“The very fact that we are all gathered here today as stakeholders in Nigeria’s electoral process, with eyes focused on the future and ears open for details of plans for the next round of general elections which is due in a matter of months; reaffirms the fact that the ship of electoral democracy in Nigeria is well afloat. Culture and stability within any given human society are not built over night. Indeed, they are built on a track of consistency and perseverance.

In few months time, by 2011, it will be twelve years, just over a decade since democracy returned to Nigeria. Within this very short period, counting the elections that are around the corner, Nigeria would have successfully conducted four general elections; 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011. If this track record does not point to a steady evolution of stability in our political process, I will want experts in political development to tell us what it is. Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, permit me to insist, and I insist; that electoral democracy in Nigeria is making progress.

Ours is a vibrant society, inhabited by some of the most enterprising, ambitious and critical minds as can be found in any part of the world. For many years, the exuberant spirit of our nation was caged by military dictatorship. Then the will of the people prevailed and democracy came to be. In the last ten years that we have had democracy, the foundation, infrastructure and norms of a new democratic order hitherto not in existence have been steadily established. But a rash of criticism essentially driven by personal ambitions and a vocal minority has tended in many instances, more so as the election year draws near, to give the impression that there has been no progress. Of course, nothing can be further from the truth……..

Your Excellencies, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, to borrow the profound words of China’s Mao Zedong, “Not to have a correct political orientation is like not having a soul”. It does not matter how much the public space is filled with well choreographed choruses that promote no other value but the ambition of certain individuals; it does not matter how far we go in elevating deception by personalizing rather grave national problems, the challenge before the nation as it prepares for the next round of general elections is to develop a correct political orientation that will be anchored on principle, the interest of the majority and the promotion of the will of the people, not the will of a few big men with means”.
That was an excerpt from the Welcome address by Prof. Maurice M. Iwu former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, at the opening ceremony of the National Conference for Stakeholders in Nigeria’s Electoral Process held at the International Conference Center, Abuja. March 16, 2010. Our political system especially since 1999 till date has been characterized with massive inhibited and open rigging, officially sponsored violence, adoption and fostering of candidate and running of factional government. These evils and anomalies were exactly the real picture of our electoral culture which Prof. Iwu acknowledged were growing on a track of consistency and perseverance adjudged by him as a steady evolution of stability in our political process.

Before the 1999 general elections; political calculations and permutations by the people was favouring Dr. Alex Ekwueme as the likely candidate of the PDP for the 1999 election but as the people were sleeping their enemies were out there in the filed sowing tares. The 1999 general election was an experiment and since it worked the political gladiators began to explore every available opportunity to hedge their political territories and hold on to power until thy Kingdom come. Today, politically some persons are “more Nigerian” than others. A fellow Nigerian has to go and bow, knee and prostrate to another fellow Nigerian just because of a political office; haba; is that what they flaunt as “Democracy”?

Consistently and deteriorating, our political culture is fast loosing credibility even globally which is today necessitating the general call for electoral reforms. Ordinarily this is one big challenge that our nation needed to put right but going by experiences and the nature of our political parties who are predominantly the major players and determinants of the success of such reforms, I am still very skeptical about the success of the reform agenda. Personally I do appreciate the sack of Prof. Maurice Iwu but the person of the INEC chairman is not a major constraint that has over the years continued to hinder our electoral system in the country. As the nation awaits the appointment of the new INEC boss and also the full implementation of the electoral reform, our major attention must be on inter-party democracy which sadly had still remained an illusion. That is where our problem lies.

Our electoral system is built upon the democratic framework of the political parties. They are the determinants and propellers of people’s attitude and response to the electoral activity. For instance, reliable statistics has shown that our elections especially since 1999 had been mainly characterized by voter’s apathy or low turnout. The reason for this is that; during the party primaries the candidates of the people were usually dumped for those money bags and thieves anointed by the “big men” up there and that alone kills the interest of the people. Of course what is the essence of going to the field to vote for somebody you know is a thief and cannot perform? The political parties, most of the time does not follow healthy democratic principles in choosing their candidates. And universally, it is only through free and fair elections that credible persons could be picked and presented as reliable candidates to be entrusted with key leadership positions in society.

Electoral violence is also another factor affecting our electoral system because; our political leaders have not offered us any reason why one should stake out his neck to die for the nation trying to defend his or her votes. So, as Dr. Goodluck Jonathan is battling with the electoral reform agenda, we all must be ready to support him; it is from among us that the party will choose delegates, let us vote with our conscience; let us look at Nigeria in the face and see a weeping nation in dire need of our help. God has been helping us because, not even any prophet in Nigeria could believe that we were going to surmount the last political storm just like that. Nigeria belongs to all of us; we must stand to defend our nation.

We must help our nation to succeed. What most people don’t know is that, there is nobody that can fight for your good interest more than you could fight for yourself. So, as we run towards 2011 general elections, tell yourself that you must be counted by God as one of the people who are building Nigeria. All the enemies of this nation will be gradually erased by God; it has already started some have abandoned their houses and homes to exile. God will never allow them to return back; their memories will perish forever.

Godwin Elue

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