PEPT VERDICT: HOW DEMOCRACY DIES. By Law Mefor

“GOD, give us men! A time like this demands

Strong minds, great hearts, true faith and ready hands;

Men whom the lust of office does not kill;

Men whom the spoils of office cannot buy;

Men who possess opinions and a will;

Men who have honor; men who will not lie;

Wrong rules the land and waiting Justice sleeps.”

– Josiah Gilbert Holland

Democracy is a system of government where a majority of citizens decide who governs them. ‘How Democracies Die’ is a 2018 book by Harvard University political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt about how elected leaders can gradually subvert the democratic process to increase their power. To ensure that this does not happen, Institutions and the press hold those in positions of authority accountable to the people.

In a presidential democracy, the sanctity and quintessence of the principles of separation of (the 3 arms of government) power are fiercely maintained. Yes democracy dies when the institutions built for its protection and sustenance abdicate their responsibilities. Democracy dies when men running such institutions kowtow to rule of men rather than stick to rule of law. The collapse of the 3 arms of government in Nigeria into one is now almost complete. And the most important democratic Institutions in Nigeria, namely the electoral body and the Judiciary, seem to be working for the return of the incumbent rather than defending their role as umpires.

The Presidential Election Tribunal delivered the much awaited judgment last Wednesday. The five-man tribunal, chaired by Justice Mohammed Garba, in a unanimous judgment threw out the petitions filed by the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and his Party, the PDP, challenging the declaration of President Muhammadu Buhari as the winner of the 2019 Presidential Election.

Remarkably, there was muted celebration in the land. It is expected with a judgment that is fraught with too many technicalities for the citizens to follow. Apathy has fully returned, which has for long been stealthily sipping into the nation’s electoral system and democracy, making many a citizen to ask: is this what democracy really means?

One of the signs that nation’s democracy is stagnating and experiencing pangs of death is the growing number of cases decided by Election Tribunals in just one election circle. The 2019 General Election recorded such a huge harvest of cases – over 1200 of them – lodged with the various tribunals across the country, most likely the highest to be found anywhere in the world. And to think that the number would be much higher if the 5 States where elections are off season were part of it.

In other words, courts, and not the voters, now determine election outcomes in Nigeria and thus drive the nation’s hard-earned democracy. This is an aberration and so uninspiring. If truth be told, this is largely responsible for the deep apathy found in quantum in the polity among citizens.

Equally worrisome is the considerably damning reports of the International observers over the conduct of the 2019 General Election. They clearly attested that the Election was not the best the nation has conducted since the return to democratic rule in 1999 despite committing colossal N247 bn to it. Their reports indicted the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for doing a shoddy job, and security agencies for playing partisan roles and for other actions that undermined democracy and sanctity of the ballot box. There was widespread violence, intimidations, and dozens of people died also.

Nigeria democracy is simply not growing and those stunting its growth are exactly the same persons that should protect democracy in Nigeria. Electronic voting, collation and transmission of results were provided for in the national assembly appropriated budget for INEC and there is evidence that the Commission trained their staff on same. Only for the same Commission to turn round to claim it owned no server, and never embarked on electronic voting, collation and transmission of results. What then were the millions of naira appropriated for that purpose utilized on? The nation now waits on INEC to return the huge funds appropriated to coffers of the Federal government since the Commission never deployed such technology.

President Buhari did well in extending hands of fellowship to the opposition, which has signaled its intention to approach the Supreme Court. But there are hard lessons and far-reaching implications deriving from this judgment, particularly about the conduct of the elections and how both INEC and the Tribunal handled certain issues, especially the certificate.

From the mockery making the rounds where citizens are today declaring themselves this and that by affidavit, the interpretation among the general public is that certificate no longer matters. Before the certificate issue came to the Tribunal, INEC ought to have settled it at the point of filing of nomination papers. If not anything, Form EC001 of INEC requires candidates to attach evidence of their certificates. If INEC followed through with its own guidelines and the Electoral Act, the nation would have been spared of the ridicule spewing from the issue of certificate since the judgment. An electoral umpire shouldn’t kowtow to the whims and wishes of the incumbent simply because he is his appointer, as appears to be the case.

Moving forward, the 1999 Constitution and Electoral Act really have to be retooled. A Constitution that in breath states “…educated up to secondary school.” and in another, talks of “being able to read and write…” in the schedule of interpretations of the same Constitution creates more problems than it seeks to solve.

Another issue that must be urgently resolved is: electronic voting, collation and transmission of results. Neighbouring Ghana has already gone far ahead in the utilization of technology in ensuring freer, faired and more credible elections in their clime. Deploying technology to elections is not rocket science and so, all the excuses for not allowing deployment of such technology in Nigeria, including claim of low internet penetration, are what they are: excuses.

President Muhammadu Buhari needs to worry about the legacy he is leaving behind for the sustenance of democracy. The President has to sign the Electoral Act Amendment into law now so that INEC can use the off season elections to perfect it before a new election season descends.

If the version already passed cannot stand the test of time as Mr. President once complained, the national assembly needs to urgently return to the drawing board on the matter and use the opportunity offered by the fresh window to do a more perfect job, and also provide stiffer penalties as greater deterrence against those undermining and derailing the nation’s democracy. There is a need also to provide more stringent conditions to discourage frivolous litigations over outcomes of elections. There is a need to improve and indeed enhance the confidence of the people in our electoral process as a way of dealing with apathy which is on the rebound in the country.

Finally, the subsisting Electoral Act removes the onus of proof of proper conduct of election from INEC. This is wrong. INEC must take responsibility for the election it conducted, and should be required by law to prove that the election it conducted was free and fair and complied with extant laws. Transferring this responsibility to candidates is abdicating responsibility. That’s not how democratic nations and democracies are built.

• Dr. Law Mefor is an Abuja-based Forensic and Social Psychologist, Author and Journalist; e-mail: drlawmefor@gmail.com; tweeter: @LawMefor1.

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