‘Now you can go to court’ By Festus Eriye

There are very few options for redress open to victims of electoral rape of the variety that just played out in the botched Anambra gubernatorial poll. Through the years people have come to see that lashing out in anger by torching the homes of opponents and offices of the bungling Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is counterproductive.

That leaves just one route open to democrats: the courts. INEC officials have been quick to remind the All Progressives Congress (APC) and others calling for the cancellation of the election to take their agitation to the tribunal.

Those who think things are going their way have also quickly endorsed the shambolic election as exceptional, cynically advising the aggrieved to “go to court.” On the face of it this sounds like reasonable advice. But it is cold comfort to the traumatised.

We keep moaning about how expensive our electoral processes are, yet we never stop doing things that make them more costly. Justice anywhere in the world is not cheap. When candidates set out to retrieve their stolen mandate they know only the best and most senior legal minds would do. That battery of Senior Advocates hunched over court pews never comes cheap.

Another of our singsongs is about how corruption has eaten up the society. But we remain blinded to how the incompetence of the electoral umpire creates a lucrative litigation industry and keeps the wheels of graft turning. How?

Corrupt politicians who spend a fortune to win in the courts will recover their outlay from the system one way or the other. Even those who are not venal will look for creative ways of recouping their investment – like awarding themselves salaries and allowances that will make you eyes swim.

Those who are quick to point the disappointed in the direction of the courts are not really interested in truth, fairness or justice. They are only concerned with sustaining their power grab by any means.

They know that, in a sense, the court is like a cul-de-sac. It is like telling people to go to hell because, truly, wading through our judicial process can be hellish – sometimes cases take years to resolve.

Even the introduction of the 180-day time limit for resolution of electoral disputes is no guarantee that a candidate will get justice. Occasionally mandates are restored but in lots of cases justice is not done. Technicalities and the sheer difficulty of putting together compelling evidence often get in the way.

The judiciary is no better or worse than any arm of government or institution in this country. The same shortcomings you find in the executive and legislative branches are replicated in the justice system. If people say ministers and lawmakers are helping themselves to the nation’s wealth, judicial officers are equally being accused of corruption.

In the end we are stuck with the judicial system that we have – its condition notwithstanding. Those who have grievances would have to take their chances and hope that their fortunes would be similar to those of Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers and Olusegun Mimiko in Ondo State.

But should we continue to tolerate the crimes and incompetence of INEC just because we have the option of the courts? Why can’t we just conduct proper polls like Ghana, South Africa etc?

Time and again it is the same complaint: irregularities, logistics chaos, late starts, dodgy voters’ register and the like. It was that way in 2003, 2007, 2011 and will be so in 2015. The Anambra election was an exercise in just one state. Even if the elections were held in a ward these same issues would be thrown up.

It is curious that our people show so much competence and ability in other areas of life, but when it comes to organising elections even the best of us end up looking like dummies? We all know that conducting these polls is not as complicated as building a nuclear reactor. So what on earth is going on?

On June 12, 1993, Nigerians voted in elections superintended by Professor Humphrey Nwosu’s defunct National Electoral Commission (NEC). Till date that remains a watershed in our history – hailed as about the freest and fairest polls ever conducted in these parts.

They were successful largely because Nwosu introduced innovations that emphasised transparency. The Open Ballot System allowed people to see how candidates had performed. They readily accepted the outcomes because the results were declared before their very eyes.

However, we know that no matter the arrangement you put in place, there are Nigerians who will always try to subvert things. In Anambra a senior INEC official has been undergoing interrogation for colluding with unnamed politicians to rig the polls.

Such characters keep popping up election after election because they never get punished for their crimes. Until the prosecution of electoral cheats is well celebrated, and people realise that there’s a steep price to be paid they will keep trying to game the system.

The other leg of this is our continued acceptance of the incompetence of electoral officials after every disastrous outing. Were some of these people to be working in the private sector they would have been fired long ago. You don’t compensate failure with long service award. Those who presided over the logistics disasters of the last two electoral cycles need to be shown the door for the health of the system.

When we begin to pay a price for our actions our elections would be transformed.

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In the beginning...Let there be Light

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