Panacea to credible elections

Nigeria’s democracyI REGARD it as an honour and privilege to be asked to propose a toast to democracy at this historic banquet. For us in Nigeria, a State dinner on the eve of the inauguration of a new President should happen once in four years and should provide a social occasion for the out-going President to say au revoir and formally introduce the incoming President to the State guests.

Democracy as a system of government began over 2,500 years ago in Athens in ancient Greece; but it acquired its most modern definition and characteristics in Abraham Lincoln’s famous words that it is ‘the government of the people, by the people and for the people’.

The essence of this is that democracy is government by persons chosen by the people to govern and be accountable to the people who have chosen them. Thus, election being the process by which the people choose their government is a basic ingredient of democracy.

Although the structure of democratic government may vary with different national circumstances, there are other essential ingredients of every genuine democracy.

They include accountability, freedom of speech and association, the rule of law, the independence of the Judiciary, and respect for human rights. However, given the constraint of time, I shall in proposing this toast focus only on elections, particularly the last national elections in Nigeria.

As is well known, Nigeria has had an unhappy history of elections. Our elections have in the past been marred by violence and malpractices.

There are many reasons for this; reasons that I believe should be addressed if we are to make our national elections more credible and more violence-free. First, we must discourage the “do-or-die” approach to elections by reducing the financial and material benefits that come from winning elections.

At present, the rewards of winning elections at the three tiers of the country’s government are such as to induce the contestants to want to stop at nothing to win. For example, Nigeria’s parliamentary representatives are among the highest remunerated in both developing and developed countries of the world.

Secondly, many politicians vying for positions resort to a number of malpractices such as enlisting the services of thugs to intimidate and harass their opponents, compromising electoral officials wherever they can, and, as they say, encouraging their supporters in one election, to “vote early and vote often”.

Thirdly, we must also address the issue of the cost of elections. The role of money is responsible for many deficiencies in our elections.

There should be a limit, to be rigidly monitored and enforced, to what political parties can demand as registration fees from their prospective candidates, as well as to what the candidates themselves can spend on their campaigns.

And fourthly, we must address the question of elected representatives defecting from the political parties on the platform of which they campaigned and won the election.

The relevant laws should be tightened in order to check the crass opportunism and betrayal involved. Happily, our recent elections marked a great advance from the previous elections.

Although we are still some distance from attaining the universally accepted standards of political campaigns and casting of votes, such as was witnessed exactly three weeks ago in the United Kingdom, our last national elections were undoubtedly fairer and more credible than the elections of past years.

For this significant advance in our democracy, the nation owes gratitude to the outgoing President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, who since assuming office has pursued his declared determination to give the country free and fair elections. Of course, the INEC under its indefatigable Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, and all the Presidential candidates who on January 14, 2015 committed themselves to violence-free elections by signing the Abuja Accord, must also be acknowledged as having contributed to the success of the elections.

The evolving democratic culture in Nigeria has been further strengthened by the statesmanship of President Jonathan in telephoning to congratulate General Buhari even before the final results of the election were announced by INEC.

This gesture, together with the earlier instantaneous concession of defeat by Governor Kayode Fayemi in Ekiti State, has set an imitable example for future contestants in our national elections.

By that singular act, President Jonathan doused the prevailing tension in the country, and proved wrong the doomsayers who had predicted chaos and even a break-up of Nigeria after the 2015 elections.

I believe that historians will judge him kindly for that, as they would also complement General Buhari for his gracious reciprocation of the gesture.

In every country, the inauguration of a new elected administration brings with it fresh hopes for the nation’s progress.

And in this particular case, the hopes of Nigerian citizens are founded not just on his campaign promises but more importantly, on the expectation that the incoming President Muhammadu Buhari will bring to bear on his Administration and country, the generally perceived attributes of his character namely, a strong sense of discipline, an implacable aversion to corruption, a frugal life style that shuns ostentation and display of opulence, and most importantly, his strong commitment to the welfare of the masses.

In conclusion, now that the vigorous competition induced by the elections is over and the people have chosen their new President, I call on all Nigerians, irrespective of how they voted in the elections, to join hands in pursuit of the consolidation of our democracy and the upliftment of our country.

That is the charge with which I now invite all of you distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen to be upstanding to drink a toast to Democracy.

May God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and all the countries represented here tonight. • Chief Emeka Anyaoku, CFR, CON delivered this address in a toast to democracy, at the eve of the Inauguration State Banquet in Abuja on 28th May, 2015

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