Being Text of a speech delivered at the annual general meeting of The Association of Resident Doctors, Federal Medical Centre, Abeokuta, Ogun State, Nigeria – Wednesday, December 1, 2010.
I am most privileged and honoured to be here today as part of your Annual General Meeting with the all-important theme of our time: “Towards a Credible Election in 2011”.
We are all stakeholders in the Nigerian democratic process. We all need to play our roles effectively and participate fully to ensure that democracy is sustained in Nigeria. For the purpose of clarity, let us define some of our terminologies:
- Democracy; Democracy is a form of government in which power rests in the hands of the populace as a whole and is administered by them or by representatives elected by them. In other words, it is a political system where there is popular participation by citizens in governance. In a democracy, the majority governs while the rights of the minority are respected. (It is worthy of note that, in Nigeria, our parliamentarians do not represent their various communities in parliament; rather, they represent the parliament in their communities with their inflated lifestyles, courtesy of “legislooting”.)
- Elections; An election is a process through which qualifying citizens choose individuals to represent their interests in government by way of voting. Thus, elections can be seen as the hallmark of democracy since democracy without elections is no democracy at all.
- Things to know about the Elections/Voting; i. Every citizen aged 18 and above can register to vote and be voted for; ii. The right to vote cannot be denied by an arbitrary decision of registration/ election officials;iii. Any citizen dissatisfied with any aspect of an election has the right to challenge such in court or in special electoral tribunals;
- iv. Elections should not be the business of INEC alone; every citizen has an obligation to be a watchdog against abuse in the entire electoral system;
v. The watchdog role should not just begin or end with Voters’ Registration, Election Day, or INEC’s activities; it should also extend to party nomination processes;
vi. Every citizen and civil society organization has a right to demand that nomination processes be open, transparent, free, and fair;
vii. Voting is our civic responsibility. Our support for a candidate, political party or cause is meaningless if we do not vote. Political support and conviction should be translated into reality through voting. It is only when an election is free and fair that citizens will have confidence in the government and be committed to supporting it to succeed. SNG’s interpretation of the word ‘VOTE’ is Voice Of The Electorate. In 2011, every eligible voter’s voice must be heard;
viii. Every citizen has a duty to prevent rigging, particularly our youths. Rigging is undemocratic and against our fundamental right to freedom of choice; ix. Voters must never accept bribes, whether in cash or kind. Selling your vote amounts to selling your conscience, no matter the amount of money. Selling your vote is selling yourself short and selling your future and the future of generations yet unborn;x. Remember that a leader who bribes his way into power will never feel the need to be a responsible leader because he has bought your right to expect good representation.
Every Nigerian has the right to:
- Free, fair and transparent elections at all levels;
- Demand and access information on all parties and candidates for the purpose of making the right choice;
- Know the names and final tally of persons registered to vote in their community, especially those at their polling stations;
- Seek to know the number of people who voted in an election after its conclusion;
- Know the result of the election;
- Challenge any result that is fraudulent in a court or special electoral tribunal.
Many of us here today were all eyewitnesses when the Fourth Republic was born, following an election conducted by the military regime of General Abdulsalami Abubakar on May 29, 1999. That day, President Olusegun Obasanjo, like Joseph of old, was sworn in as the new Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces following his sojourn in prison. However, while Joseph repeatedly entreated the elders of Israel not to leave his bones in Egypt – his bones being symbolic of his administration’s structure, systems, and strategies that produced solution-oriented services to a nation and surrounding countries ravaged by famine -, Obasanjo’s main legacy in our electoral history is that of rigging and fraud. The last two elections in 2003 and 2007 were the worst in the history of our nation, especially the 2007 election in stark comparison to the election of June 12, 1993. Now, right before our eyes and in the lifetime of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the kingpin of electoral fraudsters, PDP’s house of cards has started crumbling especially in the Southern part of the country – Edo, Delta, Ondo, Ekiti, and Osun states, to be precise. In deed and in truth, any house built on the foundation of falsehood is bound to collapse. “Ile ti a ba fi tomo, iri ni o wo”.
Many have argued that the success of the June 12, 1993 election was due to option A4 – the open ballot system that was derived from the electoral law in operation at the time. That, in essence, is true, and we will focus on that shortly, but subsequent elections proved the words of Walter Bagehot accurate: “the structure of the world we often want is at the sudden occurrence of a grave tempest, to change the helmsman – to replace the pilot of the calm by the pilot of the storm”.
In 1999, in spite of personal warnings to the nation, we lost a golden opportunity to steer the ship of the nation aright despite the heavy price paid by NADECO and other patriotic civil organizations and pressure groups. Indeed, a revolution which lacks the anchor of ideology or the compass of principle will founder on the rocks of mere personality.
Truth be told, the foundering of our nation in going against the tide of true democratic principles began in 1999 when egocentric megalomaniacs took over the reins of power and the happiness of society was no longer the end of government, or the good of man the objective of our self-styled destructive politics.
In the end, when his third term agenda eventually failed, Obasanjo shot himself in the foot and gave us both Yar’adua and Jonathan Goodluck as his revenge. And just when we are beginning to think it is safe to go back in the water, the sharks are circling again.
What then must we do to be saved as a nation from the hands of our unrepentant electoral warlords who desire to remain in power by hook or crook? What must we do to puncture their self-fulfilling prophecy of ruling and ruining us for 60 years non-stop? I will do my best to answer these questions under the following headings:
- From its conception in ancient Greece and Rome, to its adoption in America in the 19th century, and its current status as the globally accepted form of government, Democracy in all its variants is essentially a product of law. Democracy is built on law and the rule of law flourishes in a democratic setting. Until Nigeria begins to practice government of laws and not just of men, true democrats and democracy itself will remain endangered species in our clime.The law as a whole is the pure cement that gives strength to the blocks needed to build a nation state on the time tested eternal principles of democracy, peace, justice and fair play. All the elements of democracy and electoral activities are determined by the law. The law determines who can vote and who can be voted for. In some societies, a criminal record does not only disenfranchise, it forbids the offender to seek election into a political office. The law determines who can be the electoral umpire and how long he can serve. The law determines when elections can hold. One of the main prerequisites of a free, fair and credible election is the existence of an independent judiciary to interpret electoral law. While we have seen the judiciary act in that capacity in the election petitions that flooded our courts in the last couple of years, it is very sad that our legal/court system permits election petitions to last too long such that the truly elected candidates may not be sworn in until riggers have been in power for close to 3½ years before judgment is eventually delivered. I foresee a great and cumbersome challenge post 2011 elections if, as is stated in the current electoral law, the court of first instance will be the Courts of Appeal that are few in number compared to the High Courts. It is to this end that the Save Nigeria Group has duly notified INEC in writing that to avoid excessive petitions that will overwhelm the Courts of Appeal, it is in our national interest to embrace the Modified Open Secret Ballot System of voting in the 2011 election. That way, rigging and other fraudulent electoral activities may be drastically reduced or minimized and, consequently, there will be fewer petitions which should be properly taken care of before victorious candidates in the election are sworn in.
- “The youth of a nation are the trustees of its posterity”. (Benjamin Disraeli)“For as long as there is youth in the world, the current of civilization will not flow backward”. (Helen Keller)Today, in an increasingly young and youthful world, the onus is on our youths to become the ‘vigilantes’ of a clean election. It is popularly believed that young people must be at the forefront of securing free, fair and credible elections, especially given that Nigerian youths constitute 60 per cent or more of the populace. As “Leaders of Now” and not “Leaders of the Future”, the youths must take concrete steps to ensure credible polls in 2011 if they hope to find a future in Nigeria. Youths who fall within the legal age to vote, which is 18 years and above, must actively participate in the entire political process in 2011 and beyond.In addition to the aforementioned, Civic Education must be an integral component of the process. We can’t talk about elections without civic education, and, unfortunately, not so much of that is taking place anywhere. Many citizens are not aware of their rights, talk less of knowing their wards. The role the youth should play is to become an active voice in the entire process. Let young people add their voice to the demand for credible elections come 2011. Their voice will be heard loudly if they are patriotic and that can be achieved if they stay away from being lured or bought over by politicians to vote for who and what they don’t want.
- i. Internal Democracy within political parties. This will give room for the emergence of the best, the brightest, the fittest and the most competent people at every level of governance;ii. A Credible Voters’ Register;iii. Impartial & Independent Security Agents;iv. Transparent collation at Collation Centres;
v. Prompt declaration of valid and authentic results;
vi. Impartial and fearless judiciary equipped and empowered to dispense justice speedily;
vii. Criminalization of election rigging.
In the history of our country, not a single election rigger has been jailed or has faced the wrath of the law. Consequently, as the Good Book says, “Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil”. (Ecclesiastes 9:11, NKJV)
To my mind, the 2011 election is the last opportunity to rewrite the history of Nigeria, a nation that hasn’t functioned for most of her 50 years of independence.
Nigerians within, those in the Diaspora, as well as Friends of Nigeria, namely the international community, must lean hard on the leadership in Nigeria to conduct free and fair elections in 2011 so as to finally pull the nation from the brink. The world cannot cope with a humanitarian crisis in a country of 150 million people and it is better not to imagine one at all.
For our part, the Save Nigeria Group, alongside other patriotic groups, has started a nationwide mobilization exercise because we firmly believe that it will take a critical mass of an awakened citizenry who will participate fully and actively in the coming registration exercise by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to turn Nigeria around. To break free from past lethargy, we have named 2011 The Year of The Voter and the acronym R.S.V.P (Register, Select, Vote, Protect) has become our political watchword in galvanizing our people. With God on our side, we trust Nigeria will not only be pulled from the brink, but that for the first time in a long time, the best, the brightest, the fittest and the most credible visionary leaders with a clear mission to make Nigeria great will emerge from the 2011 elections.
Thank you for listening.
Pastor ‘Tunde Bakare
Serving Overseer, The Latterrain Assembly &
Convener, Save Nigeria Group