The 2023 elections for the presidential, National Assembly, governorship and state houses of assembly have ended except in a few areas where the Independent National Electoral Commission has yet to conclude proceedings. However, the process has yet to be concluded because persons who feel aggrieved by the results still have the opportunity to file suits before the election petition tribunals and follow them up to the appeal stage and at the final and apex Supreme Court. But there are still outstanding issues beyond the election. It is about peace and consensus building, reconciliation and uniting the nation so that the majority, if not all Nigerians, will support the government at different levels for the task of development and nation building.
The foregoing is the central challenge of post-election governance. But the challenge is enormous and may not be easy to deal with if the contending parties do not understand the “why” and “how” of reconciliation. The first is to understand the “why” of unity and reconciliation. Unanimity of purpose and working together is important. Nations are built by the collective purpose and contribution of all groups and stakeholders in the polity. Every group needs to feel a sense of belonging, of its contribution being appreciated and its membership of the whole being specifically acknowledged. It is about citizenship, human rights and fundamental freedoms being the basis of nation building. No person contributes his ultimate in a space where he or the group he belongs is oppressed, where his person and identity are profiled, his humanity and personhood are denigrated. Indeed, no one contributes his best in a society where his citizenship is denied and he is treated as a second- or third-class resident.
The first four preambular paragraphs of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights sets the tone of the relationship between human rights and nation building. Its states: “Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world; Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people; Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law.”
The foregoing establishes that respect for fundamental rights including the right to vote is the foundation of justice and peace which are prerequisites for development. Again, article 21 (3) of the UDHR states that: “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.”
When the right of citizens to vote is denied, subverted or the votes are not allowed to count, then the foundation for development is subverted.
It is on the basis of this widely accepted understanding that reconciliation and national healing is important that this discourse examines the how of national healing. The recent statement by the President-elect Bola Tinubu calling for national healing on the face of it looks like the appropriate message for the polity at this time. However, it raises the question of the basis of the call for reconciliation and healing. For this message to make the desired impact and have meaning in the lives of Nigerians, certain fundamentals are imperative. The first is the acknowledgement that people and groups were wronged and their rights violated. These groups have to be specifically identified and the wrongs acknowledged by the persons and groups who committed the violations. The second step is an apology for the misdeeds, not just a perfunctory one but an apology that shows repentance and acceptance that what was done is wrong. For instance, the persons who orchestrated the denial of Igbo rights to vote in some parts of Lagos have to own up to their misdeeds. The M.C Oluomo of this world will have to come clean with their sponsors.
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An apology will be accompanied by clear guarantees of non-repetition. These guarantees will not just be about mere words but includes requisite laws, policy frameworks and implementation mechanisms which empower persons and groups targeted in future to activate preventive mechanism for the defence of their rights. Such mechanisms need not wait forever for biased law enforcement agents to enforce the law or activate the enforcement pathways. It will provide heavy penalties for both the perpetrators and officials who fail, refuse or neglect to perform their duties. The last stage is the consideration of possible compensation for victims of violation of the right to vote. The legal maxim is ubi jus ibi remedium – where there is a right, there ought to be a remedy.
What Nigeria requires is genuine peace and reconciliation which is imperative for progress, development and nation building. It is not the peace of the graveyard where the dead are buried or the peace of the jungle where the lion or tiger simply consumes its victims and there are no more challenges. Nigeria is not an animal kingdom. Human beings do not thrive in such a conjured consensus and peace. Considering that Nigeria has undergone seven elections since 1998, we cannot continue to justify baby and infantile steps in electioneering which could have been excused over the first three elections from 2007 to 2011.
For those who will repeat the story of learning lessons from mistakes from the current or previous elections, you are mistaken. What happened in the 2023 elections were not mistakes or simply issues bordering on negligence. They were premeditated, planned and carefully executed. Considering the human, financial and other resources available to Nigeria and so far, deployed to electoral reforms since 1999, we have hardly improved our electoral performance and when we seem to be correcting one misdeed, we open the way for other misdeeds to occur. An impoverished country like Nigeria cannot spend N305bn only to reap this poor quality election.
The president-elect must come clean and lead the way for national reconciliation by acknowledging what happened under his watch in Lagos and ask other gladiators across the nation to follow suit. This will be the foundation of national healing. But this cannot be achieved when his chief spokesperson, Bayo Onanuga, is issuing ethnic slurs and insults and when called to order by respectable Nigerians including his own party men doubles down stating he has no apologies.
Persons who have committed offences should be tried and punished in accordance with the law. They should not be shielded from prosecution. Nigeria is in this mess today because persons who committed electoral and other offences in the past have not been brought to justice thereby normalising crimes and impunity for misconduct.
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