By Vincent Ujumadu, Awka
A keynote speaker at the 3rd International Conference organized by Nnamdi Azikiwe University Business School, Dr. Okey Anueyiagu has said that unbridled electoral fraud in Nigeria is undermining the country’s democracy, arguing that the only way to solve the problem is to guarantee the freedom of the electoral umpire.
Anueyiagu warned that if the fraudulent system leads to the failure of Nigeria’s democracy, it would have a ripple effect on the African continent, with the attendant repercussion on the people.
He said: “Electoral fraud all over Nigeria has facilitated the overthrow and stifling of democracy. All over the country, there are very severe problems of governance and very deep pockets of disaffection.
“The major problem with Nigeria’s democracy is the failure of the state since 1999 to consolidate the gains of the momentum generated when Obasanjo became president. Emerging democracies must demonstrate that they can solve their governance problems and meet their citizens’ expectations for freedom, justice, a better life, and a fairer society.
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“If democracies do not move effectively to contain crime and corruption, generate economic growth, relieve economic inequality, and secure freedom and the rule of law, people will eventually lose faith and turn to authoritarian alternatives. And this is the inevitable way that Nigeria is going today.
“There is absolutely no doubt that democracy is the best form of government, but struggling democracies, such as Nigeria’s, must be consolidated so that all levels of society become enduringly committed to the ethos of democracy as enshrined in the country’s constitutional norms and constraints.
“Considering the strategic importance of Nigeria in the world economic and political arena, many are worried about this trend, and asking how to reverse this democratic recession. Before and from the day Obasanjo allegedly attempted to elongate his mandatory tenure, otherwise known as the “third term”, all manners of the expansion of executive power, the intimidation of the opposition, and the rigging of the electoral process have extinguished even the most basic form of electoral democracy.
“Nigeria as in many other developing democracies is plagued by a superficial type of democracy, that is blighted by multiple forms of bad governance: abusive police and security forces, domineering local oligarchies, incompetent state bureaucracies, corrupt and inaccessible judiciaries, and venal ruling elites who are contemptuous of the rule of law and accountable to no one but themselves. In this country, there are elections, but they are contests between corrupt parties.
“There are parliaments, state and local governments, but they do not represent broad constituencies. There are constitutions, but not constitutionalism. Is democracy not over now?
The level of voter disillusionment and disenfranchisement has reached a very high pitch, resulting in massive cases of democratic distress.
“The biggest challenge for the survival of democracy in Nigeria lay partly on the willingness of the ruling party to; listen to their citizens’ voices, engage their participation, tolerate their protests, protect their freedoms, and respond to their needs. We must confront the monstrous electoral authoritarianism as practiced by Prof. Mahmood Yakubu’s INEC.
Elections are only democratic if they are truly free and fair. This requires the freedom to advocate, associate, contest, and campaign. It also requires a fair and neutral electoral administration, a widely credible system of dispute resolution, balanced access to mass media, and independent vote monitoring.
“By a strict application of these standards, Nigeria may have slipped below the threshold of democracy. Nigeria’s promising democratic experiment has been gravely ravaged by electoral fraud and endemic corruption. If this experiment fails, and Nigeria reverts to military rule, descends into political chaos, or collapses, it will deal a harsh blow to democratic hopes across Africa.
“Since the return of democratic rule in 1999, some achievements have been made in the economic sphere, but much of this progress has since unraveled amid the paroxysms of ethnic and religious violence, and by the disruptive militant conflicts in the North, Niger Delta, and Southeast regions.
“Government has woefully failed politically, by condoning or even perpetrating massive electoral malpractice, corruption, ethnic favouritism — a poisonous mix that has brought a promising new democracy to the brink of total chaos.
“The consequential failures of our democratic experiments are grossly portrayed and projected in the recent electoral melodramatics in Edo, Ondo, and Rivers States. Critics of government and INEC point to Aso Rock as the autocratic machine spinning violently and virulently within the electoral power vertical that endangers the political process. These critics, while admitting that our electoral process, by virtue of the human and financial investments in it, ought to be, at this stage, fairly developed, or even highly sophisticated, call the system, useless. In this wise, our elections are isolated from the process of endowing the polity with power; they invariably amount to nothing more than expensive rituals of corruption, bloodletting, death, and disgraceful concentric tragedies.
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“Paradoxically, the tragedy we face here is that the same institutions designed to ensure proper electoral probity and transparency, become essential tools in the hands of our authoritarian political practitioners who desire authoritarianism and the very death of democracy.”
”The failure of the state and its apparatus to consolidate on some of the gains and momentum generated with the 1999-2007 democratic experiment has exposed without any shadow of a doubt, that government has failed woefully to solve our governance problems and have not met Nigerians’ expectations for freedom, justice, equity, security, a better life, and a fairer society.
“Our political parties and politicians have come, not to view their rivals as legitimate opponents, with different views and opinions for the common good of the country, but as dangerous enemies that must be destroyed by all means necessary.”
He argued that the electorate had a major role to play in ensuring that the nation’s fragile democracy withstands the challenges and urged enlightened citizens and voters to take up the litmus test of identifying and singling out would-be dictators and autocrats before they were elected.
“The doors into elected offices and power must be closed to would-be authoritarians and extremists. The failure, from the outset, to prevent opportunists and extremists who, when elected, transform into full-blown dictators and enemies of democracy, will imperil the institutions and the country,” he added.
Vanguard News Nigeria
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