In June 23, 2016, the former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Anan, in his speech at the CDD Kronti ne Akwamu Lecture, while speaking on “Credible and Peaceful Elections: A Prerequisite for Africa’s Progress”, said: “Today, almost every leader claims to govern by democratic principles and organises periodic elections, most of which are open and fair.
“But there are many leaders who manipulate the system to make sure they win. In other words, rather than impose their rule through brute force, these leaders are tempted to subvert the legal and democratic framework. It is rule by law, rather than rule of law”
This is not only true about Africa but has become established by the outcome of the 2019 general elections in Nigeria.
Leaders across board, at federal, state and local government levels, in a bid to either remain in power or capture power by any means, have continued to not only manipulate the electoral process, but have also dangerously been attempting to capture the soul of the country’s judiciary.
The situation gets more complicated when the electoral umpire appears as collaborator with such leaders.
In Nigeria, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as at May 27, 2019, said a total of 64 Certificates of Return were withdrawn and re-issued to persons declared winners by courts of law, following the 2019 general elections.
The INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, who this at the presentation of Certificates of Return to the then Zamfara State Governor-elect and members of the National and State House of Assembly-elect from the state, vowed that the Commission reject submission of names of candidates by political parties under Sec. 31 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) unless there is evidence, monitored by the Commission, of compliance with the provision of Sec. 87 of the Act.
“Party members interested in contesting elections start as aspirants before they emerge as candidates through the democratic process of direct or indirect primaries enshrined in Sec. 87 of the Electoral Act”, he said.
However, with the increasing number of court voided electoral process that have led to candidates, where winners declared by INEC have been sacked by the courts, the credibility of election since 2019 has nosedived for the worse from the 2015 general election that saw the defeat of an incumbent president of Nigeria.
It then becomes very worrisome that following the trend of dissatisfaction and high number of litigation associated with the 2019 general elections, we are worried that the 2023 general elections may not be any better.
With several Professors from our universities serving as returning officers, who returned candidates whose elections were subsequently voided by the courts, it raises questions if professors should still continue to serve as returning officers in our elections.
We believe that lack of sanctions against returning officers and INEC staff who were part of electoral process that returned a candidate whose election was eventually voided by the courts as a result of over voting, figure errors or obvious inflation of votes, is responsible for unabated electoral fraud.
Ahead of future elections, there is need to ensure that everyone who is involved in electoral offences, is not only arrested but diligently prosecuted. If constitution amendment will be the only solution to punishing electoral offences, it is a task worth every well-meaning Nigerian should be committed to accomplishing.
Desperation by politicians and glaring compromise by INEC officials will not abate until election manipulators and compromised electoral officials are promptly punished or jailed as a deterrence to others.