Posted by By CHIDI OBINECHE on
The 2007 polls have gone into history as one of the most controversial in Nigeria’s more than four decades as a sovereign nation.The election threw up a number of issues, key amongst which is the sanctity of our democratic institutions.
The 2007 polls have gone into history as one of the most controversial in Nigeria’s more than four decades as a sovereign nation.The election threw up a number of issues, key amongst which is the sanctity of our democratic institutions. The Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC), the courts, the security agencies are basically democracy supporting institutions.
Allegations against the poll border generally on voter register irregularities, multiple voting, voters’ intimidation, violence, thuggery, and other vices.
In the build-up to the elections, INEC boss, Prof. Maurice Iwu, brushing aside widespread criticism, hysteria and pessimism had promised to deliver a “free and fair” election, even if it is the last thing he will do in his lifetime.
Even after the elections and the subsequent spate of judicial reversal of the results of the polls, Iwu has persistently adjudged the election excellent.
For good measure, the 2007 polls in Nigeria generated considerable local and international interest. Elections in the country since independence have often been marked by irregularities and procedural flaws, and although the country had returned to democratic rule in 1999 after years of military occupation, by 2007, and after two general elections, 1999 and 2003 respectively, there was no evidence to show that the structure and politics of electoral contest was well established enough to guarantee the integrity of the ballot and the people’s freedom to choose their own leaders.
That of 2007 was compounded by the attempt at tenure elongation by the Olusegun Obasanjo regime, which invariably set the agenda for alleged dizzying and harphazard preparations, by the electoral agencies.
By February 2007, the polity had watched, mouth agape with greater scrutiny and apprehension, and in some cases, doubts were expressed on the sincerity of the political umpires. It became more remarkable because Nigeria was transiting from a civilian government to another. There were corresponding posers on the ability of the civilian leaders to rise above pecuniary, mundane interests and manage democratic transition. Would Nigeria, Africa’s largest, but remarkably weak democracy scale the hurdle or implode?
There was also unabating crisis in the Niger-Delta region, which taxed the government and the people and created anxiety on the possibility of holding elections in such testy atmosphere.
However, it held, and another ‘fledgling’ democracy took roots. The verdict from the international and local observers, the civil society and the media, was, however, not salutary. These groups in tandem dismissed the election as the worst in the nation’s history. The observers slammed INEC for gross incompetence and partisanship. In several newspaper editorials, there were angry demands for the immediate dismissal or resignation of Iwu and his commissioners.
INEC got unceasing bashing for not being an impartial umpire. But Iwu rode the crest, taking on the critics frontally, seeking to justify the performance of INEC, and giving it an excellent pass mark of above eighty per cent. It stoked the fire of interest of urgent electoral reforms and the overhauling of the electoral machinery.
Politicians from the opposition camp were less than statesmanly in their condemnation of the performance of INEC. They accused the organisation of surrendering its autonomy to the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP).
In spite of the grandstanding of INEC, the European Union Election Observation Mission, (EUEOM) said that the polls fell short of both international and regional standards. The report, which was announced by the Chief Observer, Mr. Max Van den Berg came barely 24 hours after the Federal Government named a 22-man electoral reforms panel, headed by a former Chief Justice of the nation, Mohammed Uwais.
Presenting the report to journalists, Berg mentioned article 25 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and articles, 3, 5, 6 and 7 of the ECOWAS Protocol on democracy and good governance as some of the international laws, which the polls failed to meet their benchmarks.
He said that since Nigeria was a signatory to the articles, it behoved it to ensure that its elections met their standards.
Apart from these reports, Yar’Adua also publicly acknowledged that the elections that brought him to power was highly flawed. This self admission put a question mark on the legitimacy of his regime.
Berg, who warned that the EU might withdraw its support for future elections in Nigeria, said the results of the polls could not inspire confidence in Nigerians.
The EU chief observer said, “We feel extremely disappointed that things were worse in 2007 than they were in 2003. Nigerians feel de-motivated.
“We shall have to disengage with the government if it is not showing the political will to make the democratic highway better. But we will not disengage with the Nigerian people.
“Our report contains two clear messages. First, that the 2007 elections process was not credible and in view of the lack of transparency and evidence of fraud, there can be no confidence in the results.
“Second, that an urgent and comprehensive reform is required to improve the framework and conduct of future elections.”
The elections were marred by very poor organisation, lack of essential transparency, widespread and procedural irregularities, substantial evidence of fraud, widespread voter disenchantment, lack of equal condition for political parties and candidates, and numerous incidents of violence.
Berg said these incidents were regrettable, given the fact that the elections were held in an improved atmosphere in which the rights to freedom of expression and assembly were respected during the campaigns.
The 48-page report contains 81 recommendations and additional 52 pages of documented incidents of irregularities and malpractice recorded during the elections.
Among the recommendations were the need to improve human rights, strengthen security and the role of the media at elections, improve civic and voters education, address executive immunity, and establish effective mechanisms to ensure compliance with and enforce electoral laws.
The report also called for the implementation of clear and effective guidelines for voting, counting, collation and publication of results; creation of confidence in the capacity, transparency ad impartiality of election administration, and a review of constituency delineation.
EUEOM made up of 11 member core team, 66 long-term observers and 60 short-term observers from 21 European Union states, was deployed in Nigeria from March 14 to May 7, 2007.
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