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ELECTORAL

NIGERIAN ELECTORAL BODY AND UNFULFILLED LIES OF CONTENDERS

By Sir Jude Ejiogu
Lack of credibility in governance has no doubt hampered the necessary condition for achieving sustainable developmental democracy in the country. Interestingly, the crisis arising from previous elections vividly illustrate the crucial importance of credibility in the process of governance.
This is why in developed democracies, election campaigns are not frivolous events; they are taken very seriously. Indeed, campaigns constitute one of the most important elements of the democratic process. They provide the opportunity for candidates and parties vying for office (s) to convince the electorates of the superiority of their ideas and policy prescriptions while punching holes in those of their competitors for power.
For instance, the intra and inter party competition for the past US election early this year, we could see the seriousness attached by political office contenders to pertinent domestic and foreign policy issues. Campaigns in developed democracies involve very hard and painstaking work. Candidates and Political Parties undertake detailed and meticulous research to present informed policy options before a knowledgeable, sophisticated and discerning audience.
In such an environment, rash and unrealistic promises can become serious electoral liabilities. Even unfair criticisms of opposing candidates or parties just to score cheap partisan points very often backfire. A clear distinction is thus made between the liberties associated with politicking and the objective realities of governance.
In a developing democracy like ours, it is quite understandable that the line between politicking and governance is very blurred. All too often, contenders for political office engage in rabble rousing presenting the electorate with outlandish and clearly unrealistic promises rather than informed choices. There are at least two major equally dangerous tendencies that must be discouraged in electoral campaigns as our democratic culture takes firmer root.
First, is the case of political parties and candidates who succeed at the polls without presenting the electorate with tangible, concrete, measurable and specific policy options with which their performance in office can be objectively assessed. Such governments can certainly not be sufficiently motivated to perform superlatively as they are under no pressure to meet set targets within specified time frames. Their lack luster performance will most likely result in widespread disenchantment among the populace and widen the credibility gap between the government and the governed.
The second unhealthy tendency is when candidates and political parties inordinately raise the expectation of the electorate through promises that they lack either the resources or capacity to implement once they get into office. The resultant wide gulf between promises and performance will create a credibility crisis both for the government specifically and the democratic system as a whole. I believe strongly that it is the responsibility of the media to help set and maintain higher standards for future electoral campaigns in the best interest of Nigeria’s democracy.
More avenues should be created to enable the electorate assess the knowledge and suitability of candidates for public office. In the same vein, the media should, as a matter of public service, undertake massive public enlightenment of the electorate to acquaint them with the real issues at stake in the election and empower them to make rational choices at the polls. 

There is no doubt that as the foundation of democracy in Nigeria is strengthened, the electorate will become more discerning and less vulnerable to cynical political manipulation by opportunists who have no genuine interest in public service. It is instructive, for instance, that one and a half decades ago, the nationally televised debate on issues between the Presidential candidates of the SDP and NRC played a role, no matter how negligible, in the outcome of that year’s presidential election. And in the last 2007 governorship elections in Lagos State, the candidates were subjected to at least 7 (seven) debates of which 3 (three) were major rigorous televised live debates that assisted the electorate in making informed choices. 

This certainly is the way to go for the future. Just like in the United States and other developed democracies, candidates for elective office at all levels must be prepared to go through a grueling and intellectually challenging process of convincing the electorate of their preparedness for the job. The benefit of this demanding sifting process is that at the end of the day whoever gets elected into public office would have demonstrated a minimum level of competence and performance beneath which he or she is unlikely to drop.
Indeed, when one looks at the Local Government elections which are impending, one cannot over emphasize the level of communal scrutiny that would be necessary in the process of electing the political leadership of the level of government most close to the people and most impactful on their lives.
It is important that I should point out that there have been some remarkable instances of fulfillment of electoral promises and pledges in Nigeria’s short political democratic history. In the first republic, the people in the then Western Region of Nigeria were beneficiaries of the fulfillment of the electoral pledge of free education by the Chief Obafemi Awolowo led Action Group.
Similar electoral promises were fulfilled in the Second Republic by the Unity Party of Nigeria led by the same Chief Obafemi Awolowo. The people of the old Western Region and the States ruled by the Unity Party of Nigeria had the fortune of sending their children to school for free with books and school materials provided by the Government as well as free quality medical services. Many Nigerians in exalted position today benefited from this unique fulfillment of electoral pledges. We have also had the fortune in Lagos State of being blessed with political leaders in the mould of Chief Obafemi Awolowo who have fulfilled promises made to electorates.
The accomplishment electoral promises made by former Governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu is a pure indication of fulfillment of promises in infrastructure development in the area of roads, health facilities, educational institutions, the BRT transport system, environmental management to mention just a few. These are projects which have positively impacted on the quality of life of the people of Lagos State.
The support of the people for the Action Congress in Lagos State during his days as Governor is an eloquent testimony to the credibility rating of the Government of Lagos State. Many of their initiatives to fulfill electoral promises are already bearing fruits which are there for the people to see. I understand however that the issue of whether politicians are fulfilling or have fulfilled their electoral promises is for you and members of the public to judge.
The State of corruption in Nigeria is well captured by writers as follows:“Since the attainment of independence, corruption has evidently remained the bane of the Nigerian society. It has continued to grow with sophistication and diversification with its attendant negative effect on the people and the country at large”
Several adjectives have been used to illustrate the gravity of the corruption problem in Nigeria. Corruption has been described as “a scourge if not indeed a fundamental objective and directive of state policy”. It has been portrayed as a cankerworm reaching the dimensions of an epidemic in our body politic. In the recent past, the Nigeria nation has acquired an inglorious and unenviable reputation as a leading corrupt nation as depicted by Transparency International’s Annual Corruption Perception Index. Much should be done to nip the ugly trend in the bud so as to bring a holistic democratic approach into the present governance in Nigeria. Cheers!
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