extant social habits and tendencies that define the environment of politics particularly elections over the years.

According to him, INEC has observed that the deployment of ad hoc staff that has no proper form of identification has not in any way enhanced the outcome of elections in the past.

Another area the Commission hopes will reduce the friction of election is the decision for representatives of political parties and security agencies to take note of serial numbers of all sensitive materials being used for an election.

Host governor Uduaghan, agreed that credible elections is the only guarantee for good governance.

According to him, Nigeria has a responsibility to conduct credible elections having chosen the path of democracy, which provides that leadership should come through regular elections where people freely choose their leaders.

Utuama said: "Voters must be convinced that their votes count and that majority of the people responsible for the electoral process operate legitimately within the legal frame work".


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