X-Raying Nigeria’s Greatest Democratic Achievement
By Aziza Uko and Jay Wilburn
Never in the history of Nigeria have Nigerians been more certain that their votes would count than in this current dispensation.
Until 2010, the worst worry of Nigerians was not corruption, insecurity, unemployment, poor infrastructure or the economy. Nigerians were united in their belief that their biggest challenge was conducting transparent, free and fair elections. The reason was simple. Once the people had the power to decide who would govern them, every other thing would fall in place. A government of the people would be concerned about working to earn the voters’ endorsement for another term. And the only way to earn that endorsement would be by performing to the satisfaction of the people.
Before 2010, the only other time Nigerians believed that the votes of the people really counted was on June 12, 1993 when Chief MKO Abiola of the SDP contested against Alhaji Bashir Tofa of the NRC. Unfortunately, that election was annulled by the military led by General Ibrahim Babangida.
Hitherto, our elections were characterized by ballot box stuffing and snatching of ballot boxes, inflation of figures, partisanship by the electoral body, and determination of results by political godfathers and powerbrokers.
The first election that held when President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was unavailable because of ill health and Jonathan was the Vice President without real presidential powers was the gubernatorial election in Anambra on Saturday, February 6, 2010. The election was conducted by the same Prof Maurice Iwu, whose tenure as the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, had come under attack for its clear manipulation of results in favour of the ruling party, the PDP. Based on this, the Chairman of the PDP, Chief Vincent Ogbulafor, had boasted in 2008 that the PDP would rule Nigeria for 60 years. Surprisingly, by the morning of the following day, the results of the Anambra election had been announced, with Peter Obi of the All Progressives Grand Congress beating the PDP and ACN. It was clear that Jonathan did not intervene with the electoral process.
On February 9, 2010, Jonathan was officially empowered by the Senate, using the “doctrine of necessity”, as the Acting President with full presidential powers. He repeatedly promised to make the electoral process transparent. In June 2010, he nominated Prof Attahiru Jega, reputed for his integrity, as the Chairman of INEC. That action boosted the confidence of the populace that the electoral process would be credible. Professor Jega had been outspoken against Jonathan’s government on a number of fronts leading up to the election. Jonathan went further to empower INEC by separating it from the constraints of political influence both financially and by party affiliation.
That general elections of 2011 showed that something different had happened. Before the election, Jonathan warned: “Nobody should rig for me. I am assuring Nigerians that though I am contesting, nobody must manipulate votes in my favour. Our votes must count.” So-called political heavy weights were defeated in different parts of the country in that election. The subsequent gubernatorial elections in Edo, Ondo, Anambra, Ekiti and Osun made it clear that the era of fraudulent elections was over in Nigeria.
The implication of this is that the power has returned to the people. The people now feel confident that they can do and undo. Political parties and political figures are therefore no longer arrogant.
Today, both those who support President Jonathan’s second term bid and those who support his political opponent are upbeat that their candidate will win through votes rather than through manipulation.
Closely linked to electoral reforms is respect for human rights and rule of law.
Goodluck Jonathan’s speeches have been marked with promises of freedom and equality. He has repeatedly reached out to opposition to build a stronger democracy and a stronger Nigeria. What makes Jonathan different from other politicians is that he appears to have made good on these promises where other regimes solidified power through crushing and exiling opposition.
Nigeria returned to civil rule in 1999, but it is only recently that Nigeria began to metamorphose into a true democracy. The four elements of democracy are free and fair elections, active participation of the citizens in politics and civil rule, protection of the human rights of all citizens, and rule of law. From 1999 when Chief Olusegun Obasanjo became the president, these hallmarks of democracy were breached in many forms. The elections were not free and fair; court judgements were not respected – an example was the refusal to release the Lagos State seized funds by Obasanjo even after the 2005 ruling of the Supreme Court; the freedom and rights of people were breached at will, especially by the federal government as in the case of the erstwhile dehumanising procedure of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission as well as the Odi Massacre and Zaki Biam Massacre.
When President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua came on board in 2007, he began to adhere to rule of law, and respect for human rights. He promptly obeyed court judgements. Respect for individual rights and freedom increased. But that did not stop people like Mallam Nasir el-Rufai and Mallam Nuhu Ribadu from going into exile as a result of political persecution. The only election organised under Yar’Adua (the Ekiti re-run election of April 2005) was not transparent. The court eventually overturned it and declared Dr Kayode Fayemi the winner of the election.
But the coming of Jonathan in 2010 marked a departure from the past. The February 2010 gubernatorial election in Anambra was the first sign that he wanted to be a different kind of president. Gov. Peter Obi of APGA won that election, beating PDP and ACN. Other subsequent elections were even better.
In addition, shortly after Jonathan assumed office, political exiles like el-Rufai and Ribadu began to return. Throughout the administration of Jonathan, no Nigerian has ever gone on exile. Nobody has been arrested or victimised for criticising the President. Jonathan said of democracy in Nigeria: “The stronger the boat, the more it is able to meet the challenges of the voyage and deliver on its promises to citizens.” President Jonathan clearly saw a robust opposition as the balance of that vessel. He also said: “I congratulate the candidates of the other political parties. I regard them not as opponents, but as partners.”
Jonathan has been noted as consistently obeying court orders. Jonathan explains: “Separation of power is not separation of government.” This simple statement speaks to a deep understanding of the value of checks and balances of power which serve the people far better than a unilateral government power. President Jonathan has enshrined electoral process and the validity of governmental power in Nigeria by opting not to interfere with the legal process in his nation.
President Jonathan’s work to build up the electoral process may be one of his greatest challenges to re-election and one of his most vital contributions to Nigerian democracy. He declared quite succinctly: “Our votes must count. One man, one vote. One woman, one vote. One youth, one vote.”
For the 2015 election, card readers will be used for voting. Voters are expected to vote with their permanent voter’s card. These will further make it almost impossible to rig the election.
The Nigerian press is noted as one of the freest and most vibrant in the world. It often does not spare politicians in Nigeria, including the President himself. The lack of a free press is cited as one of the primary obstacles to democracy and free elections in many parts of the world. While his predecessors had sat on the Freedom of Information bill, Jonathan promptly signed it into law on May 28, 2011, a day after receiving it from the National Assembly.
From his negotiations with militants as vice president to his current struggles against Boko Haram, he has stood up for the safety and security of the Nigerian people. His goal has always been the good of Nigeria above his own ambition stated in his oft repeated quote, “My political ambition is not worth the blood of any Nigerian.”
Within this same pursuit to maintain the human rights of his people, President Jonathan re-established the National Human Rights Commission. The NHRC has been given unprecedented autonomy to maintain transparency on the acts of the government in this regard.
With the heated political battles and battles against the real threats of terrorism, much of this record can become lost in the news and politics of the moment. With threats to democratic ideals and free expression around the world, a strong actor on behalf of democracy such as President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria will hold an important place in history for his nation and the global community. These selfless acts have made his re-election less sure whilst making a strong argument for Goodluck Jonathan being most deserving of re-election.
Aziza Uko is Executive Editor of The Trent. She is also Chief Executive of Ziza Group, a company she founded in 2009. She is award winning graduate of marketing and a marketing communications professional with over 16 years post graduation experience. She is a writer, editor, and music lover. She can be reached on email HERE, on Twitter at@azizauko, and Facebook HERE.
Jay Wilburn is an American writer and published author. He was a teacher of history for a number of years before becoming a full-time writer. Since then, he has written a number of books and articles on a wide range of topics of global interest. He is an enthusiastic supporter of freedom and democracy around the world and has great hope and interest in the future of the people of Nigeria. Connect with him on Twitter HERE and on his website jaywillburn.com.