Thursday, July 4, 2013

June 12 election annulment and campaign finance

June 12, 2013 marked the twentieth anniversary of the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election presumably won by Chief MKO Abiola and which was regarded as the freest, fairest and the most credible presidential election in Nigeria’s political history. It was a day Nigerians set aside their ethnic, religious and other primordial sentiments to elect a new president for the most populous black nation in the world. Unfortunately, the military junta led by former military President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida annulled the poll leading to a political impasse which culminated in the ousting of the military regime and inauguration of an interim government led by Chief Ernest Shonekan on August 27, 1993. The interim government was declared illegal and unconstitutional by a court and late General Sani Abacha took over the reins of government on November 17, 1993. The political debacle which ensued as a result of the annulment of the June 12 election led to death in detention of Bashorun MKO Abiola.

As the nation celebrates 20th anniversary of that cancelled election, Vanguard newspaper of June 8, 2013 published a speech by former General Babangida which stated the reasons why the election was annulled in 1993. It turned out that one of the key basis was due to the breach of campaign finance regulations by the two presidential candidates’ namely Alhaji Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC) and Chief MKO Abiola of the Social Democratic Party (SDP). It would be recalled that between 1987 and 1993 Nigeria experimented with two party systems. The IBB annulment speech read in part: “There were allegations of irregularities and other acts of bad conduct leveled against the presidential candidates but National Electoral Commission went ahead and cleared them. There were proofs as well as documented evidence of widespread use of money during the party primaries as well as the presidential election. These were the same bad conduct for which the party presidential primaries of 1992 were cancelled.”

 IBB went on to say that “Evidence available to government put the total amount of money spent by the presidential candidates at over two billion, one hundred million naira (N2.1 billion). The use of money was again the major source of undermining the electoral process. Both these allegations and evidence were known to the National Defence and Security Council before the holding of the June 12, 1993 election, the NDSC overlooked these areas of problems in its determination to fulfill the promise to hand over to an elected president on due date.”

Babangida went on to say that “Apart from the tremendous negative use of money ……There were cases of documented and confirmed conflict of interest between the government and both presidential candidates which would compromise their positions and responsibilities were they to become president. We believe that politics and government are not ends in themselves. Rather, service and effective amelioration of the condition of our people must remain the true purpose of politics.”

Even the junta agreed with the credibility of the election when it opined that: “It is true that the presidential election was generally seen to be free, fair and peaceful. However, there was in fact a huge array of electoral malpractices virtually in all the states of the federation before the actual voting began……..there were proofs of manipulations through offer and acceptance of money and other forms of inducement against officials of the National Electoral Commission and members of the electorate. There were also evidence of conflict in the process of authentication and clearance of credentials of the presidential candidates.”

These excuses given by the military for aborting its own transition to civil rule program raises more questions than answers. If the National Defence and Security Council decided initially to overlook these anomalies why then suddenly realizing that it cannot hand over to the winner of the poll? Was the military government expecting a different electoral outcome and would it have accepted the result of the election if the NRC candidate were to be the one coasting home to victory? Would it not have been more sensible, having allowed the election to hold, to then set up an election petition tribunals where all the breaches could have been tendered in a petition and allowing the judiciary to independently adjudicate on the matter?

How far is it true that the junta never really wanted to leave power but only embarked on the transition program in order to serve as a red herring and to buy time? If the junta of General Babangida was genuinely interested in leaving power, it should have allowed the National Electoral Commission who was the regulator of the electoral system to deal with the issues. Alternatively,  National Republican Party which was the losing party  has the locus standi to challenge the outcome of the poll and should have been allowed to go to the election tribunal  than the military unwarrantedly stepping in to cancel the most peaceful and credible election. If the military had to annul election over an estimated N2.1b spent on the presidential election 20 years ago, will it ever have allowed any recent election to stand given the humongous amount our current political contestants spend on their electoral contest in breach of campaign finance regulations?