For more Independent Electoral Umpires By Tony Ademiluyi

sola ademiluyi

History was made in Nigeria – the most populous nation in Africa when the opposition won the elections for the first time since independence in 1960. Why we rejoice at this democracy maturity, it is pertinent to create the structure for the umpire to be unbiased as that is the bane of free and fair elections in many African states.

In most states in the continent, the President not only appoints the Chairman but also funds the commission. This will definitely compromise the independence and assertiveness of the umpire as he who pays the piper definitely dictates the tune. A state like Zimbabwe has witnessed the inability of the opposition to wrestle power from the ruling Zimbabwean National Union –Peoples Front led by Robert Mugabe because the entire electoral commission is in his pocket. We advise that the members of the commission be elected by the people in a similar manner the Attorney-Generals of states in the United States of America are elected directly by the people. That way, the allegiance of the electoral commission members will be to the people and not the President. The funding should be a constitutional issue. Provisions for the day to day running of the commission should be provided for by the constitution in order to prevent the commission from being at the mercy of the government of the day. This way there will be an effective discharge of the duties of the commission without fear or favour and election malpractices especially those in favour of the government in power will be reduced to the barest minimum.

The judiciary is another important umpire in the electoral process as that is where disputes are resolved when litigations arise. The ugly case of the sack of Justice Isa Salami, the former President of the Court of Appeal in Nigeria still remains fresh in the minds of Nigerians. What was his offence? He dared to ask the Independent National Electoral Commission to give the litigants access to the ballot papers that gave Goodluck Jonathan his victory in 2011 so that it could be subjected to forensic tests since there were allegations of multiple voting. The appointment of judicial officers should not be a sole prerogative of the President as it has been subjected to much abuse. The fate of millions should not be left in the hands of one individual. The appointment of judges should be a joint effort of both the National Judicial Councils and the Parliaments with minimal input from the Presidents whose powers should be reduced to merely recommending. The actual powers of confirmation should rest with the governing body of the judicial council and the parliament. That way, the independence of the last hope of the common man will be better guaranteed especially with regard to the resolution of electoral disputes which may involve the members of the ruling party. Some political pundits have canvassed for the election of judges. While this may have its pros and cons, it is an option that should not be pushed aside and should be critically considered.

The opinions of electoral observers also form an important part of the credibility process with regards to the elections. In 2013, Robert Mugabe swept the polls with a landslide victory in a highly controversial election fraught with many irregularities. Former Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo was the leader of the African Union electoral monitoring team in Zimbabwe. He said that ‘He had never seen such a perfect election.’ Jacob Zuma of South Africa urged the opposition Movement for Democratic Change Leader, Morgan Tsvangirai to accept the outcome of the highly flawed elections. The MDC failed to secure a court order granting them access to full details of the results from the electoral commission and this led to their reluctant withdrawal of their suit and accepting the victory of Mugabe who had the judiciary under his palms. Such unpatriotic statements by supposed African Statesmen have a way of inciting the cheated people to violence. There should be more truths told to power. The African Union should blacklist any leader that is a beneficiary of a flawed election and appropriate sanctions should be meted out to tyrants who prevent the will of the people through the ballot box from prevailing. It is high time the AU stopped the shameless practice of being sympathetic to dictators who disrespect their countrymen and scorn the noble tenets of democracy expressed through free and fair elections.

It is our hope that the electoral bodies in the continent metamorphose from being mere appendages of the Heads of State to truly independent bodies that will ensure that the will of the people is not thwarted through repressive state power. The ability of the opposition to wrestle power in countries like Ghana, Botswana and now Nigeria shows a gargantuan ray of hope for the future.