Managing power of incumbency in Nigerian elections

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Former President Goodluck Jonathan.

By
Ugo Jim-Nwoko

After 16 years of undisrupted civil administration in Nigeria, which we would be accomplishing in 2015, when the current group of elected political office holders would be serving out their tenure; it would be high time we worked through the on-going constitutional amendments and the Electoral Act to fine tune or put finishing touches on the rough edges of our democratic development.
In advanced democracies, what help to sustain an incumbent in office are good governance, political manifestoes kept and new programmes and policies of government well-intended for the peoples’ welfare. But here in Nigeria, the advantages incumbent Governorship and Presidential candidates enjoy, most times, do not spring from their positions in office, rather it is conferred on them by the power they have over public resources and their use of State and Administrative resources in their electioneering campaigns.
The intimidation of political opponents with public resources and the denial of the opponents’ use of even public owned stadia for campaigns are few ways by which the power of incumbency tilts towards the President or Governor against the opposition candidates. This electoral order needs to be reformed by the activation of the relevant laws and provisions in our statute books. These laws were enshrined to guarantee fair elections and level playing fields in all electoral contests. The power of incumbency creates a monstrous and intimidating political environment making it difficult for only the lion-hearted and super rich individuals to dare to contest. Governors and Presidents use all available State power and resources as if elections are contests against foreign nations or citizens. Even when we make pretentions in our successive Electoral Acts to check the influence of money by pegging the limits of spending of candidates, the Independent National Electoral Commission have never used its constitutional and statutory powers to enforce the provision.
The 2011 Electoral Act for instance, provides in Section 91, that the campaign expenses of candidates shall be limited as follows: N1billion for Presidency, N200 million for governorship, N40 million for Senate, N20 million for House of Representatives and N10 million for House of Assembly and Local Councils. Despite this provision in the Electoral Act, there are no reporting demands made on the candidates during or after the elections, by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to ascertain who complied and who exceeded the limits of campaign funds. This way, the elections in Nigeria are free for all who can afford the huge costs; and no space for genuine citizens with good governance policies and peoples’ interest to participate.
In Imo, the State government introduced free education policy in in 2011 and recently extended it to tertiary levels for all Imo State indigenes in public schools owned by the state government. It would be recalled that during the 2011 elections in Imo state between Rochas Okorocha of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), and then Governor Ikedi Ohakim of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); the opposition party was denied the use of the Imo State-owned Dan Anyiam stadium for its State campaign. This angered the people and helped to trigger the electoral revolution that took place in the State during those famous elections in the months of April and May 2011.
It was also common knowledge that Governor Ikedi Ohakim in a desperate bid to retain the governorship seat in Imo hurriedly, created an un-existing and unsustainable 10,000 jobs few weeks before the election in the State’s Civil Service in one fell swoop.
The abuse and use of State and Administrative resources during elections to score cheap political points also occur when Governors or Presidents hurriedly make laws or policies that tend to make governance difficult for their opposition successors. Governor Ohakim took a Free Education Bill to the State Assembly few days to his exit from office. And it was hurriedly passed into law by the outgoing legislature. This was intended to make things difficult for the in-coming Governor and his administration; because Rochas Okorocha and his party, the All Progressive Grand Alliance had promised free education during their campaigns.
In the light of these few examples from Imo State, it should audible to the deaf and visible to the blind the kind of obstacles in the way of people to electing their choice. Imo people  are now enjoying few social welfare policies that were not there  before, and all manner of hurdles were put in their way by the former government using the State’s resources and power.
Therefore, there is urgent need for us to transform the legal framework to better our political and electoral landscape thereby making electoral contests easier for the Nigerian people to make the right choice of leaders and for our democracy to prosper. This will not be the case if might remains right and the winner-takes-all electoral system is sustained leaving the weak or the loser to kiss only the dust.

Jim-Nwoko is a Development Policy and Budget Analyst and writes from Plot 17 Flat 2 Yaoundé Street Wuse Zone 6 Abuja.

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