It’s the matter of the moment! Election, international monitors, rigging, ballot boxes, protests, law suits, voting cards, free and fair, the police, the military…These words and phrases boom in our ears to a nonstop rhythm.
Two candidates, declaring themselves winners of the election… May God help us that we don’t have such come March 28, 2015.
Although the above rhythm was not quite the same in the USA 2000 Presidential elections, salient lessons from how they resolved their election dispute of 2000 are worth noting.
The U.S.A.’s democracy has lasted for over two hundred years. One would expect it to be perfect by the year 2000. No. It’s democracy is far from being perfect. Because democratic elections are matters of politics, they involve human beings who will always be flawed. However, the U.S.A. democracy is fully functional and when it faces the test of circumstances: it bounces back because the citizens count having their country intact as being more important than holding the premium public office, the presidency.
In 2000, there were two candidates who contested the elections. Al Gore, then Vice-President was the presidential candidate for the Democratic Party, and George W. Bush, then governor of Texas, was the presidential candidate for the Republican Party. No one forecast that the election that took place on November 7th would not be resolved until December 12th. One state, Florida, had issues with their voting machines and ballot cards. The election results from the rest of the 49 states were already called, and the country waited for Florida’s issues to be resolved. At that critical moment, Al Gore had the majority of votes, but the candidate who won Florida would automatically win the national election. As a result, votes were frantically recounted. Lawsuits and countersuits were many until the U.S.A. Supreme Court came to the final rescue in a split 5–4 decision, with only a difference of one vote. It gave the final verdict that declared George W. Bush the winner of the election.
Are there lessons that can be drawn from the U.S. experience and applied to the situation that Nigeria is likely to face in the March 28th election? Emphatically, Yes! Nigeria is wise and should learn from others.
The first lesson for Nigeria to draw from the U.S.A. 2000 presidential election is patience for the election process to take its due course. There was no clear winner of the election until 35 days after the votes were cast! Yet neither Al Gore nor George W. Bush declared himself a winner of the election. No, neither of them set up an interim parallel government to worsen the controversy. These presidential candidates went through the process of getting the results, including attempts to recount the votes and waiting for the courts to rule. The U.S. Supreme Court hit their final gavel, nailing the coffin of the election.
The second lesson for Nigeria to benefit from is that U.S.A. citizens, party loyalists, election sponsors, and others, did not take matters into their hands. While the nation was virtually in a standstill about the election, there were no violent protests in U.S.A. cities! The presidential hopeful and the hopeless did not incite their supporters to start destroying lives and properties. Today, Nigeria should learn from the American democracy in the face of extremely difficult national situations.
It is instructive that no other nation advised the U.S.A. on how to conclude their presidential election. It will not be surprising for Nigeria to begin to receive unsolicited views from the United States and European Union (E.U.) on the 2015 presidential election. Their nation-destabilizing machines may even be unleashed to incite the losing candidate on how fair or unfair the election process was conducted. But who advised the U.S.A. in 2000 on how to resolve their controversial presidential election? None, other than the U.S.A. itself. Nigeria does not have many years in democratic rule (due to military interventions). Nigeria is, however, a nation that has intelligent and well-educated people capable of peaceful resolution of election disputes. This lesson is vital because I was saddened when both the U.S.A. and the E.U. made adverse comments about the postponement of the Nigeria presidential election, especially in light of the vivid security concerns ahead of the February 14 election date. Was the February 14 election more important than the national security concerns? The U.S.A. and the E.U. are sometimes hypocrites. Does the U.S.A not take stringent measures when it comes to national security issues? More importantly, must Nigeria listen to some of those self-seeking and often ill-motivated voices from the E.U.?
President Goodluck E. Jonathan, the presidential candidate for PDP, and Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd), the presidential candidate for APC, must try up to demonstrate the benefit from another lesson: the Rule of Law. What happens to the rule of law? In the U.S. 2000 election, Al Gore, who had the majority vote but lost to George W. Bush based on the U.S. Supreme Court decision, submitted himself completely to the decision of the highest court of the nation. That was the climax of leadership – yielding to the preservation of the U.S.A. National preservation was more important to Al Gore as a citizen than resorting to other ways to make the U.S.A. “ungovernable” for George W. Bush, who was decreed into being the president from 2000–2004! In nation building, those who want to be foremost citizens must also publicly take every step necessary to uphold the integrity of the nation. Yes, one nation indivisible, under God… Therefore, it behooves both Jonathan and Buhari to vividly demonstrate that indeed they qualify to be foremost citizens for the preservation of Nigeria as a nation, by preparing both victory and concession speeches ahead of the election. Because only one person will win the election!
Who actually won the U.S.A. 2000 Presidential election? The U.S.A. journalists and academics did not leave the question of the actual winner completely unresolved. A consortium made up of the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Tribune Co, Associated Press, CNN, Palm Beach Post and St. Petersburg Times used the services of the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago to recount the 175,010 ballots from Florida. The unequivocal conclusion was that Al Gore won not only the popular vote but also won Florida by more than 100 votes. When this result was made public, Al Gore did not jump up and down as having another tool to recover his stolen election! No, no single person including Al Gore made any noise about it. Moving the nation forward was singular in the minds of all Americans.
Let us hope to reap the benefit of hindsight from the U.S.A. 2000 Presidential election and move our dear country forward, regardless of the technical accuracy of the results of the forthcoming presidential election.