Standing at the rostrum just after he was sworn in as president on 29 May 2007, the late Umaru Yar’Adua calmed the nerves of a tense nation and the diplomats then present at Eagle Square in Abuja by making a firm promise to reform our electoral process: “I will set up a panel to examine the entire electoral process with a view to ensuring that we raise the quality and standard of our general elections, and thereby deepen our democracy,” he said.
Yar’Adua rightly saw the presidency as an opportunity to strike a deal with providence. “Do the right thing,” providence told him, “and I’ll be kind to you.” He took the challenge and providence fulfilled its promise.
Yar’Adua started the reforms that culminated in the 2010 Electoral Law. The most important part—the voters register—broke one of the three legs on which the pot of election rigging in Nigeria stands. Pegging the number of voters to a definite, real maximum that cannot be exceeded as total number of votes cast at any particular polling unit helped reduce the rigging probably by a half or more. Yar’Adua was the last truly Hausa-Fulani leader of the old school whom you can take their word to the bank.
An equal credit, if not bigger, must be given to his successor, who saw the reforms through. He appointed Professor Jega, solely on merit, who compiled the voters register and, together with the civil society organisations, presented a bill to the National Assembly, which President Jonathan courageously signed into law. In 2015, Dr Jonathan broke the second leg of our election rigging pot by introducing the card reader which limited the total number of votes cast in a polling unit to only those that were accredited.
Providence fulfilled its promise to Jonathan. This was attested to by his opponent-successor before a world audience as early as 2015. Speaking at the American Institute of Peace just after his inauguration, President Buhari saluted Nigerians for “the patriotism and commitment” and commended “INEC, CSOs and other non-state actors for their various efforts at improving the electoral process and entrenching the democratic culture.” Then he followed by dropping the kind words of providence on Dr. Jonathan. President Buhari said: “I would like to seize this opportunity also, to once again, pay tribute to my predecessor, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, for his uncommon display of statesmanship in setting the pace for Africa. His conduct and outlook in the aftermath of the elections have further proven that the African electoral system is gaining strength and maturity.”
Knowing that it was then his turn, President Buhari pronounced his deal with providence, as his predecessors, did in very clear terms. Buhari, once more, stated: “I feel confident that, going forward, our electoral body will apply lessons learned to improve its processes, including the use of appropriate technologies in the conduct of elections, and innovative approaches to voter education. To this end, I intend to raise the cost of impunity by working with the National Assembly to strengthen our electoral laws in ways that would provide stiffer penalties against all forms of electoral malpractices. The enforcement of the laws would equally be given greater impetus.”
Instead of listening to the voice of the nation and follow its heartbeat, he has repeatedly sought and obeyed the counsel of selfish politicians who are neither honest nor strong enough to face Nigerian voters, fair and square, on Election Day as Dr. Jonathan did in 2015. They advised him against signing the bill before the 2019 elections. They have advised him not to sign it now. This is the sixth time he would reject it
Coming from a person who has suffered ravages of rigged elections three times in 12 years, there was no better promise he could make unto himself, his country and humanity. Providence also availed him with all the tools that would make fulfilling that promise very easy. The “use of appropriate technologies” he referred to in that 2015 speech are here, cheap and effective. The National Assembly is ever willing, just as INEC, CSOs and the entire country are anxious, “to strengthen our electoral laws.”
Even as at 2018, it seemed that it would require just one strike of the president’s pen to free Nigerians from the monster of election rigging by breaking the last leg of that notorious pot—the validity of election data transmitted to INEC server from the polling and collection units. To me, that is the most important component of the new electoral bill.
Yet, despite the promise, the ease of technology and the enthusiasm of the nation, the president has capitulated too much and so many times on fulfilling his promise. Unlike Yar’Adua and Jonathan, he is daring providence to say its worst about him. Right at the time when he would engrave his name boldly on the rock of Nigerian history by following his conscience, he has chosen to abandon it and write his name on the flowing stream of political opportunism.
Instead of listening to the voice of the nation and follow its heartbeat, he has repeatedly sought and obeyed the counsel of selfish politicians who are neither honest nor strong enough to face Nigerian voters, fair and square, on Election Day as Dr. Jonathan did in 2015. They advised him against signing the bill before the 2019 elections. They have advised him not to sign it now. This is the sixth time he would reject it despite the promise that he would do so if the National Assembly would bend over backwards to expunge some of its provisions.
The prevailing commentary in the country sadly reads that the president has broken so many promises he made to Nigerians and has not lived to their expectations. I doubt if he will claim, in all honesty, that he has fulfilled the promises he made unto himself or met his expectations either.
If I were the president, I would choose to be kind to myself by rejecting the fears of my party and sign the new bill into law. After all, in few months time, all the politicians urging me to give them the chance to rig the 2023 elections would not turn up at Shehu Close, Kaduna, to ask about my wellbeing. My only companion after the presidency will be providence. I would better be on its good side before it is too late.
* Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde writes from Bauchi
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