Again, to save Nigeria

 Again, to save Nigeria

FOR all intents and purposes last Saturday's gubernatorial and State Assembly elections were a charade, and their outcome unacceptable. They represented, not just a theft of the people's mandate but a subversion of their rights to freely choose their leaders.

After months of uncertainty Nigerians had trooped out in their millions to perform their civic responsibility in the state elections last Saturday. However, contrary to their expectation and the universally accepted norms of democracy, their aspirations were thwarted, their votes ignored and their choice candidates thrown out. Not surprisingly, this has generated massive outrage and violence across the land. The situation calls for radical measures to save the country from anarchy and collapse.

Months before the elections we had cause to draw the attention of the government and its agencies to the shoddy preparations made by INEC. In contravention of the Electoral Act the commission failed to release the voters' register to give Nigerians the chance to verify their names. In spite of the claims of the commission's chairman to the contrary, it was quite evident that the electoral umpire was finding it difficult to meet the logistic requirements of the election.

To make matters worse, the commission demonstrated its partisanship by taking action, including flouting court orders, and initiating court cases of its own, all of which conspired to advance the electoral fortunes of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The commission's actions raised the fears of Nigerians that the elections might not be free and fair. Still, Nigerians kept faith with the process, hoping that they would be allowed to exercise their civic responsibilities and that their votes would count.

Unfortunately, as it turned out, this was not to be. The election was manipulated. The sheer effrontery with which this was done was unimaginable assault on the psyche of Nigerians. Nigerians could not but wonder how their own government could conspire to steal their mandate so brazenly. Yet, even when all observers, both local and international, were asserting that the election was seriously flawed, President Obasanjo and the INEC chairman were audacious enough to claim that the polls went "fairly well". The fact that the country is currently engulfed in post-election violence, which is escalating by the day, appears to have been lost to the President.

It is quite evident that this government cannot organise any credible election either now or in the future. Nigerian voters by their actions in the last few days have lost confidence in the government, INEC and the security agencies, and rightly so. The conduct of the government and INEC in the last election has brought Nigeria to the crossroads of an emergency. The situation calls for radical solutions, although the options available to save the country from impending danger are now very few indeed. The usual, easy route is to advocate putting up with the charade, not rocking the boat in the guise of building democracy. But Nigeria today is beyond such simplistic postulation. Democracy cannot be built on injustice and deceit.

The first step is to cancel the gubernatorial and state assembly elections held last Saturday. The presidential and National Assembly elections should also be postponed for now. We are advocating this measure because the alternative offers little hope. For instance, to allow the election to stand and place the hopes of Nigerians in the election tribunals with the expectation that the results will be overturned would not assuage the feelings of aggrieved Nigerians whose mandate has been brazenly stolen and their rights trampled upon. In any case, this will require swearing in all those who have been elected fraudulently; and this may result in a long season of conflict. The situation in Anambra State following the 2003 gubernatorial election demonstrates the futility of this option.

The 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act make it mandatory for the elections to be held on or before 28 April at the latest. Since Nigerians have now widely expressed no faith in INEC there is not enough time to dissolve the current commission and reconstitute another electoral agency to organise new elections. And it is hard to see how INEC, as currently constituted, can organise any credible election that will be acceptable. Thus holding new elections within the time frame stipulated in our laws is no longer a viable option.

There is also the fact that Sections 135 and 180 of the 1999 Constitution end the tenure of the current administration on May 29, election or no election. In view of these constitutional constraints, the only option left to save our nation is to invoke section 146 of the constitution. The tenure of the current administration at the federal and state levels will end on May 29 as stipulated by the constitution. Then, as stated in section 146, the Senate President should assume the office of president for 90 days during which he shall establish new agencies to organise credible elections that will be acceptable to the generality of Nigerians. A similar arrangement will be made at the state level.

As we have stated previously, the conduct of the present administration has placed Nigeria at the crossroads and only a radical solution can move the country back from the precipice. The President should recognise the seriousness of the country's current situation and act in a statesmanlike manner to save our country. Nigeria is bigger than any individual.

Nigerians deserve a country where their votes will count. They deserve a country where they can live at peace with their neighbours. They deserve a government that will promote their interests and respect their right to choose their leaders. We hope that in this period of emergency our leaders will act to save our nation from impending danger.