The Osun gubernatorial election was like life – part good, part bad and part ‘results-uncertain’. Looking strictly at the democratic process and the expected natural progression of deepening democracy, there seems little to celebrate, and plenty that is troubling and puzzling. But then, in using last Saturday’s elections to assess the state of our democracy and the preparations for the 2015 general elections, there are several factors to consider.
The first is the role of security in elections. It is a huge relief to see that the elections were peaceful and this gives some hope for 2015. However, it is still not clear if this was in spite of or because of the 73,000 security operatives, including 15,000 soldiers. To put this in perspective, as of May 2014, Borno only had about 20,000 soldiers deployed.
Depending on who you speak to, the role of security agents during elections is to secure, facilitate and/or intimidate. The FG’s position is that there is a need to keep the peace and protect our votes. Others argue that security is there to facilitate rigging while the opposition – building on the experience in Ekiti, avows that security is there to intimidate and illegally incarcerate people who are considered a threat to PDP’s agenda.
Whatever the case, this trend is alarming and has no basis in the Constitution or Electoral Act and it is vital that those who suffered from forced incarceration during Ekiti and Osun sue the relevant agencies and give the courts the chance to protect Nigerians from growing abuse of power.
Does this show of force make people feel safe or frightened? If INEC distributed 986,117 permanent voters cards (PVCs) in Osun, and the results released by INEC for 5 parties (PDP, APC, AD, Labour & SDP) adds up to 698,845, then this means that Osun recorded 70.86% voter turn-out and we could be excused for thinking more security equals voter confidence. But if that is not the case, what does this number tell us considering that voter turnout is up 20 percentage points from Ekiti and for the gubernatorial elections in Anambra we had less than 30% voter turnout?
This takes us to the second factor: the numbers. Transparency around numbers is crucial. How many registered voters do we have and where? How many PVCs were distributed and what do the past voting patterns tell us about elections in certain places? This helps us see more clearly through the murky unknown world of returning officers, collation centers and the transportation of ballot papers to collation centers. If we had 53% and 63% voter turn-out for gubernatorial elections in 2011 and 2003 respectively, then do the numbers in Osun merely testify to the success of the parties in mobilizing voters?
Historically and anecdotally, the successful mobilization of voters is based on cash, which introduces the third factor in our elections: money. The amounts that were allegedly spent on mobilizing wards and local governments for the Osun election are staggering. Few Nigerians can come up with the funds now required to mobilize voters with fluid sociological leanings and even those who donate generously are those with secure pipelines to government patronage and do so in flagrant disregard of the limits set by the Act. Where does this money come from and what needs to be done for INEC to effectively monitor campaign spend as provided for under the Electoral Act?
Finally, there is scale. INEC’s logistics management and communication is definitely improved, but these are in one off cases with less than 1million voters at a time. What happens in 2015 when the entire country is voting? If indeed massive deployment of security is a factor for increased voter turnout – will we have 73,000 security agents in each state? Also if the lack of violence was considered a factor in the results of the Osun elections, will the merchants of violence decide to do things differently in 2015?
These are by no means the only factors making it hard for us to practice a democracy that will meaningfully impact on our lives and it is easy to be glib and say ‘these factors are common all over the world’ but the world does not have our problems. It is hardly democratic or fair for the president or the governors (if they ever get state police) to use state funded security officers as their personal army…who then can challenge them without signing a death warrant of sorts?
Osun was clearly about 2015 and the opportunity for PDP to provide Nigerians with a sense of inevitability regarding President Jonathan’s re-election and for those who consider a strong and effective opposition to be one of the cornerstones in a real democracy, Osun Elections was the chance to show that the full might of the federal government can be managed and to give a glimmer of hope of what could be.
Holding elections every four years does not automatically translate into a democracy where people wield the ultimate accountability mechanism by voting-in promise and track record and kicking-out those who will not and cannot deliver on basic social services expected from any government. As we look forward to 2015 and to deepening our democracy we need to consolidate the positives and make plans to mitigate the factors outlined above.