By Raymond Oise-Oghaede
As one of the key principles of democracy; elections are conducted to choose representatives of the people amongst eligible candidates who are presented by different parties for the contest. At the end of the exercise; the candidates with the highest number of valid votes (and who have also met other laid down criteria) are declared winners. It is in line with these crucial requirements that the February 23rd Presidential and National Assembly Elections were conducted in the country. Expectedly, the outcomes as declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) are already in the public domain. The exercise, which could be described as `relatively peaceful`; was also smeared by cases of violence; allegations of mass rigging; ballot box snatching; and other malpractices that were `allegedly` carried out in some parts of the country. That notwithstanding, the results declared indicated that the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo were re-elected accordingly. Thus, it would not be out of place to use this medium to congratulate them and those that emerged tops (in the National of Assembly elections) for their successes at the polls. Also deserving of commendation are all other persons and institutions that partook in the exercise; most especially, the other Contestants and their respective Political Parties, the various Security Agencies, the Personnel and ad hoc staff of INEC, the Local and Foreign Observers/Monitoring Groups, Journalists/Media Practitioners, the National Peace Committee, and the Electorates. However, it need be mentioned that there are still rooms for improvement.
In a related development, the major opposition party (PDP) and its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar have rejected the results citing some irregularities in the conduct of the polls. Consequently, they have opted to challenge the outcome at the tribunal; and, this position has attracted mixed reactions from within and outside the country with some people supporting the decision while some others are condemning same. Though, the aim of this review is not to outrightly take side in the imbroglio; because, democracy allows everyone to be entitled to their opinions on issues of national interests; there is, however, need to quickly caution those that are condemning this chosen path to exercise restraint because it is the fundamental right of the aggrieved persons to seek legal redress. There is nothing wrong whatsoever with the decision because it will strengthen our democracy in the long run. As it is, the onus is on the PDP and Atiku to prove the facts in issue of their allegations before the appropriate court/tribunal of competent jurisdiction. In fact, one would have expected all lovers of democracy to commend them for opting to go to court rather than instigating crises as a result of their dissatisfaction. If truly, they have convincing and substantial evidences to prove the irregularities; our democracy will be better for it because it will assist in forestalling reoccurrence in subsequent elections. If we sentimentally discourage them from seeking legal and peaceful redress; then we will be doing so at the detriment of our democracy and the progress of our country. This stand should not be misconstrued and misinterpreted to mean an affront against the government; it is actually an affront against those acts that could hinder the sustenance and progress of democracy and good governance in our country. If this line of action is not desirable, the Acting Chief Justice would not have gone ahead to appoint Election Petition Tribunal Judges in the first place.
Consequent upon the aforementioned, it is very pertinent to state that the issue at hand should not be viewed from parochial, unobjective and myopic perspectives because it is not just about APC and Buhari or PDP and Atiku; it is all about our democracy and the future of our country. If truly, there are some irregularities in the processes; then, there is need to expose the `wrong doings and doers` to forestall reoccurrence and ensure that perpetrators are brought to book. Furthermore, if the aggrieved parties can prove that the irregularities have substantially and consequentially perverted the will of the people; then the law must take its course. Unfortunately, some of our elites are not firm in their understanding of the workings of the `Rule of Law`. To them, the rule of law is necessary and desirable whenever it is favourable to their own course; but, whenever same is unfavourable to their permutations; then, they see it as undesirable. This is one major factor that have beclouded the sense of reasoning of most people who are against the moves of the opposition to seek redress in court without minding the fact the president himself had explored same option after the 2003, 2007 and 2011 elections. Interestingly, some of the people who have also in the past benefited from `legal victories` are the same people that are at the forefront of making mockery of the process through their actions and utterances.
If truly we want our democracy to survive; then, there must be consequences for those acts that are capable of truncating its existence. If we continue to sweep `irregularities` under the carpet, the criminality will persist in subsequent elections; and, the essence of `the principle of one man, one vote` would have been totally eliminated. Gradually and consequentially, the gathering clouds will eventually turn to rain that will fall on everyman`s house top because of our refusal to do the needful at the appropriate time. It is most expedient and worthwhile to “make hay while the sun shines”. Therefore, the time is now for us to rise above sentimental and partisan considerations to save our democracy. Unfortunately, the people that applauded Mr. President`s position concerning ballot box snatching are the same people that are frowning at the decision to expose other alleged irregularities and malpractices that are `capable of nailing the coffin of our democracy`. Dishearteningly, these same people who ought to rise up and exhibit the spirit sportsmanship to douse the resultant tensions; are the ones that are `childishly` using all available opportunities to gloat and heat up the polity. They are the unrepentant enemies of our country and the real promoters of `hate speech`. They are arrogating `false accolades of patriotism` to themselves; when, in actual fact they are `selfishly enriching their pockets` and building up `imaginary popularity` that will sooner than expected crumble like pack of cards when `nemesis eventually catch up with them`.
At this juncture, it is also very important to appreciate and commend the patriotic zeal and concerns of those that are genuinely and sincerely appealing to the aggrieved parties to “accept the outcome of the elections as the will of God and let bygones be bygones”. However, it is important to state categorically; that, the court/tribunal proceedings will not in any way affect the smooth running of governance. It is a peaceful exercise that will eventually be a `win-win situation` for our democracy and the people; no matter the outcome of the final judgments. Therefore, the most expedient things for us to do will be to keep our fingers crossed; and, go about our normal businesses peacefully, happily and lovingly without fear or favour; while, allowing the legal teams of the affected parties to prove their cases beyond reasonable doubts.
Raymond, a Public Policy Analyst/Commentator, writes from Suru-lere, Lagos.