Ethical, moral imperative of credible elections (1)
AS a process, the 2015 Elections started soon after the conduct of the 2011 National and State Elections, with the litigations and court rulings that resulted in the discordance we now have in the electoral calendar of a number of states, including Kogi and Bayelsa.
The electioneering processes include the amendment of electoral law (whenever such is called for), the registration of political parties, the setting up of election time-table, the voter registration exercise, the conduct of party primaries and the emergence of candidates, and the campaigns leading up to the conduct of the elections on election day.
Elections are won or lost on account of what happens throughout the entire process, and not just the singular event of election day; and elections would be judged credible or non-credible, free and fair or rigged on account of the integrity of the entire process, and not simply what happens on election day.
I have decided to reflect in this keynote address on the Ethical and Moral Imperatives of Credible Elections, and hope that it can generate the kind of discussions envisioned by the learned organisers of this symposium. My impression is that many of those engaged in contemporary Nigerian politics do not seem to realise that there are not only legal, but also ethical and moral dimensions to political conduct.
Many do not seem to realise that almost all political, economic and legal issues that we are confronted with in our society are also moral and ethical issues that should engage the human conscience and consciousness. With regard to the conduct of elections in our society for example, looting of national, state or local government treasury for the purpose of buying party chiefs and the electorate; intimidation, killing and maiming of opponents and the destruction of their property; multiple registration and multiple voting; substitution of candidates, diversion of electoral materials, selling of voters cards, stashing of and stealing of voter boxes, falsification of figures – if any of these crimes is still possible in the era of card readers; declaration of false results; receiving of bribes and the favouring of one candidate against another by agents of the law; corrupt deals and judicial malpractices at the election tribunals, etc, are not simply electoral offences or an assault on universally accepted democratic principles.
They are criminal offences and over and above all a violation of the elementary ethical and moral principles of Truth and Justice, Equity and Fairness, Honesty and Integrity.
Such violation of moral and ethical principles is known by Christians as sin. No one who engages in any of the above electoral offences can lay claim to any measure of moral probity. Such unscrupulous persons – who have no qualms of conscience – constitute an evil force in the society which must be exposed and destroyed, if we are ever to make progress as a people or find peace, security and stability as a nation.
In the month of June 2007, a conference was held in Loccum, Germany, to discuss the Nigerian political situation. It brought together stakeholders of diverse backgrounds from Nigeria and Germany to brainstorm. Under the rather curious theme, “Nigeria: Too Rich for Dignity and the Law?” and coming shortly after the 2007 general elections that generated a lot of controversies, the workshop was an occasion to focus attention on the contradictions of Nigeria, and attempt to draw up recommendations on the way forward.
At the conference, one Heinrich Bergstresser, a German participant who has spent many years researching on Nigeria, observed that Nigerians are an extremely creative and constructive people, but that there is in the country what he called “a destructive undercurrent” that accounts for the fragile balance which has been the fate of the country since its Independence from the British.
What according to this speaker is missing is “some initial spark that would turn the fragile balance closer towards the first stage of nation building.” Unfortunately, whatever this “initial spark” is has remained elusive, and in my opinion the heightened anxiety and palpable fear that characterise each electioneering period in this country, the widespread acrimony and cash-and-carry party primaries that precede most of our gubernatorial and national elections, seem to have rendered what Heinrich Bergstresser called the “fragile balance” of our country, even more precariously fragile.
Let us face it: Many of our country men and women continue to approach politics with a killer’s torch. Party primaries at state and federal levels have often been an exercise in high-level brigandage, by which the infrastructures of state are used to intimidate the opposition, and looted resources of state are distributed openly to buy the allegiance of congress delegates, and as could be expected, the results often go in favour of the highest bidder.
There is often widespread lack of truth and justice and a prevailing culture of fraud in the political mechanisms and processes nearly across the board. The cumulative result is the outrageous number of litigations in our courts, arising from party primaries and the elections proper, as well as a preponderance of anger and frustration among aspirants to political office. Political parties are often dangerously split into warring factions, poisoning the polity and heightening the tension in the land.
This is why violence looms over the horizon, where it is not already being prosecuted through bomb blasts, direct assassinations, arson and sundry attacks as we have witnessed in several flashpoints in this country, including Kogi and Bayelsa states. Yes, today many Nigerians do prepare for the elections as if for war.
For a cross section of politicians, it is a do-or-die affair. We have witnessed situations in the past where arms and ammunition large enough to prosecute a civil war, are being imported in the build-up to state and federal elections, to the consternation of the generality of our people. What are the moral and ethical implications of all these for a people who pride in calling themselves religious?
To be continued tomorrow.
•Rev. Fr. Ehusani, Executive Director, Lux Terra Leadership Foundation, delivered this as Keynote Address at the Symposium organised by the Voter Education Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association for stakeholders in preparation for the 2015 gubernatorial elections of Kogi and Bayelsa states, at Lokoja, on September 18, 2015.