Former Nigeria’s Minister of Education, Dr Oby Ezekwesili, has stated that with the 2023 general elections over, the fate of the country’s democracy now lies on the outcome of the ongoing judicial process.
Speaking in an interview with Africa Independent Television (AIT) at a forum organised by #FixPolitics Initiative and AIT in Lagos, Ezekwesili said that democracy is the anchor on which citizens determine how they are governed.
“It becomes very important that the bedrock of democracy, which is elections that are credible, based on fairness and transparency, should matter to all citizens regardless of their political persuasion. To the extent of the 2023 elections, it is very clear, even by the most charitable of people, that the elections were subpar,” Dr Ezekwesili said.
According to her, Nigeria is still in election mode and that fact is what the concept of “all eyes on the judiciary,” is predicated on.
“Will the judiciary be very competent in the way it decides? Will it be ethical in the way it decides? All of these would matter for the future of our democracy,” she stated.
She said that #FixPolitics Initiative has carried on with topical engagement for citizens of the country around democracy.
“It is citizens that own democracy; without citizens, there is absolutely nothing called democracy when you compare it with all the other systems of government,” she said.
Continuing, she said: “Two things come for me in terms of lessons of the 2023 elections. We do not have a work programme set out for us. We could see clearly that the matter of result management is below standard in our electoral process and we have to use legal instruments to fix this. We must also fix all the administrative things that are necessary. Technology cannot fail in our own case when technology does work in another jurisdiction”.
Ezekwesili said it was not proper for Nigeria to have a candidate sworn into office while judicial petitions are still flying around.
“It just creates too much instability in the system for a society like ours. So, l believe that as we go forward, the third pillar of our FixPolitics group will focus on mobilising society towards the deepening of reforms that are necessary to build the institutions, nuances, precepts and ethos of democracy. We cannot have pseudo-democracy and call it democracy. We do not need properly so-called democracy; we need a system that will deliver the kinds of competencies, ethics and capabilities necessary to build us into an economically free and progressive society.”
“I wish there were answers in the light of what we see clearly to be a system held captive by a predatory political class; that is really what everyone has been saying. Though we don’t have the answers, we have some lessons from the past. One of the lessons is that it actually took the work of some people seated here, the ones online and, perhaps, some of the ones that are watching us, to get President Muhammadu Buhari, who was adamant about reforming the electoral system, to sign the bill. You know how long the amendment act, which is simple, something that was just going to advance the quality of elections in our country, lasted in parliament. Our own politicians fought it, for what purpose? One of the best outcomes of this election, for me, was that the Office Of The Citizen (OOTC) came to life,” she added.
She explained that OOTC is the most important office in the land adding that if the citizen cares about changing society, society would change.
“That is the only thing we see in every environment; until citizens step up and determine the quality of governance they want, nothing happens. The politicians act like a monopoly. Monopolies have no incentives to give you anything of value. The monopoly is a price giver; it dictates the price. The monopoly is a quality giver; it determines the threshold of quality you get. Monopoly swallows the efficiency gains; it does not pass on value to the consumers. In the case of our politics, the consumers are the citizens.”
Ezekwesili said the last election has revealed that the citizens have power and can use their power collectively.
“You can see clearly that whereas people want to pretend that what happened in this election has ethnic colouration, you could see the emergence of what the young people call a different tribe. I do not like using the word ‘tribe’. This new different tribe is neither religious nor ethnic; it is simply a tribe of Nigerians, who said enough of poor governance. Poor governance is giving this country the worst outcomes in terms of people’s capacity to do well for themselves.”
According to her, “They are demanding a different Nigeria; a Nigeria that is functional, a Nigeria that respects and rewards efforts; a Nigeria that operates on the basis of equality of opportunity to be the best that you can be. “Democracy is the worst type of government until you price all the others. And so, the gift of working our democracy to a functional level, where it is credible and we have competent, credible and ethical people governing our public spaces, is one that must be done and it requires citizens working collectively.”
Continuing, she said: “I am not going to do anything, but congratulate the young ones that are powering this tribe; this new tribe of Nigerians, who believe that they deserve better. Now, look at the election tribunal, who do you think is sustaining this information that all of us are getting? We asked for a simple thing: judicial credibility, judicial integrity and judicial transparency, which is the norm these days. We said, to open up the Presidential Elections Tribunal, so that citizens can follow the case that is being advanced. The judiciary did not do that. But guess what; there are citizens who go to the court every day, follow the proceedings and provide information.”
She said these young ones are not moving on; they are saying to the rest of Nigerians if you want to move on, move on. But as for us, we are interested, we invested our efforts to vote and that has to be respected all the way. So, l think the first step, we already have it: the nucleus of Nigerians, who think differently about the fact that Nigeria matters to us. I think this idea that Nigeria belongs to a slim percentage of politicians is such a misnomer.
“So, l am so happy that there is an amalgam of Nigerians, North, East, West and South of this country, as well as the centre, that are now building a massive movement of citizens. Now, following all of this in whatever direction it goes is for the same group to sit down and be very analytical about the gaps that exist. They are so intelligent. I believe in the power of young people. They are so smart,” she stated.
Ezekwesili said: “They will be able to look at each of the barriers that stood in their way of getting to an outcome they would have lived by. I have heard many of them say that if the process of this election was fully complied with and they ended up not working according to their definition of a win, they would have lived with it. So, now that they know that they can plug some of the holes that created this mess. I totally believe that they will win. I am actually more optimistic today than l was about Nigeria years ago.”
According to her, the judiciary has a role to play in this, and it depends on how they get this society to accept that a proper credible adjudication of the final leg of this election has happened either way. That is one. The second part is what we say about the electorate.
“The electorate must not retreat and permanently leave the space for a monopolistic political class that has not done well. So, the electorate must be reinvigorated and be totally determined to carry forward an agenda, forgetting a Nigeria that is democratically enlightened and able to solve problems that other countries have solved,” she stated.
Asides Ezekwesili, other Nigerians have berated the exercise, while charting the way forward.
Public Affairs Analyst, Jide Ojo, noted that despite the resources put into the elections under review, which was the seventh in the Fourth Republic, fell short of expectations.
He said: “We had a successful transition. It’s a huge challenge. What happened in 2023 is sub-optimal in terms of the high expectations Nigerians had about what would be the outcome. But as we know, in every human activity, the best of plans could go wrong and the Independent National Electoral Commission would always say this is the best-planned election.
Ojo explained that there are endogenous and exogenous factors that would always impact one way or another on the success of every election.
On how Nigeria can get it right, he canvassed prompt prosecution of electoral offenders, as a measure of deterring those who may want to engage in electoral offences.
Country Director of ActionAid, Ene Obi, lamented that despite huge funds allocated to INEC, and its declaration of readiness for the exercise, the electoral body disappointed Nigerians.
She said: “INEC was prepared for this election, which is supposed to be technology-driven. We budgeted for it. We asked for the Electoral Act (and got it). Technology was quoted, and was budgeted for with suffering Nigerians’ money.
“I tell you, INEC was fully prepared and had the capacity to give Nigerians the best election ever. But what happened? Close to the election, Nigerians suffered financially. No cash. l could not believe, even on election day, how we had such a turnout.”
Obi wondered how a technology that was tested and certified okay in recent off-cycle governorship elections decided to flounder when it was needed most.
Insinuating a plot by the electoral umpire to compromise the exercise, the activist cited the appointment of politicians and card-carrying members of political parties into INEC.
“We came up and issued many statements. We protested. Our protest was not against persons, such as Lauretta Onochie, a card-carrying party member. We were trying to protect the integrity of the election. The civil society organisations have a sense of patriotism to Nigerians,” Obi noted.
On the lessons from the election, she said some people won the election without even campaigning, noting that Nigerians were tired of career politicians’ rhetorics.
“We are watching the judiciary keenly. Each and every one of them is writing their history. So, we are not only looking at INEC,” the civil society activist stated.
Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Auwal Rafsanjani, saw a mixed bag of fair as well as manipulated elections in the states.
“In some of the elections, especially at the state level, there was some demonstration of fairness. In some other elections, you could see clearly that it was programmed to be what it was. But overall, it is also a huge betrayal of Nigerian people,” he stated.
He appealed to Nigerians not to lose hope, as the country could be fixed.
“For the fact that we are talking and engaging, it is possible to make it uncomfortable for old politicians, whose only motive is to capture power with their self-centred interest to continue to destroy and dehumanise Nigerians using ethnic, religious and geographical sentiments, while people are going to the same market and facing same challenges.
“Young people should channel their energy and anger on this 2023 to reform and rebuild a strong movement that will make it impossible for any election rigger to rig them out.”
Another speaker, Chinenye Mba-Uzoukwu, said that technology deployment was a plus in the election, as it enabled simplification of some of the logistics that were previously handled manually, and transferred a lot of trust to the public.
“I guess some people may have underestimated the implication of having technology in place because the records are there. Now, the records can properly be interrogated without having to depend on any human being.”
He asserted that what is happening at the election tribunals is closing the gaps for election fraud.