Democracy On Sale

This publication has had cause on many occasions to thank the Nigerian judiciary for their examplary work in sustaining democracy in our country.

The gratitude of the nation is eternal and we cannot thank them enough and wish them well. No emoluments or comfort can be too much for our nation’s judiciary in order to help them to sustain their pivotal work in a good atmosphere and an invigorating environment.

Having reiterated the obvious, we must now acknowledge that the judiciary cannot alone save or enhance Nigeria’s nascent democracy (to use a well worn phrase). Most of the courts (there have alas, been some unpardonable exceptions) have done their work well. They have lived up admirably to their oaths of office.

However, the democratic process continues long after they have as it were, discharged their briefs. It cannot be part of the job of the judiciary to, for example, conduct new elections after annulling previous electoral chicaneries. This is the work cut out by the constitution and the country’s electoral laws for the electoral commission.

There is however a problem here. Where, as is the case in Nigeria, the electoral commission is far from being independent of outside interfering political forces, there is clearly a problem. The condemnation of the elections held on the 14th and 21st of April, 2007 were not based on a whim. Local and foreign observers, correctly and commonsensically saw them for what they are – a sham.

This absurd apologies for electoral arbitration have been correctly labelled by most people as the worst in anybody’s living experience. Not surprisingly, the Carter Centre resolutely refused to certify them. Indeed, the venerable centre, founded by the highly regarded former United States President, Jimmy Carter.

It is clearly absurd that the same electoral commission which contrived to make the country the laughing stock of the world can now hold re-run or by-elections. President Umaru Yar’Adua were he not hamstrung by his party – the misnamed “Peoples(?) Democratic Party” should have done the sensible thing. This should have been in the form of a statesman act, which would have entailed sending an address to the National Assembly calling for the removal of Maurice Iwu as head of INEC.

This would have been the first, laudable step towards cleansing the entire organization of the rot and partisan rigmarole in which it is enmeshed. This has not been allowed to happen and the country are very much the poorer for it.

The independence of the judiciary has acted as a break from the country degenerating into the Kenya cesspool. In Kenya, loss of faith in the impartiality as well as the efficacy of the judiciary led to those cheated taking ‘direct action’. The result sadly left hundreds of people dead and over 300,000 displaced. We have, fortunately, so far being spared all this.

However, the current attitude of INEC is fraught with grave dangers. It is now clear that the re-run elections have become cash and carry affairs. The court ordered re-runs are clearly not reflecting the wishes of a people who are now being twice cheated and denied. The denial of the right of a people to self-determination as well as the right to freely chose their own leaders is going to create problems and cannot endure.

The magnitude of corruption entailed in the country’s by-elections is mind-boggling and must stop. It is obvious that what the forces working against democracy want is already happening.

Throughout the by-elections in Kogi, Bayelsa, Sokoto and elsewhere the same decimal is recurring. Violence and the loss of faith in the electoral process is lending to apathy and an abandonment of the ballot box. Now, when people lose faith in the ballot box, what happens next? Where do they go?

The president should seek to go in history as the man who enthroned lasting democracy, democratic culture and values in Nigeria. He must find the political will and the courage to disband the discredited Iwu-led INEC and start anew. Failure cannot be contemplated. For a time comes when a people have had enough of the contrived denial of their rights.

It is our prayer that we never get to that bridge. Let the president act now, do the right thing and remove Iwu and his discredited underlings now!

•This piece first published in our Friday May 30, 2008 edition is repeated due to public demand.

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