The president of Nigeria is extremely powerful. He’s even more powerful than the US president. The American president is often described as “the most powerful man on earth.” But that’s only regarding foreign affairs, where he has untrammelled powers.
Domestically, the US president is extremely constrained, given the nature of America’s federalism and separation of powers, and the robustness of its checks and balances.
By contrast, Nigeria’s president has untrammelled executive powers. The National Assembly is typically a rubber-stamp and an executive lapdog, the judiciary, prone to executive bullying,is usually a toothless bulldog, and federal agencies are at the beck and call of the presidency, utterly without independence. And the states? Well, they’re appendages of the Federal Government, which can make life difficult for any state that’s not in its good graces! It’s no wonder that some describe Nigeria’s president as “next to God”!
Now, given the above circumstances, and considering that Nigeria is fragile and deeply polarised along regional, ethnic and religious divides, the president, who would exercise such enormous, unrestrained powers over the country, must emerge overwhelmingly from an election that reflects, without any doubt, the free expression of the will of voters across the country. If, given those circumstances, a “president” emerged through a tainted and discredited election, that would deepen Nigeria’s disunity, instability and fragility.
Unfortunately, as the recently published final report of the European Union Election Observation Mission, EU EOM, on Nigeria’s 2023 general elections make abundantly clear, Bola Tinubu, Nigeria’s current president, emerged through a deeply tainted and discredited election that failed basic transparency and credibility tests. Expectedly, Tinubu’s government rejected the report, and even sponsored protesters to storm the European Union Head Office in Abuja. Yet, the report’s painstaking analysis is hard to fault.
Of course, as always, Tinubu’s supporters will abuse, insult, threaten and call me names on social media, but this column speaks truth to power. I live in a country, United Kingdom, where a prime minister was forced out of power and out of parliament for lying, and I admire a country, United States, where a former president was indicted on felony charges and fined for a sexual office assault committed over 30 years ago. But in Nigeria, political leaders are above the law and institutional scrutiny. That’s unacceptable, especially when their behaviours threaten the long-term unity, stability and progress of Nigeria.
As regular readers of this column know, I was viscerally opposed to Tinubu becoming president, due to his acute integrity deficits and my strong belief that he’s morally and ethically unfit to govern Nigeria. Yet, I would have accepted his leadership if he won in a free, fair, transparent and credible election. But he didn’t, and the EU EOM report confirms what other genuinely independent observers, not the compromised ones, have said.
Of course, l will accept the verdict of the Supreme Court on the presidential election petitions. However, I really hope that it’s not based on some perverse public policy rationale or technicalities, but, rather, on reasoned and reasonable interpretation of substantive and procedural law. For the legitimacy of the decision, technicalities must not trump substantive justice and process values. If the Supreme Court must declare a rerun, so be it!
Bizarrely, since Tinubu became Nigeria’s de facto president, some have argued that it doesn’t matter how anyone becomes president, whatever route he takes, provided he performs! Those making that argument might as well also say that a military regime doesn’t matter provided it’s benevolent, competent and performing. After all, what’s the difference between getting into power through a rigged election that thwarts the will of the people and through the barrel of a gun?
Truth is, the “end-justifies-the means” argument of those saying that “it’s performance that matters”, as if performance is anyone’s -monopoly, will entrench fraudulent elections in Nigeria, impede democratic development and trap the country in ever-deepening instability.
Which brings us back to the EUEOM report. Its main point is that there’s no level playing field in Nigeria’s elections. This matters hugely, because the essence of any competitive sport or game is a level playing field. That’s why any athlete who wins a medal through cheating always has the medal withdrawn if found out, and any referee who is biased or incompetent always faces public opprobrium and his licence might even be withdrawn. So, why is it that in Nigeria’s presidential election, a supposed electoral competition, someone can “win” through rigging and the electoral body, INEC, can be manifestly biased and utterly incompetent, and all we hear is the taunt: Go to court?
Take the umpire. The EU EOM says that “the selection process of INEC commissioners and Resident Electoral Commissioners leaves the electoral institution vulnerable to perception of partiality. “Isn’t that true? Former President Buhari appointed APC loyalists as national and resident electoral commissioners. Recently, Rotimi Amaechi, former Rivers State governor and Minister of Transportation, publicly said he warned Buhari not to reappoint Professor Mahmood Yakubu as INEC chairman because “he’s Tinubu supporter.” Truth is, Nigeria won’t have credible elections until INEC is truly independent of the government and ruling party.
Sadly, INEC cannot escape allegations of partiality in this year’s elections. The fact that the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, BVAS, and the INEC Results Viewing Portal, IReV, worked in other elections but not in the presidential is utterly suspicious, despite the puerile excuse of “technical glitches”. The EU EOM report says: “Only 31 per cent of the presidential election results uploaded on the IReV system were formally and mathematically correct. “How can any election with such huge discrepancies in the results be credible?
The other findings of the EU EOM report will resonate with every objective observer. For instance, wasn’t abuse of incumbency rampant? If Buhari and most of the incumbent governors are put on a lie detector, it would show that they manipulated INEC officials and the security agencies for electoral advantages. Furthermore, although the Electoral Act prohibits “the use of state apparatus to the advantage or disadvantage of any political party or candidate”, the incumbents blatantly misused state resources to distort the playing field.
So, don’t shoot the messenger. The EU EOM is right! And it matters: Nigeria’s president is just too powerful to emerge through tainted and discredited elections!